The US organization " Ethical Traveler " has chosen the most politically correct travel destinations for 2016 - Mongolia is also there. An occasion for me to publish a story that I've long struggled to write. It is about the mysterious death of a young environmentalist whom I met last year in Mongolia.
Deserted steppe with the eagles in the air and the galloping horses on the ground - this is Mongolia we long for. Mongolia, to which I have lost my heart. I have fallen in love with the vastness and the scent of the taiga - and the people who are still so connected with nature. One of them was Sumbee. The 27-year-old was one of the most impressive Mongols I met on the trip. With sparkling brown eyes he sat in the evening on our round at Lake Huvsgol and told us about his tours to the snow leopards in the Gobi Desert. He told us about his work for the environmental organization Snow Leopard Trust in the mountains of Tost. He did not tell us that he had to recover in the north of the country because he had been attacked and even stabbed several times. That he had been threatened because of his commitment to the animals, he concealed as well as he avoided to show us his scars and wounds, which he has worn from the attacks of it. Instead, he inspired us for the snow leopards, took us to the Gobi Desert with every sentence, and I decided to visit him there.
Later, Unudelgerekh Batkhuu, director of the local conservation organization Mongol Ecology Center , told us that Sumbee, like no other in the country, knows about the rare snow leopards. He knows where to get their boys, where to hunt and knows their sleeping places. He equips them with GPS collars so you can monitor them better. More than ever, the animals need such lawyers as Sumbee. Because the habitat of big cats in the Gobi Desert is severely threatened. Natural resources such as huge deposits of coal, but also copper and gold arouse greed and attract mining companies from China, Russia or Brazil. Tempting for a country that is one of the poorest and most underdeveloped in the world. So it comes again and again to conflicts between conservationists, politicians and the mining industry.
How threatened this paradise is, I only noticed at home when I was sitting at my desk and the news reached me that Sumbee had died. He was found dead. According to the global organization Global Whitness , the number of people who give their lives for environmental protection is increasing dramatically worldwide. In 2013, at least 116 people were killed for protesting or resisting the depletion of minerals or the urbanization of new areas. Often by wire-pullers from mining, energy, or politics, and ignored by the public. Like the death of Sumbee. The police classify it as suicide. Unlikely for a 27-year-old who had such big plans and was so energetic. His relatives, his employer of the Snow Leopard Trust and other environmental protection organizations are now calling for clarifying the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death.
However, Mongolia is one of the politically correct destinations in 2016 according to the report. Because the nomads feed a large part of their electricity needs from solar sources. And because 15 percent of the land area is under protection. The environmental organization Ethical Traveler also cites mining and the boom of natural resources as a major challenge for the country. That's exactly where the key position lies. Let's hope that it succeeds.
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More about Sumbee can be found here: www.snowleopard.org
Addendum (04/20/16): Mongolia has now placed another area under protection. At least a beginning. http://www.care2.com/causes/mongolia-steps-up-in-big-way-to-support-snow-leopard-protection.html