Current Project

Mongolia: Nomads No More

Project Date: March–September 2012
Book Release Date: November 2012

Mongolia is on the fast track for change: backed by foreign investment and a yearning to join the developed world, the country has the fastest-growing stock market in the world. But Mongolian herders are struggling to adapt to this change. Roughly a third of the country’s population are nomadic herders, descendants of people who have lived on the vast steppes for millennia. It is becoming increasingly hard for them to hold onto or profit from their traditional lifestyle, not only because of the country’s economic changes, but also because the very land around them is changing.

Climate change and other environmental factors are reshaping the topographical landscape of Mongolia—a landscape that’s essential to herding. And yet, in recent years, abnormally cold winters, dry summers, desertification, and overgrazing have left nomads fleeing from the steppes in a rapid migration from inhospitable grazing conditions.

Mongolian pastoral herders make up one of the world’s few remaining nomadic cultures. But already, many thousands of herders have traded in their centuries-old way of life for a chance at employment in urban areas. The yurt camps that ring Ulaanbaatar house what can now be considered a permanent population of displaced nomads. As climate change, overgrazing, and other environmental factors continue to strip sustenance from the steppes, what will become of the remaining herders? What will become of the traditions, skills, and proud heritage of a people who survived on the vast grasslands?

The Vanishing Cultures Project will document the ancient traditions and current state of Mongolian nomadic herders in 2012. Proceeds that come from the sales of our documentary work will go back to nomadic communities to safeguard valuable traditions of their culture, such as falconry, horse racing, folklore, and knowledge of natural resources. Please help the cause today, and give these herders a chance to preserve their robust, unique heritage!


Photograph by Thomas Voekler