The Gobi Desert

Wild mother and calf, May 1995

I marvel at the links in the chain of events that enabled me to visit the four enclaves in the Gobi in China and Mongolia where the wild camel still survives.

The story begins in Russia, where, in 1992, I had arrived to stage an exhibition of winning environmental photographs in the Polytechnic Museum, Moscow.

In 1992, Communism was crumbling, and its currency had collapsed; 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 and asked him what he did.

'I work for the Russian Academy of Sciences,' Professor Peter Gunin replied in hesitant English. 'I lead the joint Russian/Mongolian expeditions to the Gobi desert.’

'I'd do anything to go with you.'

Peter Gunin stared at me and stroked his bushy Stalin-era moustache. ‘If you could find some foreign exchange . . .'

Since the collapse of communism, the Russian Academy of Sciences' finances had clearly reached crisis levels.

‘How much?’


‘I can,’ I replied.

'Are you a scientist?'

'Unfortunately, not,' I could publicise the work that you are doing in Mongolia within UNEP. I could take a video.'

'Is there nothing that you do that has a scientific background? I will have to justify your inclusion to the Academy.'

'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 $2000 that Professor Gunin required, I was co-opted in 1993, on to the Joint Russian Mongolian Scientific Expedition into the Gobi Desert as their wild camel expert.

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