The Gobi Desert

I am neither a qualified naturalist nor a scientist but have always had the instincts of an explorer. I marvel at the links in the chain of events that have enabled me to visit the four enclaves in the Gobi in China and Mongolia where the wild Bactrian camel still survives.

As to how I became involved. The story begins in Russia ,where, in 1992, I had arrived to stage an exhibition of environmental photographs in the Polytechnic Museum, Moscow.
In 1992, Moscow had diverse attractions for an adventurer. Communism was crumbling, at night the city was a dangerous place.

It was at a post photographic exhibition party that I turned to the burly Russian dressed in an ill-fitting brown serge suit who sported a Stalin look-alike moustache and asked him how he was managing to survive in lawless Moscow. At that moment, camels, the desert and the Gobi could not have been further from my mind.

‘I work for the Russian Academy of Sciences,‚Äô Professor Peter Gunin replied in hesitant English. ‘I lead the joint Russian/Mongolian expeditions to the Gobi desert. That takes me away from Moscow every year and so I manage to survive.’

This was clearly no longer a moment for small talk. ‘Do you ever take foreigners on your expeditions?’ I asked. ‘I’d give my right arm to go with you.’

Peter Gunin stroked his bushy moustache. ‘There’s no market in Moscow for a foreigner‚Äôs right arm,’ he said with a smile. ‘However, if you could find some foreign exchange . . .‚Äô Since the collapse of communism, the Russian Academy of Sciences’ finances had clearly reached crisis levels. ‘What can you do?’ he continued. ‘Are you a scientist?’

‘Unfortunately, not,’ I replied searching desperately for something relevant to say. ‘I could take photos. I could come as your camera man. I could publicise the work that you are doing in Mongolia. I could take a video?’

‘That would be a help but it’s not really enough. Is there nothing that you can do that has a scientific background? I will have to justify your inclusion to the Academy.’

I realised that I was at the bottom of a barrel being scraped and that Professor Peter Gunin must be very short of funds.

‘Do you use camels on your expeditions?’ I asked. ‘I’ve had experience working with camels in Africa.’

Gunin’s face lit up immediately. ‘That’s it,’ he cried.

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Camels! We need a camel expert. We need someone to undertake a survey on the wild camel population in the Mongolian Gobi.’

And so, knowing nothing about the wild camel but having an ability to find the $1500 that Professor Gunin required, John Hare was co-opted in 1993, onto the Joint Russian Mongolian Scientific Expedition into the Gobi Desert.

After that successful expedition which resulted in the conclusion that were 400 wild Bactrian camels left in the extreme south-west corner of Mongolia. John had another lucky break. He was asked to give a paper on the status of the wild Bactrian camel in Mongolia