Geography in Mongolia
Mongolia’s national area of over 1.5 million km² is located northeast of the Tibetan Himalayas between China and Russia. In the west of the country lies Kazakhstan, with which Mongolia, however, has no common border line. In the south and east, the dry plateaus of the Gobi determine the character of the landscape of Mongolia, with an average altitude of around 1,600 meters above sea level. From the north, the foothills of the high mountains of Russia reach far into the central part of Mongolia and, with the up to 3900 m high Changai Mountains, the Tannu-ola Mountains and the Sajan Mountains, sometimes form their own mountain ranges. From the west, the mountain range of the more than 4000 m high Altai as the Mongolian Altai, which is continued in the Gobi Altai, extends far inland to the Mongolian plateau. The Chüiten peak of the Altai Mountains, located on the border with China, is the highest point in Mongolia at 4,374 meters above sea level. The high mountain regions of Mongolia are partly glaciated.
Numerous rivers such as Selenga and Orkhon drain the country north into Lake Baikal and with the Onon over a considerable distance to the east to the Sea of Okhotsk and with the river system of the Herlen into the central Asian lowlands without any drainage. A small part of the Tannu and Sajan Mountains drains its precipitation over the Shishid Gol to the Kara Sea in northern Siberia. In winter the rivers of Mongolia freeze over and are partly used as roads in the plains. With the melt in the spring, sometimes huge amounts of water are transported through river beds.
In Mongolia there are almost 4,000 lakes, which as a rule have a water surface of less than 5 km² and are often fed by glaciers. They are mostly far from any industrial centers and therefore have very clear water. In addition to the large number of smaller bodies of water, there is also the 3350 km² salt water lake Uws Nuur and the 2760 km² fresh water lake Chöwsgöl Nuur in northwestern Mongolia, both of which are important resting stations for migratory birds. The Chöwsgöl Nuur is one of the most important freshwater lakes in the world. The waters in Mongolia are increasingly affected by desertification and are slowly drying up.
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Flora and fauna in Mongolia
Due to the pronounced precipitation gradient in Mongolia from north to south as well as the climate-effective mountain barriers, the various types of vegetation in Mongolia are distributed extremely zonal. From north to south, alpine vegetation zones can initially be distinguished from mountain taiga and forest steppes with boreal coniferous forest, which merge in a southerly direction into dry steppes with grasses and shrubs and then into the desert steppes and deserts of the Gobi. The relatively small proportion of forest areas on the slopes of the northern mountains consists mainly of spruce, fir, Swiss stone pine and larch. Birch and birch-larch mixed forests can also be found in the mountain steppe, while the river floodplains are predominantly made up of aspen, poplar, birch and desert elm. Bulbous plants, Feather grass and numerous species of wormwood form the vegetation of the Mongolian steppes, where numerous lilies, orchids and herbs bloom in the spring and summer months. The Edelweis, which is under nature protection in Europe due to its rarity, covers entire meadows in Mongolia. Typical of the sparse desert vegetation of Mongolia are the Saxaul bushes, which are widespread in islands, the wood of which is used by the nomads to make fires and the porous bark to store water. Mongolia is also known for its variety of medicinal plants, above all the hawthorn and the blue monkshood, which are also very poisonous.
The interesting fauna of Mongolia is represented by many species of mammals, such as the lynx, wolf or brown bear, which in Europe are threatened with extinction or have already disappeared. In addition, red deer and whistle hares can be found in the mountains, as well as the maral deer, which are mainly found in the Altai Mountains, are among the largest species of deer in the world and also graze in the parks of the capital Ulan Bator. The endangered snow leopard is only a few specimens in the Altai Mountains. Ibex, gazelles and marmots live in the steppes together with a few individuals of the also endangered ungulate genus of the Mongolian saiga, which have a characteristic trunk-like nose. Also the last occurrence of the wild camels, wild donkeys, Argali wild sheep and Przewalski wild horses are still native to the steppes and deserts of the Gobi. The rare gobi bear is the only brown bear that lives in the desert. The huge yak is only available in domesticated form and plays an important role as a pack animal and mount, as well as a milk, meat, wool, fur and fuel supplier (dung) for the Mongols. In addition to ordinary sheep and goats, grazing animals are also special goat species such as the cashmere goat and the blue sheep.
Various reptiles such as snakes, lizards and desert runners are also found in the Gobi. Numerous fossil finds of dinosaurs prove that what is now Mongolia was once the habitat of the giant lizards.
The most famous large birds in Mongolia include the golden eagle as well as the black vulture and the bearded vulture, which is both namesake and resident of the famous Bearded Vulture Gorge in the eastern foothills of the Altai Mountains. The standing waters are populated by wild geese and ducks, swans, grebes, pelicans, cormorants and seagulls. On a journey through the steppe and desert regions of Mongolia one has to keep an eye on the poisonous tarantula, which belongs to the wolf spiders, as well as the halysotter, which belongs to the vipers.
Mongolia’s waters are rich in various species of fish such as carp, loaches, pike, perch, lenok, taimen and various species of grayling. The Baikal sturgeon has its spawning areas in the upper reaches of the Orkhon and Selenga, to which it migrates over 300 km upstream.