Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Stunning photos show nomadic life of Mongolian goat herders

Mongolia produces 40 per cent of the world’s cashmere supply from its goats, but climate change and overproduction are threatening this unique way of life


1 February 2023

Ganbaatar Davaasuren (known as “Bukhuu”) in Uvurkhangai province, Mongolia

Matilde Gattoni

FORTY per cent of the world’s cashmere is sourced from the windswept plateau of Mongolia.

Mongolia - Uvurkhangai province - Bukhuu???s 14 year old son Mungun Huleg gathers the goats inside the enclosure before selecting those who need to be combed that day.

Bukhuu’s 14-year-old son Mungun Huleg gathers the goats before selecting those that need to be combed that day

Matilde Gattoni

The fabric is made from the undercoats of the local goats, which develop a particularly tight fur to survive the harsh winters, where temperatures can drop as low as -40°C. In past decades, cashmere has made a fortune for local herders, becoming the main source of income for a third of the Mongolian population.

Mongolia - Bayankhongor province - Tserennadmid Khaltarkhuu (Nadmid), 44, (right) cuts the baby goat???s ears to mark them with the help of his children Shinetsetseg Tserennadmid, 19 (center) and Shinezaya Tserennadmid, 17 (left).

Tserennadmid Khaltarkhuu cuts a baby goat’s ears to mark them with the help of his children

Matilde Gattoni

But lately climate change and overproduction have threatened the cashmere supply, and a unique way of life with it. In Mongolia, temperatures have warmed by more than 2°C in the past 80 years, above the world average, and could rise by up to 5°C by the end of the century. Milder winters – which can negatively affect the quality of cashmere – are now followed by long, dry springs and short summers, when not enough rain falls to sustain the pastures.

Mongolia - Uvurkhangai province - Bukhuu???s 70 year old father Davaasuren Tsogt sitting right outside his ger, smocking a traditional hand rolled cigarette.

Bukhuu’s father Davaasuren Tsogt sits outside his ger (a traditional Mongolian dwelling)

Matilde Gattoni

The global cashmere boom saw the number of goats skyrocket from 10.2 million to 26.5 million, causing overgrazing and desertification. Seventy per cent of Mongolia’s pastures are already considered degraded.

Mongolia - Bayankhongor province - A herd of goats stand on a wall built from natural stones found in the Gobi desert.

A herd of goats on a wall built from stones from the Gobi desert

Matilde Gattoni

To address the problem, local herders are reviving traditional pastureland management practices. Cooperatives have also been set up to coordinate grazing and rotation between pastures, to give nature the chance to replenish itself, and the national government has imposed a tax on livestock to curb numbers.

Mongolia - Bayankhongor province - Orkhontuya Oidovdagva (Orkhoo) 38 answers the phone from the center of the ger, the only place that has reception, where the family cell phone is left to hang 24/7.

Orkhontuya Oidovdagva answers the family mobile phone from the centre of a ger, where the phone is left to hang all day

Matilde Gattoni

But so far, no alternative source of income seems a ready substitute to a fabric that has provided an economic lifeline for a nomadic way of life that would otherwise have been lost.

Mongolia - Uvurkhangai province - A goat being combed lies on the floor.

A goat being combed

Matilde Gattoni

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