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Mongolia: Steppe Ecology & Civic Media

Explore an incomparable grassland ecosystem. Learn how to support citizen conservation reporters. Focus on the Pallas’ cat and Przewalski’s horse, one of the most successful species reintroductions of our time.

Course Overview

Travel to Mongolia, the “Land of Blue Sky.”

The birthplace of the Mongol Empire, the largest contiguous empire in human history, Mongolia is now a vibrant democracy and home to an open wilderness that has few parallels in the modern world. We will explore the great steppes, and especially engage in the conservation story of two key steppe species: Pallas’ cats and Przewalski’s horse. Pallas’ cats are important steppe predators whose conservation provides insights into the challenges facing the survival of small wild cats worldwide. Przewalski’s horse, also called takhi, are considered to be the only true wild horse left in the world. We will join research on an ambitious reintroduction project based in Mongolia that has returned this remarkable species to its former homeland after being driven to extinction in the wild. Possible research projects include studies of the populations, home range, and conservation of Pallas’ cats and Przewalski’s horse; participatory media and conservation knowledge; and community-based research. Discover the power of inquiry to generate knowledge and inspire conservation.

Prior to and following the field experience in Mongolia, students will complete coursework via Dragonfly Workshops’ web-based learning community as they apply experiences to their home institutions.

Course Details
In-person travel dates: June 13-23, 2023
Students arrive at least one day before and depart on last day of course
On the Web: Pre-travel preparations prior to May 15, 2023
Summer course: May 16-August 11, 2023
Fall course: Late August- early December, 2023
Credits:

Summer course: 5 graduate credits

Follow-on Fall course: 2 graduate credits

All Miami University credits can be applied to the GFP or AIP (or other programs if approved)

Course Cost:* Summer course: $3,225* + your own airfare to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

Fall course: $790
* $3225 calculated as = $395 per credit tuition X 5 graduate credits + $1075 program fee + $175 Miami global fee

Course Themes

  • Introduction to the ecology of Asian steppe ecosystems
  • Pallas’ cat ecology and conservation
  • Reintroduction of Przewalski’s horse (takhi)
  • Field method techniques
  • Inquiry-driven learning
  • Participatory education and civic media
  • Conservation storytelling
  • Community-based conservation

A typical day is likely to include:

  • Visits to field conservation sites
  • Lectures
  • Student-led discussions of key course topics
  • Engagement with local communities
  • Open inquiries
  • Journal writing
Kym Janke on an Earth Expeditions trip to Mongolia

Mongolia

Central Mongolia is a vast, wild landscape of rolling green steppe and stony mountains, far reaching valleys, sturdy horses, short grass aromatic with sage, and hospitable nomads living in traditional round gers.

The Mongolian steppe is part of the Eurasian steppes, a vast belt of grassland extending from eastern Europe through western and central Asia to northeast Asia. A temperate biome, steppes are found in the central regions of continents, far from the sea.

Mongolia is an invigorating place to visit and, with the world’s lowest population density and enormous swathes of virgin landscape, one of the best wilderness destinations in Asia.

Dragonfly Workshops Web-Based Learning Community

Upon acceptance into the program, students will join instructors and classmates in Dragonfly Workshops’ collaborative web community to complete pre-trip assignments. After returning home, students will continue to work in their web-based community through early December to develop projects initiated in the field, discuss assignments, and exchange ideas. All students should expect to spend two to three hours a week contributing to their web-based learning community from their home or school computer. Navigating the web platform is easy–it’s designed for people with no prior computer experience. To learn more about this unique web experience, visit dragonflyworkshops.miamioh.edu.

Planned Sites

Google Earth map of Mongolia with three locations marked. A second image shows the marked locations zoomed in are labeled Ulaanbaatar, Hustai National Park, and Pallas Cat Research Site.

Ulaanbaatar

The capitol of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, is located in the Tuul river valley in central Mongolia.

Pallas Cat Research Site

This is the primary research site for the Pallas’ Cat Conservation Project. The Pallas’ cat, Otocolobus manul, is a predator specialized to live in the steppe and mountainous regions of central Asia. Its greatest populations are found in Mongolia. A thick coat of shaggy fur and a long, bushy tail help combat the extreme temperatures of the steppe. The elusive Pallas’ cat is difficult to observe in the wild due to its excellent camouflage, its surprisingly large home ranges, and its scarcity. An ongoing study in Mongolia, supported by the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden (CZBG), is using radio telemetry to measure range sizes of wild Pallas’ cats.

Research at the CZBG’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife and the National Zoological Park established that Pallas’ cats have a pronounced reproductive seasonality controlled by light exposure and that newborns are extremely susceptible to infection with a parasite called Toxoplasma. Improved reproductive and disease management based on these findings has enabled the captive population to grow and stabilize.

Students will get the rare chance to participate in research conducted by the Pallas Cat Conservation Project (PCCP) by visiting a remote grassland camp location staying on site with active field researchers. Students will join research rotations learning about the ecological and cultural richness of the region. Students will sleep in sleeping bags (bring your own) on the floor in gers, the traditional circular homes of Mongolian nomads. All basic amenities are provided including clean water for basic needs, such as drinking, washing hands and face, or a quick shower, and outhouse style toilets.

Hustai National Park

Hustai National Park, located approximately 100 km southwest of Ulaanbaatar, was chosen as an optimal location for the reintroduction of Przewalski’s horse (takhi). Between 1992 and 2000, a total of 84 takhi from zoos around the world were released in Hustai. The wild horses have flourished; now more than 190 freely roam the park along with red deer, wild boar, white-tailed gazelles, wolves, lynx, marmots, and long-tailed hamsters. The park is also home to 172 species of birds such as the steppe eagle, great bustard, demoiselle crane, and cinereous vulture.

(Course locations are subject to change.)

2023 Costs Include:

In addition to covering the price for five graduate credits of Miami University tuition, field course costs cover all basic expenses, including:

  • Meals (incidental snacks and drinks not included)
  • Lodging
  • Field station fees
  • Course activities (optional activities are not included)
  • Ground transportation (van, boat, train, etc., as needed)
  • Park entrance and guide fees

Course costs do not cover personal expenses, such as airfare to the course, personal gifts, or ancillary costs, such as passport fees, country entry fees, required course readers, and any additional course texts.

Airfare: To estimate fares applicants may wish to visit an online fare finder or call a travel agent. Bear in mind that airlines have seasonal fluctuations in fares.

Miami University also requires all international workshop participants to purchase travel health insurance for about $40. (Successful applicants will receive more details in their web-based learning community course workshop.) In some classes an additional textbook is required. In some countries, you may have to pay entrance and departure taxes/fees at the airport.

Because of support from Miami University, the course costs listed above are a fraction of actual program costs. Earth Expeditions recommends that accepted applicants to the program check with their school district or employer to see if professional development funds are available to further offset costs.

U.S. Students and Students Living Abroad

To support involvement by a broad range of professionals nationally and globally, Miami University discounts tuition for participants accepted to an Earth Expeditions graduate course. Applicants must be over the age of 18 and hold bachelor’s degrees. Upon successful completion of both the field and Web-based components of the Earth Expeditions course, participants earn seven graduate credit hours.

Students Seeking Undergraduate Credit

Undergraduate students at Miami University or elsewhere may apply for an Earth Expeditions course and earn five credits for the field component, with the option to complete two additional credits for the fall Web component. Normal Miami tuition rates apply, as do eligible summer tuition waivers and scholarships. Contact Project Dragonfly for more information.

Course Options for Miami Students

Are you a current Miami University undergrad or grad student interested in participating? Check out our Miami Students page to learn more about program requirements.

*Note that costs shown above are for graduate students only. Course costs for undergraduate students are based on each student’s tuition rate. If you have questions regarding your tuition promise rate, please contact the Bursar.

Questions?

Do you have questions? Go to our Frequently Asked Questions page for some answers.

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