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The relevance of herders’ local ecological knowledge on coping with livestock losses during harsh winters in western Mongolia
In many regions of the world, traditional and local ecological knowledge is still important today for coping with environmental challenges. This study explored the relevance of such knowledge for predicting and coping with harsh winter conditions (dzud) in a remote area of western Mongolia, where government support to disaster-affected herders is restricted by weak infrastructure. Structured face-to-face interviews were held in 50 households (HHs), addressing aspects of livestock possession and management as well as disaster prediction and mitigation. The responses disclosed that livestock losses during the 2009/10 dzud averaged 112.4 animals per HH, equaling nearly 80% of the interviewees’ total livestock possession in summer 2013. To reduce such high losses in the future, herders planned to improve their hay-making efforts and winter pen preparation. However, they also stated that the earliest signs for a dzud occur in September, when it is already too late for substantial hay-making. Therefore, some herders underlined the necessity of maintaining livestock productivity through segregated summer grazing of specific animal groups, controlled mating and early sale of weak livestock. Animals are then entering a harsh winter in good body condition. National and international organizations wishing to support livestock keepers in this and similar regions should therefore highlight the relevance of local strategies for disaster prevention and support community-based approaches that can compensate for the prevalent lack of family labour.