The Mongolia Expedition

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Day 13: Back to UB…

HUSTAIN NURUU TO ULAANBAATAR A short drive back to UB today and the end of our journey. It has been an amazing experience of natural beauty, history and culture, at an intense pace with lots of surprises. We have gotten to know a little bit about the lives of the nomadic herders we met along the way. Their incredible fortitude and optimism in the face of daily struggle is inspirational. It will take a while to reflect upon and sort all the emotions and mental imagery from this vast wild land under an endless blue sky. We have discovered it to be a poetic place, a mixture of magical myth and harsh reality tempered by smiles, laughter and optimism. And as we return to the crowds and pollution of the big city, our first step back to the “civilization” we left behind only two weeks before, there is a small […]


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Day 12: Last Day with the Dogs and Herders…

HUSTAIN NURUU Our last day in the field today, as we visit a few of the herding families living around the protected area of the park. On average these families lost between five and fifteen head of livestock a year to wolves before they were involved in the project. Those who have received dogs from MBDP reported no losses since receiving their Bankhars. The results we have been seeing are so promising and really foster a kind of “win-win” situation, the herding families are able to protect their animals and no wolves are being killed. With time, the MBDP hopes that families will begin to keep less livestock knowing they will lose fewer to predators, thereby decreasing the overgrazing of grasslands. According to a report from UNEP, almost 90% of Mongolia‚Äôs pastureland is vulnerable to land degradation and desertification. A recent assessment of desertification in Mongolia shows that among the […]


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Day 11: Back to project base…

KHARKHORIN TO HUSTAIN NURUU A long drive day today as we wind our way back east in the direction of Ulanbaataar. We are headed to the Hustain Nuruu National Park to meet some more MBDP herding families and visit the project base of operations where the pups begin their training. Hustai (also called Khustain) Nuruu National Park lies in the foothills of the southern Khentii Mountain Range about 100km south west of Ulaanbaatar. Named for the birch trees or “khustai” growing in the surrounding forests and the mountains or “nuruu,” the area was used at the turn of the century as a private hunting ground for Bogd Khaan, the last ruling Khaan of Mongolia. Mountain steppe blends the species of Siberian taiga and the Central Asian steppe. The cooler, moister northern slopes are a typical forest habitat, while steppe vegetation such as Siberian Needlegrass predominates on the other slopes. This […]


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Day 10: Ancient Mongolia…

KHARKHORIN TO ORKHON VALLEY The focus on history and culture continues today with a visit to the Erdene Zuu monastery complex before setting off to explore the traces of the Uigar civilization along the river Orkhon. It is interesting to delve so deeply into the past after spending much of our journey focused in on the very concrete problems of the nomadic herders’ struggle in the present. The area we are exploring today is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site collectively known as the “Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape.” The “site” encompasses an extensive area of pastureland on both banks of the Orkhon River and includes numerous archaeological remains dating back to the 6th century. Together these elements reflect the symbiotic links between nomadic pastoral societies, their administrative and religious centres, and the importance of this valley in the history of central Asia. The river basin was home to successive […]


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Day 9: North to the heartland…

GUCHIN US TO KHARKHORIN Continuing north now, into the historical heartland of the great Mongolian empire of Chinggis Khaan, we follow the dirt tracks for a few hours into Ovurkhangai where we refuel. The landscape has changed again as we leave the Gobi behind to reach the rolling hills of the Orkhon river valley where we actually have to make some river crossings. The rest of the way to Kharkhorin is on pavement, and we reach our ger camp outside the city by late afternoon. Kharkhorin is the major tourist destination in this part of Mongolia, and we will pause for a day here to experience it and learn a few things about the history and culture from a more academic perspective. In the mid-13th century, Karakorum became the center of the Mongolian universe after Chinggis Khaan established a supply base here. His son Ugudei constructed a capital that attracted […]


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Day 8: Over the mountains…

BICHIGT VALLEY TO GUCHIN US We move north and west today, with some interesting driving on mountain trails along the way. The heights are stunning as we cross over Ikh Bogd (“Great Saint”) Mountain, also known as Tergun Bogd, a prominent peak in the Gobi-Altai range. Ikh Bogd has an elevation of 3,957 metres (12,982 ft) above sea level, and its rocky apex looms over the changing landscape below. This mountain is one of the province’s most revered sites and nearby is Tsagaan Aqui (“White Cave”), believed to be the location of the earliest human inhabits in Mongolia, where artifacts have been found dating back to 700,000 years ago. On the lookout for Bankhars, we are talking to herders we encounter on horseback hoping for leads. Their timeless way of life out here echoes the imagery we saw in the rock art yesterday. It is hard to believe that this […]


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Day 7: Headed West…

BAYANGOBI VILLAGE TO BICHIGT VALLEY As we continue across a changing landscape, we move from desert and steppe to foothills and into an area with a heavier wolf population. We have been seeing some real “success stories” during our journey. The anecdotal evidence is promising, but the research team reminds us that it will take a few years — once the first dogs are three years or older — to truly evaluate how well the protocols really work in the field. The herding families seem to have really taken the project goals to heart and are diligently caring for their Bankhars following the training protocols closely. The project team has high hopes for some of these local partners, like one south Gobi family who received a dog from last years litter. Over a period of several months their Bankhar has developed the instinct to take the high ground and be […]


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Day 6: Looking for more Bankhars

HONGORYN ELS TO BAYANGOBI VILLAGE Waking up to the splendor of the Gobi this morning we can feel a little closer to the herding families we have been meeting. We are in the land of the Bactrian camel, the two-humped variety that seems like such a different animal from it’s Saharan cousin — and many familis here keep camels in addition to their sheep and other animals. Today we are driving the edge between the steppe and the desert, meeting with more herders and also looking out for any families with Bankhar who might be willing to work with the project or allow the use of their dogs in the breeding program. The strength and tenacity of a people struggling to maintain their way of life with dignity in the face of so much pressure — from the economy and the environment — is inspirational, and we are learning much […]


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Day 5: Meeting the Herders

GURVAN TES TO HONGORYN ELS After a briefing from the Snow Leopard Trust field biologist, we set out to visit families who have recently received MBDP dogs. Our route today will take us from Gobi red cliffs, across vast green steppes, through granite mountain passes and into sand dunes. The families are spread out across the area, and our mission is two-fold: assess the progress of the project dogs and at the same time gather survey data on predator activity, livestock losses, and any interaction with predators. The process is informal, and allows us to learn a little about the day-to-day concerns of the nomads beyond the scope of the project. One thing the field team has made clear to us is that when visiting families we should never get out of the truck if we cannot see a dog’s owner because the dog will likely be incredibly protective. In […]


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Day 4: Beyond the Flaming Cliffs

YOLIN AM TO GURVAN TES On the road early today, heading deeper south to meet with our first project families. The driving conditions are becoming familiar, a mix of washboard tracks and easy rolling hills. Nothing difficult, but not always a “comfortable” ride. The landscapes, however, more than make up for the rough roads. Vast expanses roll by slowly transitioning from one terrain type to the next and then a sudden elevation change as we reach the “Zuun Saikhanii Nuruu” or “Eastern Beautiful” mountains. We are making a stop here to visit Yolin Am, a deep and narrow gorge in the Gurvan Saikhan National Park. The “u” shaped valley is named for the “Lammergeier,” a type of vulture, known as “yol” in Mongolian. The valley was first protected in 1965, and the area under conservation was further extended in 1993. Rich in wildlife Yolin Am is also known for having […]





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