Nomadic Nature Trunks bring environmental science to communities

Nomadic Nature Trunks bring environmental science to communities


Nomadic Nature Trunks have allowed conservationists to work closely with dispersed herder communities to provide critically needed natural science and environmental education. The traveling trunk provides a complete curriculum, which applies participatory methods to encourage community engagement. The trunks have provided an important mechanism for sustaining community-based conservation initiatives in vast regions with highly dispersed populations, where it is difficult for conservationists to maintain the day-to-day interactions that we normally associate with community-based conservation. The Nomadic Nature Trunk Program has also been an important entry point for WCS to connect, albeit intermittently, with highly mobile herder groups, and gradually build the trusting relationships that are the essential foundation of effective conservation collaboration.


Mongolia is a land of vast and steppe landscapes, which are the primary source of livelihood to highly dispersed groups of nomadic herders. The Eastern Steppe covers 250,000 square kilometers, 10 times the size of the Serengeti in Northern Tanzania, and is home to 200,000 livestock herders. The steppe is also home to diverse and abundant wildlife species, including Mongolian gazelles, Siberian marmot, grey wolf, red fox, corsac fox, white-naped crane, swan goose, and whooper swan.

Historically, the combination of low population density and rich traditional knowledge of how to manage the steppe landscapes have allowed herders to live successfully, with a high degree of food security and a rich cultural heritage.

In recent decades, the steppe has come under threat from factors that strain herder capacity to manage them, because they operate on scales and involve technical complexities that are difficult to address using traditional knowledge and management practices. These include large-scale mining and agricultural development areas for natural resources and climate change impacts.

WCS began working with herder communities to help them monitor wildlife populations that are important to their livelihoods and cultural identity. Though herder groups greatly appreciated and valued WCS support, their nomadic lifestyle and the vastness of the steppe made it difficult to maintain frequent and extended interaction normally required to develop and implement conservation strategies that built on long-term wildlife monitoring data.

In an attempt engage herder communities more regularly in environmental resilience discussions WCS partnered with the Nomadic Nature Conservation (NNC), a Mongolian NGO, to develop the Nomadic Nature Trunk curriculum. The first Nomadic Trunk program was launched, in 2007, in the Eastern Steppe region, with start-up funding from WCS.

Each trunk contains a portable, self-contained conservation education curriculum consisting of 20-23 lessons covering topics such as climate adaptation, community participation, animal relationships, habitat, biodiversity, predator and prey links, waste management, water quality and human-wildlife conflict. The traveling trunk contains materials for use in lessons that are entertaining, interactive, and demonstrate the connections linking the whole ecosystem in ways that are accessible for people of all ages, from children to elders. Most importantly WCS and the NNC have trained trainners such as community leaders, environemtnal profesionals and teachers to use the materials in the trunks. Now, most herder communities, Protected Areas and schools in the Eastern Steppe and Southern Gobi regions of Mongolia, use and share the trunks.

The Nomadic Nature Trunk Program complements the conservation work of WCS, by educating communites on ecological issues and providing solutions to the new challenges they face living on the steppe landscape.

The program also provides opportunities for community members to engage one another on critical environmental issues that affect their liveihoods and way of life, and substantially extends the impacts of participatory conservation activities undertaken when WCS field staff are present.


Effective Governance IconGOVERNANCE: By continuing learning and discussing environmental challenges and issues through Nomadic Nature Trunk lessons and WCS field engagement, communities are better educated and imformed on how best to manage their steppe resources sustainabliy. The Nomadic Nature Trunks Program has helped many communities to develop strong leadership.

Rights IconRIGHTS: Mongolian law recognizes the traditional rights of herder communities. However, it is difficult to exercise these rights in the context of new threats that operate at large scales and lie outside the experience on which traditional knowledge is based. The information and participatory learning that takes place through the Nomadic Nature Trunk Program provides communities with knowledge on have to provide stewardship to the steppe natural resources.

Gender IconGENDER: By actively engaging women in Nomadic Nature Trunks lessons, the program increases their active participation in discussions about collective management of the community's steppe resources.

Constituencies IconCONSTITUENCY: The Nomadic Nature Trunks Program has helped empower communiuties to exert their rights and voice their interest or conserving and sustainably managing their resources. Trunk herder groups are now more vocal advocates to protection of the steppe, and a valuable constituency for encouraging government action where needed to reinforce community steppe management.


Herder community leaders are playing game lessons of “Are you Know this?”  Bolortsetseg Sanjaa ©WCS/Mongolia

Protected Area staff learning new skills and playing game lesson of “Food Chain”  Bolortsetseg Sanjaa ©WCS/Mongolia

Children are playing game lesson of “Who I am?”  Bolortsetseg Sanjaa ©WCS/Mongolia

Map 1. Trunk Program implementing site/Ochirkhuyag Lkhamjav ©WCS/Mongolia

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