Mary Kitchen | Tuesday, August22, 2017
After an amazing experience on my first Earthwatch expedition in Nicaragua I decided that I would like to join another trip and reviewed my options, settling on Wildlife of the Mongolia Steppe.
As it was my second Earthwatch trip I knew that I was going to be well taken care off, so I packed my bags and arrived at Ulaanbataar airport ready to meet the rest of the team. Although my expedition this year had fewer volunteers than my previous expedition, it turned out to be great for us as we had many more staff on the trip from Denver Zoo which meant we had more people to share their knowledge with us.
All the staff were extremely friendly, knowledgeable, passionate about their work and generally just great fun. We were immediately made to feel part of the team and any questions, suggestions, ideas, concerns we may have had were listened to with respect.
It was also great to have so many local students on the trip, it was really special to be able to work with them as they understand the environment so well and really looked after us during the field work. I felt extremely safe with them and learnt so much from them about the Mongolian Steppe and its wildlife as well as learning about their culture, who doesn’t enjoy a bit of Mongolian rap music!
Ihk Nart camp was a very special place to be, from a practical point of view it is a very well-equipped camp and the gers were really comfortable, and as for the food, delicious! Being able to spend so much time in such a remote, yet beautiful environment was something I’ll never forget, it is truly a spectacular place to be.
On arrival, we were well briefed on camp life and all the field work, taken through the different studies which we were able to help the students with. There was a wide variety of studies going on, you could easily assist with three different projects a day if you wanted to and the team tried to ensure that each volunteer had a chance to help out on every project at least once. The support team in camp were also excellent, the drivers, cook, cleaner and camp manager all made our stay enjoyable, all so helpful and approachable if you had any issues.
The main projects we helped on were vegetation, small mammals, vultures, kestrels, Argali sheep and pika (a small furry animal) tracking and monitoring as part of many long term studies. Sometimes this would involve a hike and other times a nice drive in an air-conditioned 4x4. Whichever way you got to the animals, you got to experience the vast beauty of the steppe and enjoy the wildlife in their natural habitat in all their glory. The trip has certainly given me a new love for vultures, they are a much misunderstood bird and yet so amazing, it was a joy to watch them in the wild.
In addition to the wildlife monitoring, we also built stone dams to help with water conservation in the camp environment. This was something that wasn’t in the briefing and although a bit strenuous in the heat, it was something which really made you feel that you could actually make a difference to the environment. Something which I hope will be part of future expeditions there as it felt like really valuable work.
Of course there was also plenty of time for other activities, we had many interesting talks from the academic staff about the studies and why our contribution was important, giving us a great understanding of the aims of Ihk Nart and how it has developed over the years. We also had some entertainment from the students such as impromptu wrestling tournaments and dance lessons at the weekly disco. Other activities were also organised for us such as a visit from some local women to demonstrate their felt making skills and a visit to a traditional ger and we travelled to the camp via the Trans Mongolian Railway which was an experience itself.
The expedition exceeded my expectations, the organisation was excellent, the location was spectacular, the work was interesting and varied and the staff and students were so welcoming and friendly, altogether an amazing experience.