A Wild Dash to the Gobi

The Gobi Desert. That vast central Asian plain which, in the West, is pretty much a metaphor for emptiness, desolation and hardship. So why was I here at 8am on a Sunday morning in late summer? 

I had spent the last 24 hours in a creaking Russian bus that had surprisingly managed to crawl its way across the Altai Mountains from Khovd City. It was packed to the gills with all things necessary for about 35 people, of which 29 were school kids. We had camped in a roadside ditch, slept around 4 hours and had gotten back in the bus to reach our current location, the Gobi B Specially Protected Area. But why had we done all this, I asked myself?

To see horses. Again, not really creatures near the top of my “Animals to See Before I Die” list. These thoughts whirled around my sleep-deprived brain as I hunched over my knees, looking at the enormous, empty steppe in front of me, and I just couldn’t shake the question: was this really worth it? 

Lunch stops were spectacular!
Everyone pitched in when it came to preparing food.
A midnight reconnaissance with the Gobi B Specially Protected Area rangers.

The ranger, who had been squinting through a telescope for the past 30 minutes, called me over. Despite the magnification, I had trouble spotting what looked like sand-coloured mules – they were that far away. 

“Przewalski’s Horse,” he said. 

Great, I smirked snootily to myself, trying to see the funny side in this anti-climax. I half expected the party to jump back in the bus and go home. We didn’t.

The bus and the telescope. By now time had become but a construct.

Instead, we trundled in the direction of the horses and stopped. Some dragged themselves groggily out of the bus to prepare breakfast. I pulled myself together and started walking towards the horses. To cheer myself up, I recalled the Przewalski’s Horse story, which is a remarkable tale by any standard.

To summarise shortly, the Przewalski’s horse is the last species of true wild horse in the world. Declared extinct in the wild in the 1960s, it took a combined effort of Eastern and Western Bloc countries to preserve the species in zoos – impressive considering the Cold War climate at the time. In the early 1990s the first Przewalski’s Horses were re-introduced to the Mongolian steppe. Every Przewalski’s Horse alive today is descended from 9 horses captured in 1945, which happened despite the chaos and destruction brought on by World War 2! These in turn were descended from 15 individuals captured in around 1900! Today there are hundreds of Przewalski’s Horses free-roaming the Mongolian steppe. 

As I crept closer to the group, I was struck by how… pretty they are. To be clear, I am not a horse person by any stretch of the imagination. But these creatures are just that – pretty. Not in a conventional sense – they are stocky, have enormous square jaws, dark manes, and a very definite unhorse-like trot. If you painted a few black stripes on them, they’d pass for zebras. But pretty they are, without a doubt. And they really are wild. You cannot get close on foot. 

Yet, it is their sandy-tan colour that is truly beautiful. There are so many shades that no Przewalski’s Horse looks alike. And if you sit quietly, you can hear them chat to each other. One can forget that all horses are actually herd animals – not so with the Przewalski’s Horse. The chatter is colloquial, like a family on holiday, mates at a bar, students on lawn during break. 

I saw the bus, 2 kilometres in the distance. Breakfast was being served. We would indeed be returning to Khovd within the hour. I looked back the horses, once back from the brink, still engaged in their carefree gossip. And I realised… this mad dash to the Gobi may well have been worth it.  



Eco Club Summer Camp in Norovlin soum, Khentii Aimag

WWF hosted the annual Summer Camp for eastern Mongolian Eco Clubs in Khentii province in early July. Ten Eco Clubs were present, and six Eco Club members from western Mongolia made the gruelling three-day journey from the steppes to take part.


The actual campsite was on a wide, grassy plain 30 kilometres from Norovlin Soum, but it might as well have been the middle of nowhere, so remote did it feel!


After pitching tents, constructing two gers, digging latrines, building the volleyball pitch and a quick supper, everyone was understandably ready for bed.


On the first day, the children were split into different workshop groups. In their groups, the children learned about and did practical exercises involving freshwater streams, plant growth on the steppes and trees life. There was also a creative class where children were challenged to use only natural substances and objects to make art pieces.


When lunch time came around, many Eco Club kids took pride in preparing the food themselves, which was tasty! Never-ending games of “Steppe Volleyball” and table tennis were played throughout the afternoon, and in the evening a party was organised with loud speakers and all!


Unfortunately the party ended prematurely when a biblical downpour drenched the whole campsite, wetting everything from sleeping bags to deels and forcing everyone to make for the two gers! Luckily there was somehow enough space for the 60 odd people. 


The following day was an important one for all concerned: a donor visit from the Teng family, who had come all the way from Singapore to meet with various conservation projects in Mongolia. The Eco Club children acquitted themselves exceptionally, welcoming the guests in Mongolian and English before a full programme of dance, theatre, songs, video screenings and art displays. The visitors were clearly impressed!


On day three it was time for most to make the long journey home. It is hard to overstate the commitment and passion the Eco Club kids have for these camps and the lengths they are willing to go to participate. There is real enthusiasm for learning about the animals on the steppe, the critters on the streams and bugs in the air, and most youngsters would no doubt have stayed longer! 

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Summer Camp in eastern Mongolia: a great success!



Meet the Eco Club Kids – Enkhjin

Age: 12

From: Sagil soum, Uvs

Why did you join the Eco Club?

I joined my Eco Club in 2017. I love nature, and I learn a lot of interesting and useful things when I’m with my Eco Club. I think Eco Club people do more to protect nature than other people, and I have made friends with Eco Club members from other soums.

What have you done to conserve nature with your Eco Club?

My Eco Club has cleaned up trash from many natural areas. We protect wild animals like snow leopards by removing traps. We did workshops with herders and hunters about the dangers of trapping wild animals. We raised awareness about the disadvantages of killing all the wild animals. I also think we as Mongolians have to become smarter about using plastic, not littering and recycling.