Update: The Dukha Tribe, December 2015

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The Dukha hunt for wild animals but do not eat their beloved reindeer.

The nomadic reindeer-herding Dukha tribe of northern Mongolia is struggling to survive after being banned from hunting in the name of ‘conservation.’ Their land was declared a protected area in 2013, and, if caught hunting, they must pay fines they cannot afford or face a long prison sentence. They are also facing restrictions on where they migrate and now need permission to go to their own distant camps.

The Dukha have hunted sustainably for generations with their own strict rules governing the number of animals they can kill and when and where they can hunt. These rules ensure that they don’t overhunt and only take what they need. Hunting is not just a way of getting food; it is integral to their way of life.

The Dukha perform shamanic rituals to show their thanks and ask for forgiveness from the spirit of the animal after a successful hunt. An elderly Dukha hunter explained, “We say, ‘thank you very much, Mother Earth, for giving us animals from your wealth. I hope all these animals return back to you even more than now.’ We also offer some of this meat to the fire, nature, and spirits before we eat it.”

The Dukha are struggling to understand why outsiders are imposing these restrictions on them in the name of ‘conservation’ when they are already so careful about how they hunt and protect their land. Evidence from around the world shows that tribal peoples are usually better at looking after their environment than anyone else. They are considered the best conservationists and guardians of the natural world.

A Dukha elder said, “This is our home. We have been living here for generations. We make sure that we look after and care for our home. How can outsiders come and tell us to protect it with fines and lists while we have already been doing it for centuries?”

The government pays some compensation to the Dukha so that they can buy some meat instead of hunting. However, what the government forgets is that hunting for most indigenous societies in northern Mongolia, like the Dukha, is not just a way of getting meat; it is a lifestyle that forms many characteristics of their society. For instance, most hunter-gatherers are known to have much more of an egalitarian social structure than farmers or people living in the cities. The Dukha always share the meat they hunt among all families, and they also do not have a formal leader. All families are free to make their own decisions. However, decisions that affect the community are made together.

Hunting restrictions mean that the imposed Dukha social structure would eventually destroy the Dukha culture—one of the few cultures living in harmony with nature and all life.