Life of the last reindeer herders in Mongolia

Modern lifestyles have developed, but nomad life such as eating dry bread, drinking reindeer milk or sleeping in the temporary tent in the snow is what the Dukha people in Mongolia want.

Nestling in the vast taiga forests along the border with Russia is home to the Dukha, the Mongolian tribe of reindeer herders.


The Dukha, also known as Tsaatan, have inhabited nomadic life for generations. They reared reindeer and lived in temporary tents in the snow.

At present, the life and existence of the Dukha tribe are seriously threatened. In 2012, the government of Mongolia decided to add a large part of the country's northern land to the protected area to protect heavily damaged ecosystems many years ago. That means the ban on hunting, breeding. Meanwhile, the main source of food for the Dukha people comes from hunting wild animals and drinking reindeer milk.


The government has made a payment to affected families. These families use the money to move to villages where their children are educated, have hospitals, roads and end their nomadic life with reindeer and tents in the woods. Currently, the Dukha tribe has only about 300 people. They are facing the risk of losing their traditional cultural identity.


Typically, households set up temporary tents in places where there is plenty of grass for a few months to reindeer.


Children born in the forest, living nomadic life are also adaptive and soon parents are taught the necessary grazing skills. They are often assigned to take care of the small reindeer.


Dukha's main food is milk, reindeer meat and wheat pastries. Living in cold climates makes it difficult for them to cultivate or earn any other food.


Normally, for the purpose of grazing and keeping, the Dukha families will form a small group. They moved through the woods and set up their tents next to each other.

In the photo is a man riding reindeer back home. Reindeers about 300 children of four families are combined.


A photo of the Tsagaannuur village next to Dod Nuur Lake, north of Mongolia. This is the closest village to reindeer herders living in the forest. Tsagaannuur village was built during the Soviet period to support a team of fishermen and left behind after the fall of the Soviet economy in the 1990s.


Children are playing in a school in the village of Tsagaannuur. These children are learning to read and speak the national language. When they are bigger, they will go to college in the big city. Only a few tribal elders speak the Dukha dialect. Today, a teacher and a linguist are collaborating with these people to find ways to record and retain traditional language.


The economic development of the country, in general, has also contributed to changing the lives of the Dukha people. They catch the information outside, buy a lot of good things, many beautiful clothes.


In the photo, a local doctor, Davaajav Nyamaa, is using the phone to call his patients. Dukha uses a large antenna mounted on a tree to receive 3G.

A reindeer stands on the white snow. Reindeer are well adapted to the cold mountainous terrain. Each year they fall horns once and grow a new one in late spring to early summer.


Smoke from a chimney in the tent of the family Erdenebat Chuluu, member of the Dukha tribe living near the village of Tsagaannuur, Khovsgol Aimag area, Mongolia.

Although modern life has many convenient things in common, many Dukha people love their nomadic life.

By: Relly Jonas

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