Endangered Species Handbook

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Grasslands, Shrublands, Deserts

Drylands of the World: EURASIA: Page 1

     The central Asia steppe represents the largest remaining expanse of grassland in the world, but even it has been greatly reduced.  A few hundred years ago, it stretched from Eastern Europe and the Black Sea east to the west side of China, a distance of 3,200 miles.  The steppe is dotted with lakes, rock outcroppings and woodland copses framed by distant snow-capped mountains.  Desert, dryland and grassland all occur here; some recent films and books capture the stark, haunting beauty of this region.  Until the 20th century, wonderful wildlife spectacles could be seen.  Great herds of saiga (Saiga tatarica), antelope-like ungulates, darkened the plains in the millions.  Asiatic asses (Equus hemonius and E. kiang), deer, antelope and gazelles lived among the saiga on both grassland and shrub, while wild yaks (Bos mutus) and Bactrian camels (Camelus bactrianus) were confined to desert areas.  Grazing animals and rodents were preyed upon by a variety of foxes, brown bears (Ursus arctos) and gray wolves (Canis lupus).  Many wild cats were widespread, including the lion (Panthera leo) and the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), both of which have been virtually exterminated.

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