A zookeeper in Mongolia (Part 2)

In May, ZSL London Zoo keeper, Oliver Duprey visited the Zakhyn Us wild Bactrian camel captive breeding centre in Mongolia to provide advice on caring for and breeding wild camels. The breeding centre was founded by the Wild Camel Protection Foundation (WCPF) and is the only captive wild Bactrian camel breeding centre in the world. See here for more information. Although EDGE researchers will focus mainly on conserving wild populations of the Critically Endangered wild Bactrian camel, we feel it is important to raise awareness of all conservation efforts for the species. We also plan to provide assistance in assessing the suitability of potential reintroduction sites for the camels in the near future. This is the second installment of Ollie’s expedition.

The captive breeding centre…

Zakhyn Us is a naturally occurring spring approximately an hours drive North of Bayantoro and it is here that the site for the breeding centre was chosen. The spring was exactly like the oasis you imagine in the desert and broke up the continual sandy rock landscape with crystal clear water and beautifully green grass around it. The area was surrounded by a formidable wall of mountains on all sides.

Zakhyn Us

The breeding centre consists of a fenced off area of approximately sixty hectares in area and some wooden buildings within, which offer the nineteen wild camels housed there some shelter and also provide storage areas for fodder. Half of the spring is encompassed into the fenced area leaving the other half for roaming domestic camels belonging to nearby herdsman to utilize.

Domestic Bactrian camels

The wild camels are managed by a herdsman called Tsog Erdene, who looks after them in the fenced area during the breeding season of winter. This means that there is no risk of hybridization with local, domestic camels. During the rest of the year it is safe for the wild camels to be managed in a similar way to the domestic camels Tsog owns and they live along side them. Whilst at Zakhyn Us, I was amazed at just how different the wild camels are from the domestic types, with much smaller humps, less hair and what there is of it, in a much lighter shade.

Wild camel

Ollie on domestic camel

As well as carrying out my report, I helped Tsog and Bilgee to carry out repairs on the fence and also to change the outer covering of the ger. Gers are the traditional felt tents that the Mongolian herdsmen live in and despite looking a little basic, they are surprisingly cosy! It was extremely peaceful with not another human being in sight and only the noise of the wind blowing across the sand.

Ger

At the moment the centre is working as a breeding centre, much in the same way a zoo holds a captive population as insurance for the risk of the species going extinct in the wild. However, the centre needs to rotate its stock so that inbreeding does not occur once the current young become sexually mature. This was one of the problems my report was aimed at finding a solution to. The centre’s other role in the near future will be in helping scientific research in this field with a planned look out tower to be built at the site, and also any re-released wild camels being radio collared before, so that their movements can be traced in the wild.

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