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Before They Pass Away: A Photographer Races After Vanishing Tribes

By Jane Hwang - 2014-01-07T15:48:54Z

Photograph by Jimmy Nelson BV courtesy teNeues

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The Tsaatan of Mongolia

Development and modernity are the greatest threats to the Tsaatan's way of life, especially the emergence of mineral exploration and non-subsistence hunting. The tribe is credited with being the earliest domesticators of any animal, relying on the reindeer for most, if not all, of its basic needs, especially transport. One reindeer can carry up to 65 kilograms (143 pounds) of items or riders, depending on their size, traveling up to 30 kilometers, or about 19 miles, a day. 

Amid tumultuous changes in Mongolia's governance and national identity in the early 1990s, the Tsaatan's mobility was restrained and its herds slaughtered, isolating it from other reindeer-herding tribes. Currently, there are only 44 Tsaatan families left in the world, and their existence is threatened by restrictions on their nomadic animal husbandry practices. 

Left: Chiubaam, right, and his son Zorigo in Renchinkhumbe, in Khovsgol Province, February 2011