Scientist tracks falcons

Amarkuu Gungaa has the scars to prove just how difficult it can be to track a falcon.
Amarkuu Gungaa and a colleague dissect falcon pellets in their ger lab. Anna Zacharias / The National
Amarkuu Gungaa and a colleague dissect falcon pellets in their ger lab. Anna Zacharias / The National

BAYAN SOUM // Herders have an expression in the Bayan soum: "Don't show your shadow on the falcon's nest."

Amarkuu Gungaa does not follow that advice. The raptor scientist can often be found on the Mongolian steppes in a Soviet-era Furlong van, tagging falcon chicks and collecting pellet samples.

It is something of a bloodsport and he has the scars to prove it.

"Saker falcons are very strong, very huge birds," says Mr Gungaa, 23. "But the raptor is my hobby, it is my life."

Mr Gungaa, a master's student at Mongolia National University, has worked with the artificial nest project for five years. He spends his summers in the project's "biology ger", which serves as a laboratory.

For him, pellet dissection is a kind of zen exercise, best done with classical Mongolian music, akin to opera, playing in the background.

"Pellet analysis is very difficult in the city," he says. "You can't concentrate with all the noise. In the field it's relaxed and we just watch the raptors fly by."

The scientists live next door to a nomadic herder family: Tamir Jamsran and his wife Byambasuren Pureutheren, who offered them food and shelter when they were lost chasing falcons on a cold November night in 2006.

They were invited to return the next evening and soon agreed to set up their biology ger beside them. "If they need our help we are always open to help," Mr Jamsran says.

The family live off dairy and meat products, and are famous for their boiled yogurt. Occasionally they sell wool and make felt. They sell food to the biologists, who bring water and supplies from the city.

Without the wisdom and help of the herders, the artificial nest project would not be possible.

Mr Jamsran's family move their ger tent four times a year, packing up all of their belongs, house included, into a 4x4. When they move, the biology ger moves too.

Mr Jamsran, a soft-spoken man who wears riding boots and Adidas track pants, keeps 500 sheep, 30 cows and 40 horses.

He and his wife welcome the project as biological pest control but want more regulation over trappers from the Gulf in summer.

"The reproduction of the voles is very fast," Mr Jamsran says. "Now when you see the pasture you won't find any voles, but a few years ago it wasn't like that.

"The bad thing is trappers drive everywhere and we've had trappers who just left their rubbish behind."

Published: August 28, 2011 04:00 AM


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