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From Seattle to Mongolia: bringing together conservationists and crafters

Posted by: Terry Blumer, ZooStore
Photos by: Terry Blumer/Woodland Park Zoo

This entry is part two in a three-part series from ZooStore and retail manager, Terry Blumer, following his travels to Mongolia to help lead a conservation commerce workshop for local artisans, creating an eco-friendly income alternative to poaching in snow leopard habitat. The workshop was made possible by Woodland Park Zoo’s Partner for Wildlife, Snow Leopard Trust. Conservation Commerce products are available in the zoo's two ZooStores.

Getting there...let the adventure begin!

How does one begin to pack for an adventure in Mongolia? For starters, I need to make sure I know luggage restrictions. Sleeping bag? Check. Raingear and hiking boots? Check. Nifty, new solar charger for gadgets? Check. ATV tires? Che...wait, what?! Yes, I read that email correctly. "Would you mind checking an extra bag and box of donated ATV tires for our Mongolian office?" asked Gina Robertson, Snow Leopard Trust's (SLT) Product Development and Sales Coordinator in her latest email. So much for worrying about packing light!

Jeff Brown from the SLT office gives Gina and me a lift to the airport. We pack his Subaru wagon to the hilt and head out to the airport. Bags and boxes checked and we're on our way. We meet up with Jennifer Snell Rullman, Assistant Director of Conservation for the Trust, and soon we are winging our way west on our 10-and-a-half-hour flight to Beijing, China. Our journey of more than 5,800 miles begins and it will ultimately take us two days to reach Mongolia. Despite chasing the sun west, we will touch down in a very smoggy Beijing.

SLT's Gina Robertson and lots of baggage. 

Beijing Capital Airport is one of the largest in the world and just about everything in it shuts down after 9:00 p.m. We arrive at 11:30. Our connecting flight to Mongolia's capital city, Ulaanbaatar (UB), doesn't leave until 8:30 the following morning but thankfully for these three Seattleites there is an all-night coffee shop open in our terminal. We eventually discover that ticketing counter operating hours are apparently conceptual in this airport but by 8:30 we are finally off to UB.

Beijing Capital Airport.

Mongolia is a vast, landlocked country with a relatively small population and enormous, untapped natural resources. In the last decade or so, the country has gone through rapid growth and change as the world rushes in to develop or exploit their immense mineral deposits. The influx of industry and money is both a boon and a potential bane bringing rapid change to all of Mongolia. Ironically, we will witness this firsthand when we check in for our flight the next day and find an entire entourage of mining engineers from Rio Tinto in line next to us. According to our translator, Nema, all natural resources underneath the ground are owned by all Mongolians. How the rapid influx of money rushing in as minerals go out will impact Mongolians will remain to be seen.

Bemba, a Snow Leopard Trust Mongolian staffer, picks us up along with all of our luggage. Amazingly, almost all of it fit in that car.

Ulaanbaatar, capital city of Mongolia.    

Central Ulaanbaatar, looking towards Suhbaatar Square.

We meet others on the project team: American felting artist Sharon Costello and her husband, John Arraghi, our official photo documentarist, Tsend-Ayush, Executive Director of the Wool Craft Training Center (WCTC) and on the Board of Directors of Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation (SLCF)—she prefers to go by Aya, Nasanjargal (Nasaa), Trainer, Wool Craft Training Center, Batsaikhan Ts, Lecturer/Trainer, Mongolian University of Science and Technology, (MUST), Unurzul (Unuruu), Trainer/Designer SLCF,  and Narangerel (Naraa) SLCF from the Mongolia SLT office.

Workshop team members.

Our journey not yet over, we fly from UB in the central region, another 1,000 km to Ulaangom, regional capital of the aimag Uvs. Aimag is similar to a state or province. After a brief supply run we head out to the workshop site, a recreational mountain camp situated in Harhitaa valley in the foothills of the twin peaks Turgen Uul and Kharkhiraa Uul in the heart of Turgen Uul Nature Reserve.

Northwestern Mongolia.

Our trusty transport to Ulaangom, regional capital of Uvs aimag.

The road to Kharkhiraa Mountain Lodge.

Kharkhiraa Mountain Lodge.

Terry Blumer at Kharkhiraa Uul (Mountain) in the clouds.

The plan is for 45 herders to join us for five days of intensive training and product development. Participants hail from the various communities of Uvs, Bayan-Ulgii, Khvod and Gobi-Altay. Unuruu has spent months developing a well-planned workshop including coordinating the best timing for the communities. Yet the opportunity for unseen factors is always present and in this case the herders from Bayan-Ulgii are unable to make it due to a regional health quarantine. This is disappointing to all, yet totally beyond anyone's control. Still, the workshop is set and designers and crafters are about to come together.

Location of workshop and surrounding area.

Workshop participants learning new techniques.

In my final update, I’ll share more snapshots of the workshop and surrounding Mongolian countryside including the Uvs nuur Strictly Protected Area. And we’ll see what happens when the designers and crafters finally meet up to collaborate on new product designs during the workshop. Stay tuned!


Anonymous said…
Great Blog on a great project trip!