Dukha - The Reindeer People Of Northern Mongolia

My daughter is convinced the Reindeer People of Northern Mongolia supply Santa with his reindeers.

The Reindeer People descend from an ancient tribe. Their lives are guided by shamans and shaped by dreams and tradition.

Thousands of years ago, their ancestors left North East China. They crossed deserts and ice; mountains and forests: spreading through Asia, Europe and the Americas.

Some ancients believed these people flew. Whilst traveling in Mongolia, you may come across stones with carved images of flying reindeer.

But it's not just the stones you can see. In Northern Mongolia's ancient coniferous forests, a few dozen families still live. Calling themselves the Tsaatan or Dukha, they trace their ancestry from the first Reindeer People.

Tepee Of The Reindeer People, Mongolia

The Tsaatan Life

The Tsaatan live as nomads - moving camp several times a year, usually when the seasons change. They do this of necessity. If they stayed in their winter camp during the hot summer, their reindeer would become vulnerable to insects and parasites.

The Tsaatan life has been built entirely around their reindeers. Their reindeers provide them with milk, cheese, meat, and transportation. They sew their clothes with reindeer hair; reindeer dung fuels their stoves; and antlers are used to make tools.

Today's Reindeer People still live in tepees. On hot summer nights, they light fires to create a smoke screen from the flies and mosquitoes. At night, they sleep naked under furs as the smoky remnants of the fire escape through the teepee's peak.

Want a sneak peek at their life? Watch this video...

Tsaatan nomads have inherited a rich and sophisticated knowledge of their natural environment. When not involved in hunting, the Tsaatan women take the reindeers into mountain pastures. There they feed on lichen, leaves and mushrooms. At night, the Tsaatan herd the reindeers into fenced areas or tie them to a stake.

But the Tsaatan's way of life is endangered - many have swapped their nomadic life for urban areas.

The forests in which their ancestors lived, died and lie are in danger. With the growth of mining companies and lobby groups, many see the ancient forests as an untapped resource instead of a conservation priority.

Tourism has also damaged the Tsaatan's way of life. Hunting by tourists has deprived predators of their preferred prey. With less to go round, reindeer now appears on the menus of Mongolians and wolves alike.

Responsible Tourism

Responsible tourism can help. The visit of small numbers helps raise awareness of the Tsaatan. Tourism also shows the government that preservation of their environment can generate consistent and sustainable income.

Responsible tourism may even encourage the development of a long proposed seventy-thousand kilometer, cross-border nature reserve. This would introduce laws, a budget, and rangers to help protect the Tsaatan people, reindeer and culture for generations to come.

To encourage responsible tourism the Tsaatan have set up a Tsaatan Community and Visitors Center. The center receives and educates those who venture to their land.

But seven-star travelers should beware! The Tsaatan represent one of the last truly nomadic cultures. Their nomadic lifestyle and the subzero temperatures of winter mean that plumbing does not exist. Toilets are a bush or a hole in the ground. Neither will you find corner shops. Corners don't exist in the Tsaatan world.

But if you can rough it for a while, a short visit will reveal an extraordinary world. The memories you take with you will warm many a winter night.

What Not To Do

In recent years, many film crews have traveled to Tsaatan land. They have paid the Tsaatan vast amounts of money, which they simply store in containers. Some have used this money to move to the city - and found unemployment and poverty in a world which does not value their skills.

Other tourists have taken gifts of modern materials, which the Tsaatan have used in place of traditional materials in their clothing and homes. They have become reliant on many of these materials. Such gifts are not helping the Tsaatan.

Here's what you should do...

Choose A Responsible Tour Operator

The best way to meet the reindeer people is to seek the services of a Mongolian tour operator which knows the Tsaatan - contact me if you would like to talk to such an operator.

They will advise you on culturally appropriate gifts and ensure your visit does not endanger the Tsaatan culture or way of life.

Other Names For The Reindeer People

The Reindeer People migrated far and wide. They are known in Siberia by the name Eveny. In Inner Mongolia they go by the name


Tsaatan Or Ewenki Reindeer Herder In Inner Mongolia

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