Impact of cashmere trade under spotlight on Mongolia trip

Zara Morris-Trainor is studying the relationship between snow leopards, ibex and livestock in the wilds of Mongolia. Picture: Soyolbold Sergelen
Zara Morris-Trainor is studying the relationship between snow leopards, ibex and livestock in the wilds of Mongolia. Picture: Soyolbold Sergelen
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An Aberdeen University researcher is following the footsteps of Sir David Attenborough by studying the relationship between snow leopards, ibex and livestock in the wilds of Mongolia.

Zara Morris-Trainor is living in a ger, a traditional Mongolian tent, during her spell in the east Asian country, where she hopes to gauge the impact of the cashmere industry on native species. With global demand for the material on the rise, herders have expanded the goat numbers, a trend which it is feared could have an adverse effect on species such as ibex, as well as their endangered predators, the snow leopard.

Ms Morris-Trainor’s work involves interviewing herders while stalking ibex in the field and determining the size of the native populations.

She said: “It has been an incredible experience in every way. From the stunning landscape to the phenomenal people I’ve met. Even -20C weather this winter couldn’t put a dampener on the experience.”

Ms Morris-Trainor’s trip was made possible after she received the Sir Maitland Mackie scholarship, named after the founder of the Scottish ice cream business. The scholarship was set up by the university in 2015 to promote research into renewable energy, environmental land use and sustainability.

However, she has found little in the way of familiar sweet treats during her stint in Mongolia, where the diet includes suutei tsai, a salted milk tea, and aarul, a dried curd.

She explained: “Mongolian food is a bit polarising but I still find myself craving a cup of suutei tsai as a pick-me-up, whether it’s sweltering or freezing outside. Some of the more unusual meats like camel and horse are delicious and the herders make an amazing variety of dairy products.”

Ms Morris-Trainor, originally from New Zealand, added: “I’m so grateful to get backing in the form of the scholarship, as without vital funding like this it simply wouldn’t be possible to conduct my research in this way.”

Mac Mackie, managing director of Mackie’s of Scotland, said: “We were fortunate to witness the majesty of snow leopards in the recent second series of Planet Earth, so it is amazing to think that our farm in Aberdeenshire is helping in the effort to understand the big cat’s plight.”