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Mongolian winter "dzud" kills 700,000 head of livestock

* Mongolian herders hit by "dzud"

* Last summer's drought leaves livestock weakened

* Conditions worsened by overgrazing, poor land management

ULAANBAATAR, March 14 (Reuters) - Mongolia`s harsh winter
has killed more than 700,000 heads of livestock this year, the
highest toll since 2011, according to the country's statistics
bureau, with extreme weather freezing animals dead in their

Mongolia is in the midst of a winter phenomenon called a
dzud, when extremely low temperatures and snow make it difficult
for animals to survive.

"I've seen horses frozen while standing," said Ulaanbaatar
livestock trader, Ganbaatar Burjaa, 38.

"This year's dzud has been very hard."

The 709,000 head of livestock lost in the first two months
of the year is a toll five times higher than the same period
last year, according to the National Statistics Office.

Mongolia's winters have destroyed the livelihoods of
thousands of herders, forcing them to move to the capital,
Ulaanbaatar, in search of work.

Burjaa moved to the capital three years ago because of the

In total, 66 counties across 12 provinces are facing dzud
conditions, with snowfall covering half the country, the
National Emergency Management Agency said last week.

The government has not declared a natural disaster.

Tuyaa Chimedbaldir, an official at the emergency management
agency, said given the end of the winter was approaching, the
toll this year was unlikely to be as bad as the winter of
2009-2010, when 9.7 million animals were killed.

"This time, the government has worked hard to prevent and
reduce the risk of the dzud," she said.

However, experts warn the dzud could still kill many
animals, with a severe drought that hit 70 percent of the
country last summer leaving vast numbers of undernourished
livestock weak and vulnerable.

According to the Mongolian Red Cross Society, thousands of
families were unable to prepare feed to sustain their animals
through the winter. The society has spent 1.2 billion tugrik
($500,000) to help 4,500 herder families.

"Mongolian herders did not purchase enough fodder, so the
spring season might kill animals that are tired from the harsh
winter," said Bayarmaa Chimedtseren, a rangeland monitoring and
evaluation specialist at the "Green Gold" animal health project
run by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

About 229,000 Mongolian families depend on animal husbandry
for their livelihood. The total number of livestock reached 66.2
million as of December 2017.

Overgrazing, the degeneration of rangeland and poor land
management contribute to the severity of the dzud, Chimedtseren
(Reporting by Munkhchimeg Davaasharav
Editing by David Stanway and Robert Birsel)

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