East Taiga, northernmost tip of Mongolia. September 2015. Published at the Guardian on July 6, 2016.
The Tsaatan people are one of the last remaining groups of nomadic reindeer herders in Mongolia. They seasonally migrate within the forests of Taiga according to weather and food conditions for their reindeer, which they depend on for milk and transportation. They face challenges to their traditional way of life, with recently introduced laws aimed at conservation limiting their ability to hunt wild animals for food, and climate change affecting their habitat and possibly exposing reindeer to disease. Previously self-supporting, they now are partly dependent on government handouts and tourism to enable them to buy meat and other supplies.
“My life is like ortz. I move a lot every year.” Saintsetseg Jambaldorj, 49, describes her life. Ortz are the teepee-like tents which Tsaatan people use as homes. Made from wooden staves and canvas, they can be easily packed up and carried to new locations.
For the shoot, Saintsetseg wore a deep-green deel, a traditional Mongolian outfit, which both contrasted with, and complimented the warmth of her face.
“Sometimes I feel like giving up when the snow is 2 meter deep and no matter how much I try, I can’t reach the wood that I need to chop for firewood.” Ganbat (45), a father of 5 children, describes his life.
“But I love my reindeer which my ancestors raised for generations. Only thing keeping me here is my reindeer.”
Lkhagvasuren Battur, 59, a guide, poses at sunrise. He mostly relies on horses to carry tourists and their baggage but sometimes use oxen for heavier loads. During our three days in East Taiga, the pictured ox and one of the guide’s horses disappeared from the campsite. Each time this happened he jumped on his other horse and embarked a search which took several hours to bring them back. How did he know where to look amid the vast mountainous area? “I look for animals’ footprints,” Battur said. “They always try to go home because they feel comfortable being with sheep and other animals that they see everyday”.
Lkhagvasuren (59), a Mongolian guide, chops down a tree for firewood to be used in a stove inside an ortz, the teepee-like tent used by the Tsaatan people. The firewood burns so well that it heats up the ortz quickly but it also burns fast, requiring a constant supply of firewood.
Ganbat, far left, leaves the Tsaatan community in East Taiga, Mongolia, with his two sons and their friend to a car pickup point for a ride the rest of the way to their school in the nearest town in Tsagaan Nuur on September 20, 2015. The boys stay at the school’s dormitory during the week and return to the Tsaatan camp for weekends.