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Exploring the Impacts of Mongolia’s Worst ‘Dzud’: Record Livestock Loss and Economical Turmoil

Unprecedented Livestock Loss in Mongolia Due to Harsh ‘Dzud’ Conditions

In Mongolia, a devastating environmental event known as a ‘dzud’ has led to the loss of over 7.1 million livestock, pushing the country into a state of agricultural emergency. A ‘dzud’ is characterized by extremely harsh winter conditions following a summer drought, rendering the grasslands that the livestock depend on for food inaccessible beneath thick layers of snow and ice. This year’s catastrophic event has deeply impacted Mongolia’s economy and the traditional way of life for its herders.


The dzud phenomenon, more severe and frequent due to the effects of climate change, has become a grave concern for Mongolia, a nation where the economy and culture are heavily intertwined with nomadic herding. This practice is not only a livelihood but an integral part of Mongolian heritage, as reflected in the country’s constitution designating livestock as “national wealth.”

This year’s dzud, the sixth in the past decade and recorded as the worst to date, has followed on the heels of another dzud last year and a particularly dry summer. The winter’s heavy snowfall, unmatched since 1975, has left herders unable to provide for their animals, resulting in the death of millions of cattle, sheep, goats, yaks, and horses. These losses represent more than a tenth of the nation’s total livestock count, with projections suggesting the toll could rise to nearly 24% of all Mongolian livestock.

For thousands of families, the consequences of this year’s dzud have been devastating. Many have lost more than 70% of their herds, leading to irreversible economic instability and complicating already challenging living conditions. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies highlights the acute urgency of the situation, pointing out that herders like Gantomor, from Arkhangai province, made difficult choices to safeguard at least a portion of their animals, facing depleted savings and significant losses despite their efforts.

The aftermath of the dzud extends beyond the immediate loss of livestock. The melting snow reveals a countryside dotted with carcasses, posing a significant health risk that necessitates swift action to prevent disease spread. Furthermore, the onset of warmer temperatures brings additional challenges, such as forest fires, dust storms, and flash floods. These conditions also increase the mortality rate among newborn livestock, further straining the resources and resilience of herding communities.

This natural disaster underscores the intricate relationship between climate change, economic stability, and poverty. Herders who have lost their livelihoods often migrate to urban centers like Ulaanbaatar, only to find scarce employment opportunities and falling into cycles of poverty. The situation calls for Mongolia to improve its early warning systems and implement strategies to mitigate the impacts of dzuds, including measures to prevent overgrazing and diversification of income sources for herders.

Despite the grim circumstances, there are stories of adaptation and perseverance. Some herders are learning from past experiences and the wisdom of elders to navigate the challenges posed by changing climate conditions. For example, a family in Dundgobi province decided to focus on camel herding, animals more resilient to the harsh conditions, and managed to weather the winter with minimal losses.

As Mongolia confronts the realities of climate change, international assistance remains crucial, yet insufficient. Efforts to support herders in rebounding from these losses and adapting to an increasingly unpredictable climate are essential. With appropriate action and support, both from within Mongolia and the global community, there is hope for these vital traditions and the economy to not only survive but thrive amid the challenges ahead.

Ethan Wilder

Ethan Wilder is a conservation photographer and videographer whose lens captures the awe-inspiring beauty of the natural world and the critical challenges it faces. With a focus on wilderness preservation and animal rights, Ethan's work is a poignant reminder of what is at stake. His photo essays and narratives delve into the heart of environmental issues, combining stunning visuals with compelling storytelling. Ethan offers a unique perspective on the role of art in activism, inviting readers to witness the planet's wonders and advocating for their protection.

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