Protecting animals from extreme climates in Mongolia


Life on the Mongolian steppe can be hard and unforgiving for the horses that live there. They travel long distances each day, and in these high open plains there is no shelter from the elements. And things can become much harder due to a weather phenomenon known as the ‘dzud’.

The dzud can occur anywhere in the country, causing very hot, dry summers and extremely cold winters. The dry summers cause the grazing lands to dry up, which means the horses can’t put on enough weight to prepare them for the harsh winters, which can be as cold as -43 degrees.

The dzud in 2000 killed over eight million animals, and since then it has become more common – the winter of 2017/2018 was the country’s third consecutive year of dzud. With this extreme weather becoming more common and animals getting little respite, the horses of Mongolia needed SPANA’s help.

That’s why we launched an emergency project to help Mongolia’s herder families and their animals. Working with our partner organisation, CAMDA, we funded the construction of wells in the regions of Sükhbaatar, Khentii and Arkhangai – the parts of Mongolia that are most affected by this deadly weather phenomenon.

Horses drinking Mongolia

Before, herders had to cluster around the few working wells, which meant the land became overgrazed. Rehabilitating broken-down wells and providing new ones opens up new areas for grazing, meaning all of these horses will have enough to eat.

‘The land around this well had been abandoned for many years because the well was unusable,’ a herder from Mujig told us. ‘We had to travel long distances with our animals to the nearest watering points, which were always overgrazed. Now the well is back in use and there is enough grass for all the animals – we are very happy.’

So far we have helped 65,374 animals, including horses, camels, cattle, sheep and goats, and we are providing ongoing support to the herders and their working animals.

From the horse’s mouth

‘My name is Tuyama Ulziibayar. I am 39 years old, and I live with my husband and our son and daughter. We have around 700 animals – 600 sheep and goats, around 40 cattle and more than 80 horses. We love our animals, especially our horses.

‘My father was a herder. He wanted me to take care of his livestock after him, so I chose to become a herder. It feels great to look after these animals and see them grow. We go through a lot of things together.

‘Heavy snowfall happens a lot in winter. After it has snowed one or two times, it gets hard. When the snow falls, the most needed supply is hay. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to supply enough hay for every animal.

‘During heavy snowfall, we spend most of the day outside taking care of our livestock. In 2002, we were young and just married. That year, the winter was really hard. We had to work hard and try not to lose many animals, but we lost a lot.

‘This well used to be filled with dirt and flood water. It didn’t produce enough water. Now it is the most usable well we have in this area. If this well wasn’t made, it would have been really hard for us and our animals. Last year, it didn’t rain a lot during summer, and many herders had to move close to this well so their animals could drink. This summer there were many herders too. Many animals are brought here for water.

‘I appreciate you for building a really good well for us and helping us to take care of our livestock and our horses. On behalf of all the other herders and our animals, I would like to say thank you very much.’

Help in times of crisis

When disaster strikes, working animals are often on the front lines. Whether it’s the horses of Mongolia facing the dzud, the working donkeys of Botswana facing a horrific drought, or the working oxen of Odisha, India struggling to survive after a series of cyclones, there are animals around the world who are suffering as a result of devastating crises.

Thanks to your dedication and commitment to working animals, we’re able to fund projects that help these animals when they need it most, providing food, water, shelter and vital veterinary care.

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