Course:FRST270/Wiki Projects/Modern conservation efforts threat the livelihood of the Dukkha tribe in the Larch Forests of Northern Mongolia

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Modern conservation efforts threaten the livelihood of the Dukkha tribe in the Larch Forests of Northern Mongolia

This case study will investigate the nomadic tribe efforts to fight of survival. They are one of last remaining reindeer tribes in the world with one of the smallest ethnic groups. The tribe consist of roughly 250 people, which make them extremely vulnerable to any change. They are migrating tribe that lived in small groups spread over an area of approximately six million acres of land. During the winter months, they live in a northern part of Mongolia’s larch forest located in province of Khovsgol bordering of Russia’s Siberia. Over the years, the Mongolian Government have made it difficult for the tribe to migrate across land for grazing as they have limited area for the purpose of conservation. This case study will provide information of the affected and interested stakeholders in this particular area, history, tenure arrangement and criticism that the Dukhan people have faced.

Forest Ecosystem

The larch forest of Mongolia located in north-central region of the country. Mongolia has a relatively low forest cover with approximately eight percent of the forest covers the country [1]. The boreal forest is a mixed blend of ecosystems that consist of grassland, mountain terrain and desert. This forest has numerous species living within the forest like Musk deer, Elk, Roe Deer, Reindeer, Grey wolf, Wolverine, Brown bear and Eurasiona lynx. Bird species are Great grey owl, Boreal owl, Black-billed capercaillie and Pine grosbeak. Under the “National Forestry Policy” and the National Forest Master Programme” have provided legal foundation for protection and proper use of the forest. [1]. Therefore, all forests are State-owned. According to the Mongolian Law on forest, the forests are functionally classified as strictly protected forests (8.4 million ha), protected forests (7.9 million ha) and utilization forests (1.2 million ha). Extent of utilization forests has been progressively reducing during the recent years (i.e. since 1992) by transferring areas to the category of strictly protected and protected forests[1]. Threats that are occurring with the forest is deforestation from various factors like forest fire, overgrazing, mining, pests, improper management and poor enforcement of policies implementation.

Map of Mongolia


The Dukha originally spoke only the Tuvinian language, but many of them are now bilingual and spoken fluently in Mongolian. [2]

A child riding reindeer
Tepee Settlement


  • Seasonal migration - During the summer months, the tribe travel to the north. This is due to reindeer unable to cope with the heat well, so they must travel to higher altitude. During the winter months, the tribe travel down south to the forest to eat moss. [2]
  • Hunting and gathering and occasionally fishing
  • Diet consist of reindeer milk, reindeer yogurt, reindeer cheese, fish and reindeer themselves
  • Living in tepees and move 10 times in a year [3]
  • Clothing wore tradition wore by Dukhan people were their hats, winter coats, bags and warm boots which were all made from reindeer hides. [3]


The Dukhans are also referred as Tsaatan, which means ‘those who have reindeer’ in the Mongolian language due to their tribe being reindeer herders. [2]

Mongolian People’s Republic gained independence in 1921 and adopted socialism after 1924. Mongolia was a unitary sovereign socialist state which existed between 1924 and 1992.[2] The Mongolian government were communist party and had close ties to the USSR. The Dukhan people play important during this period as they were excellent hunters and had higher standard of living.

After 1944, The Tsaatan people began to live in Mongolia when the border between Tuva and Mongolia was sealed due to Tuva being annexed from Soviet Union. They were divided into two large groups according to their homelands: those from the northeast of Tuva are called the ‘Tsaatan of the eastern taiga’ and the other from the southeast area were refer as the ‘Tsaatan of the western taiga.’ [2] They live separately to the north and south of the Shishigt River that runs from Tsagaannuur to the west and the Republic of Tuva.

In the late 1950s, pastoral collectives were implemented and the Mongolian government made an attempt in moving the tribes into settlements. In 1985, the western part of Renchenlhunbe sum was given independent status as Tsagaannuur sum as the national recognition of an enterprise of reindeer herding. [2] The settlement stretches 120 km from north to south and 100 km from east to west. The sum center, which is the only settlement of the sum Tsagaannuur as known as White Lake.

In 1990, Mongolia changed from capitalism to democracy with free market economy. Mongolian people had no choice but to adapt to this rapid transformation of regime. Due to this change in political system, this had cost a decline in number of people living in tribes as they become more vulnerable due to lack of jobs and work need. “Successive [of] political-economic regime in Mongolia territories shrank, controls over pastoral movements and pasture allocation increased, tenure over resources became more individuated, and the gap between formal and informal regulation widened” [4].

In 1992, the dismantling of the herding collectives and the privatization of livestock and other collective assets. This transition had several immediate and some lasting impacts on herders’ livelihoods, their land-use patterns, and property relations. “Institution, led to a decline in the distance and number of seasonal movements, an increase in out-of-season and year-long grazing, and, as a result, an increase in conflicts over pasture and “trespassing” behaviours “[4]. Now they have become isolated from society.

Travelling Nomads


They are on the verge of extinction. This is the result of the Mongolian State’s regulation of modern conservation efforts and eliminating of cultural practices. In the name of conservation of wildlife, the State Ministry of Environment had made a portion of the larch forests of Mongolia into a national reserve. In addition to this, they have implemented strict laws which include eliminating hunting in certain area and limited access to migration route. This movement was called “Rally for Rangers” initiative, that allow the Mongolian communist government to restrict the use of park[5]. This in turn had deprived the Dukha tribe of food from hunting, collecting wood to build their teepees and access to the sacred places where they honor their ancestors. These restrictions have also cause disastrous effects on the Dukha community through food scarcity, cultural loss, poor health conditions and in their lifestyle. These restraints have forced them to rely on other sources of income like tourist industry to sell themselves for attractions to survive. This has many implication of slowing losing their cultural connections with nature and traditional values.

Tenure Arrangements

  • During the Soviet Union alliance, the Mongolian government allow land to be owned by the state and was allocated to the local authorities for residential, agricultural and development purposes. The tribes govern their land by regulation and customary law among herders.
  • During the transition from capitalist to democracy, the provides for the rights of fair acquisition, possession, and inheritance of movable and immovable property. The constitution has stated that all land and nature resource were in the State protection under environmental law.[6]
  • In 1994, the Land Law was the first legislation to regulate possession, use, and protection of land through the state government. This allow the State (Soum) governments to grant formal land-possession rights to herder households for seasonal campsites. They referred it as common tenure land. [6]
  • In 2002, the Mongolian government adopted the “The Law on Mongolian Citizens‘ Ownership of Land” which regulates the allocation of land for ownership, the types and sizes of land that can be owned, and outlines the responsibilities of local administrations. [6]
  • The country has many customary laws but were not considered to be official law.
  • State control all of the land under the “National Forestry Policy” and the National Forest Master Programme”. This provided legal foundation for protection and proper use of the forest. [1].

Affected Stakeholders

Dukha tribal community that are 52 Dukha families dwelling in the taiga’s larch forests of Northern Mongolia who are either hunter or gatherers. An also the wildlife which in this case are their reindeers living with them. They have little to no power of influence over the government.

Interested Stakeholders

Interested actors Roles Importance Influence
Ministry of Environment and Green Development Implements policies and act on the protection of its forest and for its citizens High National
Forest Rangers of Tengis-Shishged In charge of the protection of its forest and their wildlife High State
Mongol Ecology Center Non-profit organization is interested on protection of the nomads and biodiversity Medium State
Tsaatan Community & Visitor Center Community center that is design for tourism with providing a glimpse of their way of life Medium Regional
UNDP, UN & USAID Providing inputs to improve the way of life and conservation efforts Medium International
Totem Peoples Preservation Project Non-profit organization is interested on protection of the nomads and their culture Medium Local
Ecologia’s Nomadicare Non-profit organization is interested on protection of the nomads Medium International
Industrial Mining Companies Interested natural resources of the land and continuous development in mining Low Private
Researchers on Wolverine/ Reindeer Habitat Researchers interested in analyzing in the wolverine and reindeer habitat Low International
The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency Contribution to Dukha tribe in providing reindeers as a connection of the ancestral ties Low International


  • Dukhan tribe received recognition from international media like CNN News about their current situation
  • The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency acknowledge their ancestral connection and their need to preserve their culture. Therefore, provided reindeers to the community and increase their population [7].


Human rights vs Conservation rights

  • This is an example of conservation effort of protecting biodiversity is considered valuable and great importance over humans’ livelihood and traditional practices. The Mongolian government are trying to isolate their use of the forest with minimal human interaction with the nature through providing the Dukha tribe with incentive of moving into a village to be part of society.

Animal cruelty

  • According to Nila Sweeney of CNN, that tourism is a new big source of income to the people of the Dukha tribe as they provide reindeer riding and a glimpse towards their lifestyle. But underwent scrutiny as the reindeer as being used to lured tourists in the area and the area where the reindeer were not ideal for the climate that their meant to inhabit.  Some travel companies like Melbourne, Australia-based Intrepid Travel is discouraging travelers from visiting these tribe. The Timur Yadamsuren, local guide and country manager for Intrepid Travel stated, "Many travelers [believe] this area isn't the best environment for the reindeer as they're native to much colder climates and are brought to Lake Khovsgol so the herders can benefit from tourism” [8]. Whereas the people of Dukha tribe dismissed these allegations with stated they are not suffering or being abuse in any way. Tribal member, Enkhatuya mentions, "As a culture we've deep connections with our reindeer. They're like our family…we would never abuse them as such. I can assure you they aren't suffering" [8].


  • Mongolian Government needs to act to provide opportunities for the nomadic tribe in contributing to society through job opportunities, resource management, tourism and etc.
  • Improved implementation of national laws that incorporate their needs and efforts of preservation of the forest with their interest in mind.
  • The State government needs to strengthen local institutions by providing proper training to combat illegal mining and logging in the region.
  • Working with the community in improving the area rather than isolating them from certain areas for conservation reasoning.


[1] Batsukh, N. (2004). WWF. Mongolian Forest Ecosystem. Retrieved from

[2] Inamura, Tetsuya, "The Transformation of the Community of Tsaatan Reindeer Herders in Mongolia and Their Relationships with the Outside World, Senri Ethnological Studies 69: 123-152". Retrieved from:

[3] Zhang, M., Zhang, H., & Borjigin, E. (2017). Mongolian nomadic culture and ecological culture: On the ecological reconstruction in the agro-pastoral mosaic zone in Northern China. Ecological Economic, 62, 2017th ser. Retrieved from:

[4] Fernandez-Gimenez, M. (2006). Land Use and Land Tenure in Mongolia: A Brief History and Current Issues. USDA Forest Service Proceedings, 30-34. Retrieved from:

[5] Gauthier, M. (2016, August 28). 'We have nothing but our reindeer': conservation threatens ruination for Mongolia's Dukha. Retrieved from

[6] USAID. (2010). Mongolia - Land Tenures and Property Rights. United State Agency . Retrieved from

[7] Mörön, Turkey’s cooperation agency delivers reindeers to Dukha Turks as New Year’s gift. (2014, December 15). Hurriyet Daily News. Retrieved from:

[8] Sweeney, N. (2016, September 29). The Dukha: Last of Mongolia's reindeer people. CNN. Retrieved from:

[9] Douglas A Johnson, Dennis P Sheehy, Daniel Miller, Daalkhaijav Damiran. (2006) Mongolian rangelands in transition. Science et changements planétaires. Virginia. 17(1):133-141. Retrieved from:

Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
This conservation resource was created by Course:FRST270.
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