AFC Flag Expedition #9
In July, 2009, Susan Fox travelled to the Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve in Mongolia to study, sketch and photograph endangered argali, the world’s largest mountain sheep.
Ongoing research on argali is being carried on by Dr. Richard Reading of the Denver Zoological Foundation, who consulted closely with Susan on her expedition. In particular, in working with Dr. Reading, Susan learned about strategies being used with local people to “try to induce changes in livestock husbandry practices that will benefit argali.” Upon her return home, she decided to look for ways to use the arts to support conservation. When the opportunity came along through the Denver Zoo to help a group of local herder women set up a crafts cooperative, she gladly took this on as her first effort. The cooperative provides the women with the opportunity to realize a revenue stream from the existence of the reserve, its visitors who come to stay at an eco-ger camp, and the on-going presence of Earthwatch Institute volunteers – who are based at the research camp in the reserve.
Since then, the director of the cooperative, which the women have named “Ihk Nart Is Our Future”, has visited almost every Earthwatch team, bringing a variety of felt items for purchase. Susan, through her non-profit association, Art Partnerships for Mongolian Conservation, has loaned the cooperative funds for the purchase of a felt press. She has also supplied a grant to pay for ten days of training for the director and one other woman and to acquire some additional tools. Donations have come in for the outright purchase of a second press and also 21 high-quality sewing scissors. “It’s a rare privilege to be involved personally with a project of this kind,” says Susan, “I’m looking forward to working with Ikh Nart Is Our Future for many years. Art has once again proved to be an important bridge between cultures.”
During the three-week expedition, Susan travelled to two additional locations, the Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve and the Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve, where there are also populations of argali, to compare their status and conditions with those at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu. In the future, she wants to learn more about, and gather reference if possible (since many are nocturnal), of other species which share argali habitat, such as Siberian ibex and khulan (wild ass) and small carnivores like badger, Corsac fox and Pallas’ cat. The Reserve is also home to one of the largest nesting concentrations of cinereous vultures, the world’s largest.
Susan’s Flag Expedition was a success on all counts. She had multiple good sightings of argali at all three locations that she visited. One of the most significant happened on the very first day at Gun-Galuut when she took what turned out to be the first known photographs of an argali swimming across a river. She broadened her knowledge of the species by seeing them in different places, which will provide a larger context for her paintings.
Her meetings with the women at Ikh Nart exceeded everyone’s expectations. The women had come well prepared and were very enthusiastic. Susan and her scientist/translator were kept very busy for three solid days, but she did find time to offer a drawing lesson to three interested young people. By the time Susan left, there was no doubt that the cooperative would grow and thrive. Efforts are underway to find USA outlets for their work.
For the future, Susan plans to return to Mongolia, and Ikh Nart every year as time and finances allow. There have already been queries from herders in other areas who have heard about what is happening at Ikh Nart and want to learn more. So perhaps her expedition was really only a beginning. “I want to thank AFC for making my journey possible through their Flag Expedition grant program, the Denver Zoo for finding a way for an artist to aid their conservation efforts and Nomadic Journeys for their usual professional and reliable travel support while I was in Mongolia.