ULAANBAATAR AT LAST
After over 24 hours of travel and a blur of airports, planes, and timezones, I made it to Mongolia tonite. Wheels touched down just a bit before midnight, so there isn’t much time to see anything here in the capital, and anyway, all I am looking forward to is getting a little sleep before the team hits the road early tomorrow morning.
Despite my exhaustion, I am excited to finally be here and full of enthusiasm for the project ahead. I am joining a small team led by Bruce Elfström of Overland Experts as part of a working expedition to support the Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project (MBDP). The MBDP is a unique microproject that helps Mongolia’s nomadic herders, offering a local solution to a local problem, while at the same time encouraging sustainable practices, protecting the region’s endangered snow leopards and decreasing the environmental pressures of desertification.
The project has its roots in a very concrete problem that Elfström witnessed firsthand while spending a night with a nomadic family during a film shoot some years back. They were awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of howling wolves encircling their camp. The result was 17 horses and 30 other livestock dead. The herding family was devastated, and Elfström wondered aloud about traditional methods for protecting the livestock. The answer was “Bankhar.”
The Bankhar is a dog native to Mongolia which had historically been used as a livestock guardian on the isolated steppe.
Elfström created the MBDP in 2011 as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that researches, breeds, and trains Mongolian Bankhar livestock protection dogs and places these working dogs in homes of nomadic herding families on the Mongolian steppe, where the Bankhar perform their traditional role of protecting sheep, goats, horses, camels and yak against predators including snow leopards, wolves, brown bears, foxes and eagles. MBDP now runs a full breeding, training and placement program on the outskirts of Ulaanbataar. The first litter of Bankhar pups was born in December, 2014, and placement began in April 2015.
Our team will be heading into the Gobi desert with Elfström and the MDBP operational lead, Doug Lally, who has been in Mongolia on and off for over 2 years managing the project and troubleshooting administrative and cultural obstacles along the way. The mission is to assist with the ongoing work of placement, assessments, outreach and expansion of the project into new communities. The seemingly simple solution of providing these dogs to families can make an enormous difference — herders can lose up to 85% of their flock per season to predators. With the support of properly trained Bankhar dogs, that predation number comes down to almost zero.
[Photos courtesy Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project/OEX]