There are few paved roads outside of Ulaanbaatar. Urban and rural roads are often poorly maintained and can be very bumpy, sandy, or rocky. We may also encounter fast drivers, poor lighting, pedestrian traffic, and lack of safety standards and traffic controls; however, the project drivers have experience driving in Mongolia. You must wear a seatbelt in project vehicles. You may not drive vehicles or drive or ride on motorbikes. In Ulaanbaatar, vehicular and pedestrian traffic can be very heavy; take caution when crossing streets on foot.
Terrain is often uneven, and you’ll often hike over loose gravel, rocks, steep slopes, or in loose sand. The area has several high rocky outcrops, which are often covered with loose debris; take care to avoid injury while climbing on rocks. Wear sturdy, broken-in footwear with ankle support and watch your steps carefully. Use a walking stick and knee braces if needed. Do not overexert yourself and inform a staff member immediately if you feel tired or ill.
The rocky outcrops create a maze-like terrain, which can cause confusion. Risks include becoming lost, disoriented, and/or dehydrated. Carry sufficient water and work with a knowledgeable staff member until you are familiar with the area. Never wander off alone. Your team member will always carry and know how to use a GPS unit; project staff will also instruct you on how to use this essential equipment if you are unfamiliar with it.
September team members may assist with drive-netting argali, ibex and Goitered gazelles, which are ungulates with large horns and sharp hooves. A netted animal could harm anyone, although that has not happened before. We will also capture vultures, small carnivores, and small mammals, which could bite or scratch. You must let experienced staff members restrain animals prior to assisting, and follow staff instructions carefully and quickly to minimize the possibility of harm. Always wear gloves when handling animals and wash or sanitize your hands after fieldwork and before eating.
One venomous snake, the Central Asian viper, inhabits Ikh Nart. This snake is very rarely lethal, unless the person has an allergy or other compromising condition. Avoid picking up, touching, or approaching snakes and inform a staff member if one is spotted.
Avoid domestic dogs whenever possible, as rabies is present in Mongolia. You can scare most dogs away by picking up a rock (you don’t usually have to throw it). Volunteers may wish to discuss rabies vaccination with their physicians (see the safety section). Ticks in the area may transmit tick fever (similar to Lyme disease). They are more prevalent during wet season (July–September), and they are relatively large and easy to spot. Wear appropriate footwear (hiking boots that cover the ankle) and check for ticks daily.
Several plants are thorny or prickly. Wear foot protection at all times and don’t handle plants without looking carefully for thorns, prickles, or nettles.
You will be working in grassland areas with potentially high pollen counts (especially in spring) and dust. Also, felts are used for warmth in gers. Volunteers with allergies should bring appropriate medication (antihistamines, at least two Epi-Pens, etc.) and inform project staff as well as Earthwatch of your condition and the location of your medication.
In this arid environment, you must always carry sufficient water in the field and drink frequently. You will also spend most of the day working in direct sun. Even on cool days, use and re-apply high-SPF sunscreen and high- SPF lip balm and wear protective clothing (long sleeves, broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses).
Severe thunderstorms can occur any time, but are rare in late summer and autumn. Strong winds are also possible and can create dust storms. The temperature can vary greatly from day to night and from day to day. Bring clothing that can be layered and a bandana or scarf for protection from windborne dust and sand, and carry waterproof clothing.
Some volunteers might find the isolation uncomfortable. We will probably have limited communication with the outside world. A satellite telephone will be turned on from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. (Mongolian time) every day to receive emergency calls. We also have cell phone contact from camp that will permit limited email checking on most days. We can call internationally from this phone if necessary.
Crime, especially theft, is on the rise in Ulaanbaatar, so guard against pickpockets and people who might cut your bags to get at items inside. Try to never walk around alone, especially after dark. Avoid wearing expensive jewelry and displaying money or cameras, and leave any unnecessary valuables at home. Mongolia has seen some protests against privatization policies and government corruption in recent years. Further protests are possible but unlikely to turn violent. The risk of terrorism is minimal but volunteers should avoid public demonstrations, large crowds, and political rallies.
Distance from Medical Care
On this project we will be up to six hours (320 km/200 mi) away from the hospital in Ulaanbaatar, and medical care in Mongolia is not generally up to Western standards. Serious medical cases would require international evacuation, most likely to Hong Kong, Seoul, or Beijing, which may be possible only in daylight. Obtain necessary routine medical and dental care prior to traveling and keep a copy of your personal health records and prescriptions with you. Disclose any medical conditions to Earthwatch and the project staff, and inform project staff of the location of any important medications. Inform a staff member immediately if you feel at all unwell. The nearest clinic is in Shivee-Gobi, 1.5 hours or 60-km/37 mi away. If you have a chronic condition, which could require immediate medical care (heart conditions, kidney problems, severe asthma, etc.), or if you are pregnant, seriously discuss your participation in this expedition with your physician.
Tap water in Mongolia is not safe to drink. Only drink water provided by the project. Or bottled water when in Ulaanbaatar.
There is a risk of fire within the camp. You will be instructed in what to do should this occur. All gers have very low doorways and wooden frames. Please ensure that you duck whenever entering and exiting them.
In some areas of Mongolia there are historic military remnants, including mortars and rounds. While it is rare that you will encounter these ordinances, project staff will brief you on what to expect in the field. Please be aware of your surroundings and keep an eye on where you step. If military remnants are found, please notify project staff team immediately.