I am Oliver Duprey and I work at ZSL London Zoo as a keeper looking after a number of different species including the sloth bears, pygmy hippos and also the Bactrian camels. Although having a great interest in all living things, I have developed a real love for camels. I find them to have very intriguing and individual personalities and also find their adaptability to the harshest of environments very impressive.
To follow up my interest, see the camels’ natural habitat and also to help the WCPF (Wild Camel Protection Foundation) with their conservation work, I planned an expedition to the Gobi desert in my holidays.
I traveled from London to Beijing, China and spent a couple of days sightseeing there. There are no direct flights to Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia so I decided to travel via Beijing and catch the trans-Siberian express from there. Beijing was an incredible culture shock and made rush hour in London seem like a quaint village in Devon. Fifteen million people, and almost none of them able to speak any English! Even getting to my hotel was a challenge and involved the help of a Mancunian man and his Chinese girlfriend. As well as doing some sightseeing, I planned my journey to the train station meticulously. Since the hotel difficulties I realized nothing could be left to chance or I’d miss the train and have to wait four days for the next one!
The train from Beijing to Ulan Bator takes approximately 36 hours and was a great experience and introduced me to my first Mongolians, who amazed me with their incredible vodka drinking ability. On arrival in Ulan Bator with a sore head, I was met by Bilgee, co-coordinator of the WCPF’s activities in Mongolia. I was taken to my hotel and we briefly discussed the plans for my trip. My main aim: to produce a report citing my recommendations for the future management of the wild camel captive breeding centre that the WCPF run in the Gobi desert.
I spent three days in the capital, Ulan Bator, which was much less populated, but, no less hectic than Beijing. Crossing the road in either city is an art, and in Mongolia I learned to cross at the same time as the Mongolian next to me. They always seem to get across with their lives somehow and I fortunately did too.
Myself and Bilgee were to drive for three days across the Mongolian Steppe and into the Gobi Desert, which we began on a Wednesday. We were ready to go on the Tuesday, but, in Mongolia, travel on a Tuesday is very bad luck and must be avoided. The scenery was as I imagined it and better, going steadily into more and more bleak and impressively empty landscapes. At times it reminded me of Lord of the Rings and what I imagined Mordor to be like.
On the third day we arrived in Bayantoro, a town close to the breeding centre and not close to much else, but, sand. The people seemed very surprised to see me and I’m sure they don’t often see westerners. After three nights in Bayantoro with the language barrier as strong as in China, I was itching to get to the breeding centre and see the camels. I was not disappointed when I finally got there.