Sunday, February 3, 2013

Conserving Taimen (and the River)

During the second-to-last week of the 2012 season, we met World Wildlife Fund program managers from Britain, China, Malaysia, Mongolia, the Netherlands, Russia, and the United States. They had been camping out in somewhat less than our anglers’ accustomed style and seemed cheered to see the dining tent with wood stove, tablecloths, and wine glasses.

But what started out as an information-sharing event ended on a more celebratory note. In wildlife circles, the working partnership among Nomadic Journeys, Mongolia River Outfitters, WWF, and six local governments has become a conservation success story. Through an innovative public awareness campaign—using a little bit of everything, from bumper stickers to text messages—an environmental ethic that might have taken decades to germinate has flowered in just four years.

It’s no stretch to say that, in earlier times, taimen survived in far northern Mongolia because few people cared enough to kill them. That changed in the late 1990s, when tourists and anglers began to arrive from other countries; since the mining boom, angler numbers have further swelled with weekend warriors from Mongolia’s newly prosperous capital.

When Rare’s Pride campaign began in 2008, slightly more than a third of survey respondents in the district “strongly agreed” that taimen should always be released. By this year, that figure was more than 95 percent. Not all of these folks like to fish, of course, but those numbers are growing as well.  In 2009, members of local angling clubs caught and released 68 taimen; that number had nearly quadrupled by 2011.

Conservation efforts continue with the work of a few dedicated staff, a core of volunteers, and the support of individual and corporate donors, including a generous grant from Patagonia’s World Trout Initiative.

Just before spawning season—when large fish are particularly vulnerable—the local WWF office held anti-poaching trainings for police officers, park rangers, and angling club members. In these sessions—and in all other campaign materials—taimen are not portrayed as treasures to be hoarded. Long-lived and slow-growing, these fish are more like our honored companions (or perhaps we are theirs).

While it is true that taimen are astounding and beautiful creatures on their own, they cannot exist without a healthy river. If we were ever to lose them, it would only underscore the more painful fact that the river also had been lost.

(For more info and photos, see "Conserving Taimen," posted on July 27, 2012.)