I was in the Countryside last month for a workshop to brainstorm with herders about project goals. I was there just before the zud (or dzud), which is a series of variable climatic conditions that inhibit livestock from sufficient grazing. Mongolians identify many types of Zud (black, white, ice, iron, etc). The Zud this winter was white because it ended with heavy snow that prevented animals from accessing sparse grass. Weak animals die of cold. The most recent total count of dead 1.7 million or 3% of the livestock (camels, horses, goats, cow, sheep, yak).
I was asking about all the meat that is laying in the pasture. This sounds funny coming from a vegetarian, but I couldn’t help but think about all the meat out there in the snow. What is wrong with low fat meat at deep-freeze temperatures? Additionally, many animals were actually culled, so that stronger animals have more forge. I surveyed Mongolian friends a got a number of interesting responses:
1) We don’t eat “cold” meat. (cold means found dead)
2) It is superstition. Bad luck to eat an animal that died naturally.
3) Fat keeps you warm in winter and protects you. Skinny animals will not help you survive.
4) We use the skins, but not the meat, I do not know why.
It is not uncommon for Mongolia to loose 1 million livestock during zud, so I asked a few Mongolians about their level of concern. Most said it was not a serious at this point. They say that more animals die in the spring before grass returns. They noted that the government is accepting international relief, but not requesting it. But the best answer that I got is this one:
“The first to die are always the sheep and then the cows. They are stupid and only eat grass. The next to go are the goats, because they eat shrubs. Then the horses. They are smart and will dig holes in the ground to eat the roots. Last is the camel. They are the strongest for all the above reasons and they store their food on their backs. I don’t care when sheep are dying. It’s serious when many horses die.”