Photograph courtesy Buuveibaatar Bayarbaatar
Photograph courtesy Buuveibaatar Bayarbaatar
Birthplace: Selenge province, Mongolia
Current City: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
During my childhood, I often changed what I wanted to become—athlete (wrestler, boxer, swimmer, etc.), police officer, pilot ... the list goes on. I guess it took me a long time to figure out what I was really passionate about—it wasn't until my family moved to the eastern part of Mongolia. Eastern Mongolia is home to some of the most intact grassland in the world and to thousands of migratory Mongolian gazelles, where I saw for the first time a huge number of gazelles. I have never seen such big cohesions of animals and that was amazing. It was my first sense of fascination in the natural world around me, which attracted me to biological science.i
How did you get started in your field of work?
I got both my bachelor's and master's degrees from the Faculty of Biology, National University of Mongolia. My university encouraged us to participate in a variety of research projects to gain field experience. Every summer, I was able to go to the field to assist researchers. After finishing my master's study, I was offered a position with the Mongolian Academy of Sciences to work as a wildlife biologist, which encouraged me to take a part in a number of international research projects. In 2006, I had a good opportunity to be involved in a long-term saiga conservation project initiated by the Wildlife Conservation Society. Since then, I have been spending most of my time studying this species. In addition to this project, I have completed my second master's degree on saiga calf survival, and currently I am continuing my research career to understand the distribution and population dynamics of saiga as a part of my Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
What inspires you to dedicate your life to saiga?
The saiga is a symbol of the steppe for the nomadic people in Central Asia and has been an important source of food and inspiration for centuries. Only about 20 years ago, they numbered more than a million individuals in the world, but today's entire population is estimated to be less than 60,000 animals. This is a tragic decline for the mammal world. Besides, the saiga is an odd-looking antelope—they have unusual bulbous noses, not like other antelopes. So, I have decided to commit my conservation career for this little-studied yet critically endangered species in Mongolia.
What's a normal day like for you?
During summertime, I travel to the countryside collecting data on my target species in western Mongolia and helping rangers to monitor wildlife species and enforce a law within community-managed areas in the Eastern Steppe as building their capacity. The rest of the year, I work at my office in Ulaanbaatar (capital of Mongolia), where I design, research, analyze data, and write reports, articles, and grant proposals; do fund-raising; give talks; and work on other projects with colleagues.
Do you have a hero and, if so, why is this person your hero?
I would say George B. Schaller, mammalogist, biologist, and conservationist. He dedicated his life to studying and conserving wildlife throughout Africa, Asia, and South America and published a number of books and articles. George is one of the first Western scientists who pioneered introducing modern technologies and techniques to study and conserve endangered wildlife in Mongolia, such as the wild Bactrian camel, Gobi bear, snow leopard, and Mongolian gazelle. He is now a vice president of Panthera and also serves as a senior conservationist at the Wildlife Conservation Society.
What's been your favorite experience in the field? Most challenging?
When I was an undergraduate student, I had a chance to participate in a joint biological expedition between Mongolia and Germany. The main goal of this trip was to reintroduce beavers from the Bulgan River to the Tes River. Because the beaver is a nocturnal rodent, there are almost no people who actually see the beaver in the wild. Thus, I was very lucky to be one of the very few people who have seen and handled these beavers. Most importantly, it was a great chance to improve my English by practicing with western scientists, which helped a lot for my future career. Also, I learned numerous contemporary field methods and techniques during this expedition. The most challenging experience also relates to this trip. The Bulgan is the largest river that runs through the Gobi, which makes it a paradise for millions of hungry mosquitos. Protection from mosquito bites was the most challenging. Even mosquito repellent could not help to halt their attacks. Later, I thought that this might be a good defense for beavers to protect themselves from people.
What are your other passions?
I really enjoy hiking, traveling, and bird-watching. Also, I love playing basketball and volleyball.
What do you do in your free time?
My job requires frequent travel to the field and I spend most of my time away from family. Thus, I always try to spend my free time with my wife and four-year-old daughter.
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I have never seen such big cohesions of animals [saiga] and that was amazing. It was my first sense of fascination in the natural world around me, which attracted me to biological science.
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