Herding is a way of life for over a third of Mongolians, and of symbolic importance to the whole country. As for 2017, the number of head of livestock in the country reached 66.2 million. However, the increasing animal population has surpassed its environmental limits, resulting in the now widespread degradation of grasslands. According to a study, the number of livestock has now exceeded the safe environmental-balance line by 25 million head.
But in a time when climate change and extreme weather is becoming the norm, herders prefer to have 1000 livestock rather than 100 animals because they consider number of sheep, cows and other animals as a guarantee safeguarding their income and the livelihood of their families. So, at least, when the ever more common and increasingly severe dzud occurs (a Mongolian word meaning extreme winter weather), decimating their herds, the herders will be secure in the knowledge that enough animals have survived.
How one reconciles the reality of the precarious short-term economic needs of the herders with the future of Mongolia’s once pristine grasslands and steppes is a huge challenge?