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13 Points About the Reindeer People of Mongolia

1. The race of Mongolians who live off of herds of reindeer on the border with Siberia are called Dukha. There are less than 300 of them left, and they are steadily decreasing.

2. Of all Mongolians, they live in the most primitive conditions and the most inaccessible areas. Most of the time they roam with their herds in the forest between Lake Khovsgol and the border with Siberia 300 miles to the north.

3. Many in the younger generation are sent away to school, and do not return. They consider the lifestyle to be too difficult to maintain. Of those who remain, many make at least a part of their income from tourists.

4. This family split up with the grandmother (in the first picture) bringing three reindeer for the tourists to look at and the grandfather keeping the rest of a herd of forty close to the border where it was colder.

5. They used a motorcycle to haul in stuff like the stove.

6. They provided us with a doc. When we arrived, there were already some other tourists visiting. When one of the Reindeer People has set up a camp, they will let the locals know, and the locals tell the tour guides. Who is where changes from week to week.

7. They only brought three of the reindeer because reindeer handle cold much, much better than they handle heat. Though I found it comfortable with highs in the 70′s, it posed a health issue for the reindeer.

8. They had a male and a female tied down and the female’s baby, who wandered freely. All three had horns, but the baby had knocked one off somewhere along the way.

9. The baby was very friendly and not the least put off by people. When we first arrived, he walked right up to us. But reindeer are livestock. Not pets. In the seventies the herds came to approximately 2,000 in strength. They are now down to around 600.

10. The Dukha all touch base in a town named Tuvan at least once a year. They can find medical services, school, etc there as well as permanent houses. This is where they take care of any governmental paperwork (birth certificates?) they may need.

11. This part of the family consists of the grandmother, her grandson, her daughter, daughter in law, and her son. They keep in touch with the grandfather and other members of the family through a cell phone, which they charge with the photovoltaic panel in front of the tipi.

12. When the Russians were in power, there was no separation. Reindeer people from Mongolia could wander into Siberia to see relatives and visa versa. Now there is a fence built between the two which is guarded by the Mongolians. In order to get across, the Dukha must get passports and visas.

13. When the Russians were in power, most Mongolians lost their spiritual traditions. The Dukha remained shamanic. They were particularly adept at finding medicinal plants in the woods. Now most of their knowledge has been lost.

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