Sunday, August 30, 2015

When dogs cry wolf

In Mongolia there is a traditional greeting which literally translates to "have you tied up your dog?"

When dogs cry wolf

(Photo by Robert Peck)
(Photo by Robert Peck)

In Mongolia there is a traditional greeting which literally translates to “have you tied up your dog?”

The expression has real meaning in the countryside where every herding family has at least one such animal, often as many as six. They provide protection and early warning of approaching strangers. Dogs are not pets here. They are never allowed inside the gers. They are all working animals that have amazing abilities to spot anything out of the ordinary and set off an alarm.

They are mostly big, shaggy creatures that are impossible to categorize by breed. The more friendly ones are given free reign and wander, untethered, near the living area. The more aggressive ones are chained to short posts by day and released to patrol the area after their owners have gone to bed.

Often when we are sleeping near a herding family I hear the dogs' alarm barks during the night and wonder what has triggered them. It might easily be wolves.

During our interviews over the past two and a half weeks, many herders have spoken about the losses they have had due to wolf predation.

Today we saw proof of it – or at least proof of the presence of wolves. While documenting the taking down, moving, and erecting a herder’s ger as the family moved from the grazing area in one valley to the next – a distance of about five miles – they proudly showed us a wolf skin taken from an animal that their dogs had detected stalking their sheep.

The skin was enormous – bigger than the ten year old herder who was guarding the sheep when his father shot the wolf. The size of the animal and the lushness of its silvery-white fur suggested that the animal had been a very healthy one in its prime, both bigger and better fed than the dogs that had triggered the alarm and led to its death.

I doubt I will have a chance to see a wolf on this trip, but as I drift off to sleep to the sound of distant barking, I can easily imagine that they are there.

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About this blog
The age of exploration is not dead. Over the next six weeks, Robert Peck and colleagues from the Academy of Natural Sciences and the University of Pennsylvania will be traveling in Mongolia, reconnecting with herdsmen Peck met 17 years ago and checking for evidence of climate change. Peck will chronicle his travels in the land once ruled by Genghis Khan on a blog at

Robert McCracken Peck, senior fellow of the Academy of Natural Sciences
Peck is a writer, naturalist, and historian who has traveled extensively in North and South America, Africa, Asia and Europe. He has been honored by the Academy, the Explorers Club, and other organizations for his contributions to exploration and the interpretation of natural history. In 2007, the U.S. Department of State and the White House chose him to represent the United States at Mongolia’s 800th birthday celebration. Peck is the author of Land of the Eagle: A Natural History of North America (1990), Headhunters and Hummingbirds: An Expedition into Ecuador (1987), and other books and papers.

Clyde Goulden, Director of the Asia Center of the Academy of Natural Sciences
Goulden’s research in Asia began in 1994 when he and Academy colleagues were invited to initiate studies on a large lake in northern Mongolia, Lake Hovsgol. His work at the lake has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Global Environment Facility through the World Bank. He is associated with a research program to study the impacts of climate change on the lake’s watershed and the nomadic herders of Mongolia.

Tuya Goulden, researcher and international travel liaison
Tuya Goulden moved to the United States in 2006 from Mongolia and is a citizen of the U.S. In addition to college degrees from Mongolian universities, she has a master’s degree in tourism management from George Washington University. Goulden has been active in organizing expeditions in Mongolia for scientists in from the Academy and other universities. She is a research assistant for the Mongolian NSF-PIRE project on climate change impacts and serves as the translator for interviews with Mongolian nomadic herders.

Dakin Henderson, videographer
Henderson, a Boston filmmaker, has produced fiction and non-fiction short films, music videos and science-education documentaries. His films have won awards at Colorado College, the Shoot Out Boulder competition and the Ecological Society of America EcoFilm Festival. He currently works with the award-winning production team, Vital Pictures. Visit his website at

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