On patrol in the Gobi

Director´s view

Miroslav Bobek  |  30. 06. 2018

The Mongolian rangers Altanashagai and Biligsaichan are on a week-long trip to the Great Gobi A Strictly Protected Area on brand new motorbikes. The bikes are laden with fuel, water and materials for the patrol of this desolate area the size of Switzerland. Here they face an extremely strenuous ride taking them on stony and gravelly slopes, through rocky gorges, along plains dotted with the shrub-like saxaul and over treacherous sand dunes.

Photo: Miroslav Bobek, Prague Zoo Photo: Miroslav Bobek, Prague Zoo

It’s an incredible rally, which Altanshagaj and Biligsaichan - like the fourteen other rangers in Gobi A – undergo two or three times a month. In the summer, when the temperatures are over forty degrees Celsius and the sun-scorched surface is too hot to touch by the afternoon, and in winter, when temperatures plummet to minus forty. They always stay for about a week in the wilderness covering several hundred kilometres.

This column is written in a dwelling made of stone and wood in the shape of a yurt. The rangers have gradually built seven of them here in Gobi A, so that they don’t have to live in tents all the time. As I write, Altanashagai and Biligsaichan clean the nearby watering hole. The maintenance of the watering holes is one of the key factors for the survival of Wild Camels, Gobi Bears and other rare animals, making it one of the rangers’ main tasks. In addition, they carry out regular monitoring in the protected area, keep a watch out for “ninjas”, i.e. illegal gold miners, inspect the camera traps, collect samples and much more besides.

Last Saturday the new motorbikes that Altanshagaj and Biligsaichan rode to the watering hole on, together with six others, were handed over on behalf of Prague Zoo to the director and rangers of the Great Gobi A Strictly Protected Area. It is the next step in our efforts to support the protection of this extremely valuable territory, in particular one of its extraordinary and extremely rare inhabitants - the Wild Camel. Our further activities in Gobi A should now be focused on building a reserve population of this species in captivity. But that is still quite a long way off. Now, I face a climb up the hill from where I’ll see Altanshagaj and Biligsaichan. And who knows, perhaps in the distance, I might spot an approaching flock of Wild Camels.

On patrol in the Gobi