Experiencing Mongolia’s incredible wildlife

Biology graduate Jack Poole blogs about his experience of the ZSL Steppe Forward Summer Field Course, a unique conservation fieldwork course in Mongolia.

Students from the Mongolia Summer Field Course 2015 sitting on the ZSL vans
Students from the 2015 ZSL Mongolia Summer Field Course

Imagine a land where wild horses run free and golden eagles, vultures and kites soar. Somewhere detached from human interference; a wilderness of wildlife, sun and grass.  

Last summer I participated on the ZSL Mongolia Summer Field Course and got to experience the incredible wilderness of Mongolia. 

As a (then) third year biology student at UCL, I wanted to get some relevant experience in my field of interest and due to my Erasmus grant I had the funds to do something productive.

I have always been interested in conservation and I felt that ZSL’s field course would not only provide me with some experience, but I’d also get to visit somewhere different.

I’d also get bragging rights to having witnessed the world’s only thriving population of the Przewalski horse (Equus ferus przewalskii). This horse, locally known as “Takhi”, was extinct in the wild and has been reintroduced to a few places within Mongolia but the Hustai population is by far the largest and most successful.

Cinereous Vulture from the ZSL Summer Field Course 2015
Cinereous Vulture caught on camera trap on the ZSL Mongolia Summer Field Course 2015

I’d also get to pick the brains of experts in the field, which I did in order to learn as much as I could in the short time I was on the Mongolian steppe. Prior to this I had only vaguely covered conservation biology material such as camera trapping in lectures as part of my degree. 

What I personally liked about the field course was that it offers both practical experience in the form of camera trapping, small mammal trapping and forestry analyses and also lectures on the fauna that could be found there and what the biologists in Mongolia are currently working towards.  Likewise it was fantastic to be able to get to know Mongolians of a similar age and learn from them first-hand what growing up in Mongolia is like too.

Culturally it is very different to what I was used to and I really wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But I am very grateful to have gained invaluable experience and knowledge about Mongolian conservation efforts and Mongolian fauna.

The field course was full of highlights, though my personal favourite was witnessing a juvenile golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) swooping down to pick up prey.

Students on the ZSL Mongolia Summer Field Course look out at the view
Students on the ZSL Mongolia Summer Field Course look out at the view

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