This morning, May 14th, I woke up to snow spiraling down onto the streets and buildings of Ulaanbaatar. It seemed like a good sign – tomorrow is the day that we use to mark wolverine kits’ departure from their dens (even though there’s some deviation in the exact timing), and snow over UB on May 14th is a sign of what makes this country a good place for gulos.
Tomorrow is also the day that a group of scientists and I will depart for the Darhad, to work with the director of the valley’s three protected areas, Tumursukh; his rangers; the provincial environmental department; and community members from two of the region’s towns, Ulaan Uul and Bayanzurkh. Our visiting American scientists this year include two employees of the National Park Service, David Thoma and Kristin Legg, and Lance Craighead of the Craighead Institute. All three specialize to some degree in planning and monitoring, and the scope of work this year is much bigger than wolverines. This year, under the umbrella of BioRegions International, a Mongolia-focused non-profit based in Bozeman, Montana, we will be working with the protected areas to think about long-range management plans, monitoring protocols, environmental problems, and possible areas for collaboration beyond basic wildlife research.
As if this prospect were not enough, I walked into Ulaanbaatar’s landmark Cafe Amsterdam this morning to find myself face-to-face with Doug Chadwick – the author of the definitive book of wolverine adventuring, The Wolverine Way – and Harry Reynolds, director of the Gobi bear research project (Chadwick’s recent article about the Gobi bear project is here.) At this point, Cafe Amsterdam has hosted more American wolverine enthusiasts than most places in the US.
Later in the day, I finally had the opportunity to meet Dr. Lhagvasuren, one of the senior scientists at the National Academy, whose enthusiasm for wolverines and wildlife research was immediately apparent. He ran through the things he’d heard about wolverines in his years of work in the countryside: that they were sent by god to keep the world clean, that they were very powerful, that people were wary of them for that reason. He said that some people were reluctant even to touch a wolverine pelt, because of the power of the animal. They were not bad animals, exactly, but they had powers. He said that if you messed with a wolverine, if you harmed or killed one, it would come back and take revenge. We were speaking English, and when I asked him whether “god” meant Tenger, the Sky, or Erleg Khan, the king of the underworld, he paused and then said, “Probably both. I think both.”
Back at the apartment, I sorted through a suitcase full of automatic cameras that the park rangers and I will use later this summer to try to catch a glimpse of the Darhad’s snow leopards – and also, of course, the wolverines. Checking the settings on the cameras, I felt a sudden lightheaded, tremendous desire to find these animals again. It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog. Winter was difficult and the wolverine work was on hiatus. But since I arrived in UB three days ago, the momentum has been building, a reminder that wolverines are indeed powerful, and that once you engage with them – even in the most benign ways – they have their claws in you and you are obligated to them. So here we go, again, into the wilds of Mongolia, in search of the great and powerful wolverine.