Wolves and Wild Horses: the ZSL Mongolia Summer Field Course
The ZSL Steppe Forward Mongolia Summer Field Course 2015 - where better to learn field survey techniques than on the rolling Mongolian Steppe?
Every year ZSL Mongolia holds a summer field course on the beautiful Mongolian steppe. The course, for international and Mongolian undergraduates, aims to build conservation capacity both here and abroad.
For the past few years the course has been held in the spectacular National Park of Hustai, or Khustain Nuuru - and this was our destination once again in August.
If the views alone weren’t a good enough reason to hold the field course here, it is also home to the largest population of the only truly wild horse left in the world, Przewalski’s horse, known in Mongolia as Tahki, meaning spirit (it is easy to see why, when you see them racing gracefully along the hills of Hustai!)
This year’s course kept our students very busy! The first thing they had to do was set up the camp site in Hustai, which involved all working together to erect the gers, traditional Mongolian felt tents, where they would sleeping, eating, and learning for the next 12 days.
The course was jam-packed with lectures and practical sessions covering camera trapping, small mammal trapping, bird mist netting and forestry. Before the course even started the students were greeted by interesting wildlife all around them. Vultures, steppe eagles and black kites circled overhead, and not-so-small creepy crawlies, like this one pictured below, littered the camp.
This very threatening-looking insect is a kind of shieldback katydid. Locals say that drinking the juices inside it is good for curing allergies…not something we tried!
As well as the lectures we also got the students busy with practical fieldwork – the first of which was setting up camera traps. Each station was 1km from the next, so with 5 cameras to set up for each team it was tough going over the very steep terrain!
But the results were well worth it; there are always fun surprises in the camera trapping, and this year was no exception. A suspicious guano (poo) covered rock led the students to believe a large bird might be living there, so we decided to set up a camera trap and see who the owner might be.
Sure enough the owners returned home soon after and we were lucky enough to get some fantastic footage of a vulture family!
The other camera traps caught plenty of other wildlife too: herds of majestic red deer, Roe Deer, Siberian marmots, and a wolf pack.
The students found it amazing to think of the wolf in this picture following a herd of deer, right where they were standing just a few hours before!
Next, we were all up bright and early at 6am to check small mammal traps. Voles and field mice were in abundance this year, and each of our students got hands on training in how to measure and weigh something very small, and with a life and attitude all of its own!
Then it was up even earlier (pre- dawn!) to try and catch birds in the mist nets. First catch of the day was a Northern wheatear.
It was soon followed by a second Northern wheatear, a yellow wagtail, and 5 red-billed choughs. The birds were taken back to camp for weighing, measuring, ringing and DNA sampling before being released.
In between all the fieldwork we kept the students very busy with lectures on conservation and population dynamics! These all took place in the surprisingly cosy lecture ger.
Once all the lectures were over, the field work finished, and the data analysed, the course was drawing to a close, but first the students got a chance to talk about what they learned, and what their surveys found.
The students gave presentations to the Hustai National Park managers, as well as Catherine Arnold, the British Ambassador to Mongolia, who awarded them their well-earned certificates.
After the certificates were given out it was time to head back to the capital, Ulaanbaatar, for some much needed hot showers!
If this blog has got you interested, keep a look out on our website - applications for next year open in early 2016!
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