:: Mongolia ::
Photo: Dmitriez, N.G. & Ernst, L.K.Management of Mongolian reindeer: an ongoing debate

For millennia, reindeer have been the basis of the livelihoods and culture of nomadic peoples in the taiga and tundras of Eurasia. The Tsataan, or Dukha, people of Mongolia, for example, rely on their animals for transport −reindeer are ridden and used as pack animals, and food −largely in the form of milk. When a reindeer is culled, meat, hides and virtually every part of its body is utilized. As with many nomadic societies, a range of factors threaten the Dhuka´s traditional way of life − including a fall in reindeer numbers that has occurred during recent decades.

Several threats to the herds have been identified. The region´s wildlifepopulation is declining due to commercial hunting. In the absence of wild game to hunt, the herders are being forced to slaughter their animals at an unsustainable rate. Other economic developments such as mining are a further threat, as grazing areas are destroyed or migration patterns are disrupted. Reduced mobility as herders stay close to towns to take advantage of education services and access to consumer goods may negatively affect the reindeers´ nutrition, as they are unable to access remote lichen-rich grazing areas. Traditional knowledge regarding breeding and husbandry may have been lost during the collectivized period, meaning that the new private herders are less adept at reindeer management than were their predecessors. At the same time, problems related to the health of the reindeer are exacerbated by the decline of government veterinary services and predator control measures. There have also been suggestions that inbreeding is contributing to the reindeer´s decline by increasing vulnerability to diseases such as brucellosis.

In 1962, and again in the late 1980s,the Mongolian government brought reindeer from Siberia to replenish the herds. Since the end of the Soviet era, no such inflows have occurred. Proposals that there should be renewed import of reindeer or reindeer semen, from Siberia or from more distant places such as Scandinavia or Canada, have provoked some debate. Arguments have been put forward that cross-breeding has the potential to restore beneficial traits that have declined over time, including disease resistance, high milk production, and large body and antler size. Conversely, others argue that to introduce exotic genetic material may be inappropriate, as local reindeer have been selected for local requirements, in particular for riding and transporting goods. Molecular studies have indicated that the Dhuka´s herds are no more inbred than many other reindeer populations. Further research is being undertaken by various NGOs, scientists, and Mongolian government authorities to explore in greater depth the best approaches to managing the reindeer genetic resources. Efforts are also being made to assess the animal health needs of the Dhuka and to provide improved veterinary care.

Source: Advice on the preparation of this text was provided by Brian Donahoe, Morgan Keay, Kirk Olson and Dan Plumley.

For further information see:

Donahoe, B. & Plumley, D. 2001. Requiem or Recovery: The 21st-Century Fate of the Reindeer- Herding Peoples of Inner Asia. Cultural Survival Quarterly, 25(2): 75−77. (also available at publications/csq/ csq-article.cfm?id=570).

Donahoe, B. & Plumley, D. eds. 2003. The troubled taiga: survival on the move for the last nomadic reindeer herders of South Siberia, Mongolia, and China. Special Issue of Cultural Survival Quarterly, 27(1).

Haag, A.L. 2004. Future of ancient culture rides on herd´s little hoofbeats, New York Times, December 21, 2004. (also available at http://query.nytimes.com/ gst/abstract.html ?res =F10B11FE38540C728EDDAB0994DC404482).

Matalon, L. 2004. Reindeer decline threatens Mongolian nomads, National Geographic News, October 12, 2004. (also available at http://news.nationalgeographic.com/ news/2004/10/1012_041012_mongolia_reindeer.html).

Owen, J. 2004. "Reindeer people" resort to eating their herds. National Geographic News, November 4, 2004. (also available at http://news.nationalgeographic.com/ news /2004/11/1104_041104_reindeer_people.html).


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