Photographer Brings Mongolia’s Disappearing Reindeer People Right To Your Desktop

Published May 3, 2015
Updated September 14, 2021

Mining and urbanization are bringing an end to the Dukha, or what many call Mongolia's "reindeer people."

Reindeer People

Mongolia is twice the size of Texas, but home to only 2.6 million people. The sparse, desolate lands are difficult to live on and the frigid winters are harsh and overbearing, which is why the country’s Dukha people have relied heavily on reindeer in nearly every facet of their lives for thousands of years.

Dukha People Source: Bored Panda[/caption]

Given the fact that the Dukhas’ very survival is inextricably linked to the animals, it’s no wonder that they treat them with such reverence (which perhaps also explains why they refrain from eating the reindeer meat). Their relationship is mutually beneficial: where the reindeer provide the Dukha with many basic needs, the Dukha provide the reindeer with protection from natural predators. Without each other, their continued existence is questionable.

reindeer people riding man

Source: Bored Panda

Winter temperatures in the tiga reach 60 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, making food scarce and conditions dangerous. A nomadic tribe and traveling caravan which uses teepees (known as ortz) for shelters, the Dukha are a strong and tenacious people with a heritage as long as it is rich.

reindeer people elderly woman

Source: Bored Panda

reindeer people herd leader

Source: Bored Panda

However, their lifestyles–and understanding of them–are in a state of transition. Regional forests and reindeer populations are diminishing, and since Mongolia’s democratization no governmental programs have been established to bring in any more reindeer from Siberia, which threatens the basic fabric of Dukha livelihoods.

The Dukha have also started to use reindeer revenues (increasingly from tourism) to purchase solar panels, satellite antennas, and cell phones, gradually abandoning their “traditional” devices for more modern sources of heat and entertainment.

Increased mining activities are encroaching upon the areas the Dukha call home, leaving some–primarily elder members of the tribe–grasping for their nomadic identity as it slowly vanishes amid an urbanizing Mongolia and nearby China.

reindeer people huge smile

Source: Imgur

reindeer people young girl

Currently only 44 Dukha families remain in the region, with an estimated population of between 200 and 400 people. Perhaps hoping to eternalize the Dukha before they disappear, Dr. Hamid Sardar-Afkhami, who holds a Ph. D. in Sanskrit and Tibetan Studies from Harvard, ventured out to their homes to snap these amazing shots. Sardar-Afkhami has since created a documentary film about the Dukha called The Reindeer People.

reindeer people large antlers

Source: Art Wolfe

Reindeer People In Mongolia

Source: Before They

Mongolia's Dukha

Source: Before They

mongolian drummer

Erin Kelly
An All That's Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she's designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
Cite This Article
Kelly, Erin. "Photographer Brings Mongolia’s Disappearing Reindeer People Right To Your Desktop.", May 3, 2015, Accessed April 23, 2024.