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.