Woody Packard

Words + Pictures

Mongol Bankhar

Young Bankhar, Nomadic Guardians
As social change influences various parts of the ecological system here, environmental activity can take on unfamiliar twists and turns. Certainly there are examples of activity where one action leads directly to an intended result. A program that encourages ger residents to replace low-efficiency stoves with high-efficiency stoves should yield the intended result of less air pollution. Providing a paved road between two points should prevent soil erosion by offering drivers a good alternative to driving randomly through the desert.

For other problems though, a direct solution has been elusive—such as the protection of endangered top-level predators from livestock herders. In a country as sparsely populated as Mongolia is, no law prohibiting the killing of these predators will prevent a herder from protecting his herd of sheep or goats or cattle, which is done with a gun, a trap, or by poisoning. Even though it has been illegal to kill a snow leopard for many years, their numbers are still declining.

One strategy for preventing the deaths of these predators is to find an alternate means of protecting a herder's animals. And one inventive means of doing this is to restore the Mongol Bankhar to its traditional job as a herd protection dog, a position it had held here for centuries. Recently though, because of its status as Mongolia's national dog, the breed has become so desirable as a pet that its increased price has made it prohibitive to herders, who have largely abandoned its use. And although the modern Bankhar still has the genetic material to make a good herd protection dog, in its new role it no longer gets the strict training necessary, from the time it is six weeks old, to make it understand its role as a herd protector.

Nomadic Guardians is a very small non-government organization whose goal is to raise, train, and distribute these dogs to co-operating herders in the countryside. Although its eventual goal is to be run by Mongolians, right now its feet-on-the-ground representative is Doug Lally, who I had a chance to work with over this past week. Doug's job is to translate this organization's simple mission into the complicated reality here. It is a formidable task made even more difficult by the general facts of trying to get anything at all done, and the specific fact that raising dogs is not the multi-billion dollar industry that it is in the United States.

In an age where so much can be done online, raising dogs in Mongolia is a stark reminder of how much can't be done there. The needs of dogs are not virtual, and some, such as the need for food, is daily. If you are imagining stacks of bagged Purina, you have already failed to appreciate the scope of the problem. There is no dog food here. The dogs' caretaker must buy animal parts and organs, cook them with noodles, and feed this soup to the dogs. Burying logs to prevent the dogs from digging under gates involves an entire afternoon of swinging a pick into earth frozen rock-solid. On my first afternoon helping out I drove staples into wood with a rock because the hammer and some other tools had been stolen by contractors hired to help out. The next day, with a new hammer, it was impossible to drive nails into logs, either because the nails were made from low-quality steel that was too soft, or the wood had too much moisture in it and had, by late afternoon at well below 0°F, frozen to the consistency of concrete.

By far, the single most crippling impediment is simply the traffic here, an infrastructure deficiency with no end in sight. Since we mostly travel by foot, it has been easy to avoid the fact that the traffic is congested in a way that I have not seen anywhere else. It takes an hour, and sometimes much more, to get from central Ulaanbaatar to the property where the dogs are being raised—11.5 miles away. Most of this distance is clear sailing, but within the central city the movement of cars is in a constant state of paralysis. Add a stop to get lumber (another story) and one to pick up eighty pounds of animal organs, and the trip yesterday took four hours. Working beyond what was left of daylight, we returned after dark, traffic as thick as we had left it. An hour in the car, and I abandoned Doug to cover the rest of the distance home by foot.

Close Story—Back to Pictures

Mongol Bankhar

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Nomadic Guardians, Kennels

Mongol Bankhar Pup

Noah and Doug, Picking and Scraping

Doug, Attaching Wire Mesh

Caretaker Ger

Caretaker, Puppy

Batchelor Ger


Shopping, Electrical

Plywood Store

Lumber Store


Dog Food Store

Dog Food






Arslan, Recovering