by Soyolbold Sergelen
Nov 3rd, 2017 – While I was doing my sunrise surveillance from a ridge top at Hustai National Park and expecting nothing but whole bunch of red deer as usual, I suddenly caught a glimpse of few wolves move past below me, just below the tree line. Soon it turns out to be a large pack of 14 when they start climbing the opposite hilltop, east of me! They must have smelt me when I was (unintentionally) upwind on the summit. Even though they were a bit suspicious, stopping and looking back at my direction from time to time, their rather relaxed pace made me hopeful to catch up with them and photograph at a closer distance. I took the first picture for proof but their column was so stretched across the landscape, I could not fit them all in one frame.
Once they disappeared over the eastern ridge top, I started making my way after them.
Progress was slow due to a strained knee tendon sustained while kickstarting my Chinese motorcycle at the beginning of the trip. Also, the general unfitness, typical of the first few days of any trip! That did not worry me though because I was sure the pack was going to lay down soon and rest as they do during the day (or so was the 1st assumption!). The immediate terrain to the east looked perfect for such a siesta and was surrounded by areas that wolves do not favor traveling through (or so was the 2nd assumption!). The fateful weekend day meant that the valley to the north was sure to have some vehicles bringing in park visitors and the valley due east was where the park research center was located. I also ruled out the possibility of them heading south to cross the Tuul River. All three directions meant they travel in daylight over wide open country with much human presence. Also, I had the command of the ridge top, overlooking all the open country. I was blocking their way back west, so they were cornered (or so was the 3rd assumption).
Anyway, I had to take a slightly northerly route to avoid being exactly upwind behind them and finally limped up the highest part of the terrain. That marked the beginning of the most critical part of the pursuit, the closing in! No regular walking but calculated tiptoeing. That required a decent break to physically prepare. Indeed a good break I was having, thinking I had it almost in the bag. Well, fate said no that day, with the wolves were suddenly running past one by one SE of me, slightly below the flat mountain top I was on! Far but not too far for my 600mm lens to reach. Midday sun high right behind them causing haze, of course.
Caught totally by surprise, I took few snaps before making up my mind to move south to try to cut across their path. Perhaps I should not have crept that slowly trying not to break cover, since by the time I thought I was close enough to lean over the ledge, they were already gone!
Emotionally distraught and physically exhausted, I had to bid farewell to the pack, jogging along the southern slopes of the mountains west.
I thought to myself, I could have done some things better for sure, but I should just be happy to have experienced such a wonderful encounter.
At least, one of my assumptions seems to have been correct. Could the human/settlement presence cause them to freak out and run back? I thought these long distance fall patrols were done in a large loop, encircling the pack’s territory. Yes, this was definitely a pack on the so-called “fall patrol” to introduce the pups to their territory and train them for advanced pursuit hunts. Or that is not true either; who proves these hunter’s tales? Actually, I am becoming increasingly aware of our lack of well-supported scientific knowledge of the very animals we said to have descended from!
Also, it is saddening to think about the grim possibility of wolves disappearing from the Mongolian steppe, given the war waged against them for almost a century now. Communist policy consistently encouraged organized hunts to eradicate the Enemy of the State that kills the collective state property. Although the livestock is privatized now, herders seem to continue the deadly hunts with even more incentive as to protect their means to make a living. Technical advancements clearly signal who is going to lose. A platoon of men on fast motorcycles, equipped with radio communication devices, all carrying modern guns including several semi-automatic scoped rifles. That was a scene I witnessed in a particular soum in the Gobi and within a mere year, they were proudly declaring their “victory over the enemies”.
I would support any incentive that might help conserve wolf population in Mongolia because I still want to have a chance to encounter such a pack again. The Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project offers a clear solution to the herder-wolf conflict and that is why I appeal to you to donate! Every dollar you give to the Bankhar might actually help more wolves to survive in the long run! I am sure all Mongolians including the herders agree with me on this. Because wolves are spiritually linked to the people and the land of this country.