By Pearly Jacob
Ulaanbaatar is importing foreign experts to combat falling water levels in Mongolia's third longest river. Qualifications include sharp incisors, flat tails and webbed toes.
Meet the Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber). If all goes according to plan, the task of restoring the headwaters of the Tuul River will be left to these rotund rodents, with extra thanks to Germany and Russia. At home, due to poaching, their numbers have declined sharply in the past 20 years. But in May, Germany gifted 14, and Russia another 30—just for this special task.
With their sharp, ever-growing teeth, beavers fell trees and build dams to flood areas for protection from predators. Many scientists believe beavers can contribute to river ecosystem regeneration and restoration because their natural dams help maintain river levels during dry spells, while the flooded areas help nourish the soil and promote plant growth.
"Beavers are diplomats of the environment," says Delgermaa Yunger, director of the Nature Protection Agency’s office at Ulaanbaatar’s City Hall. The agency is in charge of the beaver introduction program. Water levels in the Tuul have been declining since the late 1990's, she says. A 2003 survey conducted by the City Council revealed 22 of 72 tributaries of the Tuul had dried up. Sections of the riverbed often dry out each spring.
“Fifty to 60 percent of Mongolia's population lives along the Tuul. It's a very important river and we have to do what we can to make sure we protect it for the future. The beavers will be the cheapest and most effective natural method," says Yunger. More....