A blanket of snow rests over the sweeping Mongolian plains. The air is still. In the distance, a figure moves across the sleeping landscape followed by two dots. It is a herder, Tsogbayar Khorol or Tsogo, on a horse with his two Bankhar dogs, Aslan and Mazaalai. The small company moves towards a herd of cows grazing on the side of a hill.
Black and brown with a thick coat of fur, Bankhar dogs have naturally evolved to survive the harsh Mongolian climate. The dog dates back hundreds of years to the time of Genghis Khan when they were used in war. Today they are prized by Mongolians as a cultural symbol and by herders as guard dogs.
“Bankhars are known as herders or shepherds, so our ancestors domesticated them many centuries ago,” said Saikhnaa Ganbold, executive director of the Mongolian Kynological Federation. “Bankhar dogs are inseparable from herder families. You can’t imagine herders without them.”
Tsogo lives about two hours outside of Ulaanbaatar on a homestead with his wife and their livestock. Their main source of income is from selling their cows’ milk to the nearby town. Tsogo used to employ hybrid breeds of dogs to protect his herd but they failed to protect against wolves. Several years ago, he traded 40 goats for Aslan, his first Bankhar.
“Before the Bankhar, wolves would just come into the animal fence and take away our livestock. After we got the dogs, we haven’t lost any animals to them.” said Tsogo, “If we didn’t have the dogs, it’s like offering our animals to the wolves.”
As the sun sets over the horizon, Tsogo gathers his livestock to return home. With the danger of wolves looming from the forest nearby, Tsogo would otherwise have to be vigilant on the journey back. However, with the Bankhars close by, the herd can return safely.