The Plight of Mongolia’s Reindeer Herding People

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Image: Uluc Kecik

Reindeer are milked twice a day by women of the tribe. The yogurt-like milk is four to five times more fatty than cow’s milk.

The mountainous boreal forests of the taiga are harsh, wild, and achingly beautiful. Although not as well known as the either the Gobi Desert or the grassy steppe of Mongolia, the taiga nevertheless represents the world’s largest biome.

Beginning where the frozen tundra ends, the taiga’s dark, coniferous woodlands stretch almost continuously from Eurasia across to sub-arctic North America. It is an important place because of its tremendous environmental value and as the home of the indigenous Dukha people and their reindeer herds – yet it is currently under threat.


Image: Uluc Kecik

Fall camps, like this one, are typically found on the edge of forests and provide protection from the elements.

This is not an easy place in which to live. Mostly, it is cold: the average temperature is below 32°F (0°C) and can drop all the way to a bone-chilling -65°F (-53°C). However, in the summer months the heat can shoot all the way up to 70°F (21°C), a massive variation from the usual chill. Yet, for the forests of the taiga and its flora and fauna, these are the perfect conditions for life.

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Image: Uluc Kecik

The woman pictured, Chechek (Flower), was host to the photographer and is a shaman of the taiga.

For over 3,000 years, the Dukha people (also known as the Tsaatan) have lived here, adapting their nomadic lifestyle to the extreme weather and landscape of the taiga. During this time they have become bound to their reindeer herds, which provide them with everything from meat, hides and milk to a vital system of transport. They are a hardy people – as they would have to be to survive in this challenging terrain. Yet the population of the Dukha, and the reindeer on which they rely, are dwindling, and urgent changes are needed if they are to continue with their ancient way of life.

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