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Course Overview

Explore an incomparable grassland ecosystem. Learn how to support citizen conservation reporters. Focus on the Pallas’ cat and Przewalski’s horse, one of the most successful species reintroductions of our time.

Travel to Mongolia, the "Land of Blue Sky."

The birthplace of the Mongol Empire, the largest contiguous empire in human history, Mongolia is now a vibrant democracy and home to an open wilderness that has few parallels in the modern world. We will explore the great steppes, and especially engage in the conservation story of two key steppe species: Pallas' cats and Przewalski's horse. Pallas' cats are important steppe predators whose conservation provides insights into the challenges facing the survival of small wild cats worldwide. Przewalski's horse, also called takhi, are considered to be the only true wild horse left in the world. We will join research on an ambitious reintroduction project based in Mongolia that has returned this remarkable species to its former homeland after being driven to extinction in the wild. Possible research projects include studies of the populations, home range, and conservation of Pallas' cats and Przewalski's horse; participatory media and conservation knowledge; and community-based research. Discover the power of inquiry to generate knowledge and inspire conservation.

Prior to and following the field experience in Mongolia, students will complete coursework via Dragonfly Workshops' Web-Based Learning Community as they apply experiences to their home institutions.

Course Themes

  • Introduction to the ecology of Asian steppe ecosystems
  • Pallas' cat ecology and conservation
  • Reintroduction of Przewalski's horse (takhi)
  • Field method techniques
  • Inquiry-driven learning
  • Participatory education and media
  • Community-based conservation

A typical Earth Expeditions day in Mongolia is likely to include:

  • Visits to field conservation sites
  • Lectures
  • Student-led discussions of key course topics
  • Engagement with local communities
  • Open inquiries
  • Journal writing

Mongolia

Central Mongolia is a vast, wild landscape of rolling green steppe and stony mountains, far reaching valleys, sturdy horses, short grass aromatic with sage, and hospitable nomads living in traditional round gers.

The Mongolian steppe is part of the Eurasian steppes, a vast belt of grassland extending from eastern Europe through western and central Asia to northeast Asia. A temperate biome, steppes are found in the central regions of continents, far from the sea.

Mongolia is an invigorating place to visit and, with the world's lowest population density and enormous swathes of virgin landscape, one of the best wilderness destinations in Asia.

"The baying of sheep in the distance, the chirping of birds in their nests, the wind blowing gently...as I crest the hill, I hear the gallop of two horses as they come upon the top of the same hill -- the valley is ringing, singing with life."

- Stephanie L, Lexington, KY

Planned Sites in Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar

The capitol of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, is located in the Tuul river valley in central Mongolia.

Altanbulag

Altanbulag, located south of Ulaanbaatar, is the primary research site for the Pallas' Cat Conservation Project. The Pallas' cat, Otocolobus manul, is a predator specialized to live in the steppe and mountainous regions of central Asia. Its greatest populations are found in Mongolia. A thick coat of shaggy fur and a long, bushy tail help combat the extreme temperatures of the steppe. The elusive Pallas' cat is difficult to observe in the wild due to its excellent camouflage, its surprisingly large home ranges, and its scarcity. An ongoing study in Mongolia, supported by the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden (CZBG), is using radio telemetry to measure range sizes of wild Pallas' cats.

Research at the CZBG's Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife and the National Zoological Park established that Pallas' cats have a pronounced reproductive seasonality controlled by light exposure and that newborns are extremely susceptible to infection with a parasite called Toxoplasma. Improved reproductive and disease management based on these findings has enabled the captive population to grow and stabilize.

The Pallas Cat Conservation Project (PCCP) research site is a remote location with only basic amenities; students will get a real taste of the life of a field researcher. During the few days the course will be staying at the PCCP site, students will probably sleep in sleeping bags (bring your own) on the floor in gers, the traditional circular homes of Mongolian nomads. Clean water for basic needs, such as drinking and washing hands and face, will be available on site; it is possible that camp showers consisting of an insulated bag designed to warm water by solar energy will be available. Toilets will be of the outhouse variety. Note: other sites in Mongolia and other Earth Expedition locations -- will not be as "bare bones."

Hustai National Park

Hustai National Park, located approximately 100 km southwest of Ulaanbaatar, was chosen as an optimal location for the reintroduction of Przewalski's horse (takhi). Between 1992 and 2000, a total of 84 takhi from zoos around the world were released in Hustai. The wild horses have flourished; now more than 190 freely roam the park along with red deer, wild boar, white-tailed gazelles, wolves, lynx, marmots, and long-tailed hamsters. The park is also home to 172 species of birds such as the steppe eagle, great bustard, demoiselle crane, and cinereous vulture.

(Course locations are subject to change.)

Dragonfly Workshops Web-Based Learning Community

Upon acceptance into the program, students will join instructors and classmates in Dragonfly Workshops' collaborative Web community to complete pre-trip assignments. After returning home, students will continue to work in their Web-based community through early December to develop projects initiated in the field, discuss assignments, and exchange ideas. All students should expect to spend two to three hours a week contributing to their Web-Based Learning Community from their home or school computer. Navigating the Web platform is easy--it's designed for people with no prior computer experience. To learn more about this unique Web experience, visit dragonflyworkshops.org.

More Information

For more information on the admissions process, physical requirements, and more, please visit Admissions and/or FAQs.

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