A Zookeeper in Mongolia (Part 3)
This is the final installment of Oliver Duprey’s expedition to the Zakhyn Us wild camel captive breeding centre in Mongolia. Ollie cares for camels at ZSL London Zoo. He traveled to the centre in May to provide advice on keeping camels in captivity and to develop a management plan for the camels at the centre. This was an entirely voluntary assignment, which Ollie completed both in his own time and partly at his own expense. The EDGE team would like to take this opportunity to thank Ollie for sharing his knowledge and experiences with us all, and helping to secure a future for wild camels in Mongolia.
The life of a herdsman…
After spending a few days at Zakhyn Us we traveled South to where Tsog was currently living. Mongolian herdsmen are nomads and move their entire gers and all their furniture three to four times each year. This guarantees that their camels, goat and sheep can graze on the best pasture throughout the year. Here I shadowed Tsog’s work as a herdsman and learnt all sorts of skills such as goat herding on horse back, camel milking, making cashmere and riding camels. I was also lucky enough to see a goat give birth and also be involved in the aftercare of another kid.
Whenever we visited other gers, it amazed me just how hospitable the Mongolians were. We would walk in unannounced to any ger and immediately would be showered with tea, food and always vodka!! Many people visited Tsog’s ger when I stayed there as well that had traveled from many miles away, simply turning up on a camel, drinking a tea and then getting on their way.
This was a great experience and so despite many run-ins with ticks (not my favourite animal species, I must admit), I was sad and reluctant to make the journey back to Bayantoro, before going onwards to civilization. I gave Tsog my wind-up torch that he had been very impressed with and I’m sure he is still using it every night to find the toilet bush! In return he gave me some special milk vodka which is apparently of the highest importance in Mongolia. I was honoured and touched despite the alarming amount of hair in it!
Back to reality…
Once we arrived back in Ulan Bator, I wrote up my report and then spent a number of nights in Dave’s place, the only British pub in Mongolia. It felt just like home except for drinking German/Mongolian beer and confirmed my mixed feelings about the impeding return. It would be a shock and a shame to return to England, but, I also longed for a lovely shower and to meet up with my friends and family. Its tough living in the desert!
In my report, I suggested possible solutions to a few of the management problems that are occurring at the breeding centre including surplus males, overgrazing and the impeding problem of inbreeding. I also suggested future management possibilities to help develop the captive breeding centre to increase yield and therefore, the impact it will make on supporting the wild population. Hopefully, this will help the WCPF to continue their very important work in helping one of the great survivors, the Bactrian camel, to survive its greatest threat yet, extinction.