Participants at the SKB workshop in Dubois, Wyoming, this fall will have a good chance to see bighorn sheep wandering the Wind River Mountains during their visit. SKBer Susan Fox sees another, rarer species of mountain sheep each year in the place she calls “the last great undiscovered wildlife destination”: Mongolia.
Fox has been going there for 10 years, and argali was the original reason for visiting Mongolia. Argali are comparable to the bighorns around Dubois but bigger—up to 350 pounds–with heavier shoulders and much skinnier legs. “Their horns are thick at the face and grow out in a compound curl,” says Fox. “There are none in zoos, none in captivity. Anyone interested in painting wild sheep would find them a great subject.”
Argali were considered a vulnerable species until recently due to trophy hunting and overgrazing by domesticated animals, but they are making a mild comeback in Mongolia. In July, Fox took photos of more than 200 argali “just pouring over the hill toward me. And 30 came up behind me, and I got ground level shots of them.”
One of the prime spots to see argali is Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve, which is located five hours out of Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. In the western part of the country, there is a national park known for harboring snow leopards. “You can’t go to Mongolia and expect to see snow leopards,” says Fox. “But you can record their habitat. And at one nature reserve a game camera picked up 37 snow leopards on one mountain.”
Also in western Mongolia are the fabled eagle hunters, Kazakhs who hunt using golden eagles. Traditionally, the eagles pick out foxes in a snowy landscape.
Other species include Siberian ibex, a wild ass called the kuhlan, avocets, demoiselle cranes, whooper swan, bar-headed geese, saiga antelope (recently in the news due to a devastating disease wiping out their numbers in Kazakhstan), and Przewalski’s horse, a wild horse in a country that holds horses in the highest esteem. They all hold some appeal, but Fox keeps returning to the argali. She says that she spent an hour this year watching some, gathering reference material. “They are cautious but you can get pretty close to them,” she says. “I was about 50 yards away when one ram gave a nice big stretch up on a rock. That piece was accepted into the 55th Annual “Art and the Animal” juried exhibition of the Society of Animal Artists.”
Fox says she doesn’t know of any other western wildlife painters working in Mongolia. The native painters of Mongolia take a much different approach, eschewing photographs and going from memory, creating an impression of the animal rather than the particulars.
Mongolia is wide open, still, for artists. Fox works with a company called Nomadic Journeys. Click here for more info. Ω