Yesterday at the Naran Tuul Market, Ulaanbaatar’s sprawling open-air commercial center, two older Mongolian men spontaneously saluted Jason. Back in the office in Jackson, as we were preparing for the trip, I’d joked that people were going to assume that he was Russian, since he’s blond, blue-eyed, and well over six feet tall. Sure enough, this was what happened. I spoke to a woman in Mongolian; she glanced sideways at Jason and replied in Russian. I had to laugh.
Aside from being mistaken for a Russian, Jason’s time in UB so far has been occupied by finding traces of wolverines in all the places that the city can offer, which are admittedly limited. We’ve been to the State Department Store, where Jason confirmed that the eight hats I’d identified are, in fact, wolverine. We’ve bought mammal guidebooks in Mongolian, and been to the Natural History Museum to look at the one dejected, chipped-tooth, slightly cross-eyed taxidermy specimen on the third floor. Jason gave a presentation on wolverine ecology to Miki, our field assistant, to bring her up to speed on the intricacies of the US project and our objectives for this project, in preparation for our up-coming trip. And we’ve spent hours poring over maps and talking about how we might establish a longer-term monitoring project. But those are the limits of gulo work in the city. Tonight we leave for Hovsgol and the mountains that separate Mongolia’s great lake – the Mongolians call it Dalai Eej, the Mother Ocean – from the Darhad Valley to the west. Here, we hope to find wolverines and make contacts that will be helpful in setting up a monitoring plan. We’ll be back on the 21st, with more updates to follow.