some longer drives expected
Asia/Mongolian Big 5
Snow leopard and the amazing birds of Mongolia
Altai Mountains, Hustai NP, 10 days
In the last 3 years we have attempted to see Snow Leopards on 14 occasions out of which we have been successful on 13 trips, seeing at least one, but usually more animals. The observations usually last for several hours, or half a day, and often involved watching the cat while hunting, feeding, resting, playing, etc.
After running many successful bird and wildlife holidays over the years we have discovered the possibility to design this very special tour that provides a wonderful opportunity for participants to see the mythical Snow Leopard without strenuous hikes, sleeping in tents, or being exposed to the cold in the thin air at high altitudes.
We undertake our tour in relative comfort staying in spacious gers (yurts) erected exclusively for us in the middle of wilderness. The yurts are supplied with electricity, there are hot showers, flush toilets, beds in the yurts. We have our own cooks and have breakfast and dinner in the dinner yurt.
Further to this, the holiday will provide possibilities to see some of the rare or difficult to see mammals of the region, as well as a fantastic selection of Asian bird species whilst visiting some spectacular landscapes of Mongolia, one of the very few true wilderness areas of the World.
During this very slow paced 10-day adventure we will be based in two locations only, using traditional ger camps set up in scenic locations.
Because Snow Leopard is an endangered species, Ecotours Wildlife Holidays also aims to generate funds with these tours. We support the work of the local grassroots organisation run by very dedicated volunteer rangers who are keen to preserve the natural heritage of the land where they were born. Therefore totally optional donations will be welcome at the end of the holiday, besides which EWH will donate 2% of its profit after every booking. The funds will enable the rangers to purchase equipment necessary to further understand the behaviour of the Snow Leopard as well as to fight illegal hunting of other wildlife in the habitat of Snow Leopard.
Because of the specific location of the Snow, there is a certain flexibility in timing the daily programmes, but this will be kept to a minimum and will not alter the itinerary.
In the West of the country, not far from the Chinese border, in a small range of the Altai Mountains, we shall spend 6 nights in the foothills of the Altai Mountains, venturing into the deep rocky valleys or higher regions (maximum 3000 m, but usually below) searching for the “mountain cat” that has a healthy population in a limited range. Other days we visit the nearby semi-desert area to see the critically endangered Saiga Antelope, and also the delicately built, pretty Black-tailed or Goitered Gazelle. We will also look out for the world’s largest wild sheep, the Argali, that roams the rocky slopes, as does Siberian Ibex and Siberian Marmot. Our second base will be nearer to the capital, yet another beautiful natural area, the famous Hustai National Park, home of the world’s only wild horse species, the Przewalski’s Horse, or Takhi, and also Mongolian Gazelle.
“We want to thank Ecotours Wildlife Holidays for running such a marvellous trip to see the snow leopard. We know we were very lucky to see it so well and on the first day, so that we could spend more time exploring for other wildlife. We are attaching our report for the four day extensions. We are so glad we stayed on for these because we had such a good time with Usukh and Esther. We think we can say that the whole experience was truly life enhancing.”
Richard and Margaret Bentley, UK
- 10 days in Mongolia
- start and finish in Ulaanbaatar
- visiting the Altai Mountains and the Hustai National Park
- using 2 accommodations close to the sites
- staying in comfortable ger camps
- support to the local Snow Leopard conservation organization
Based on our experience we suggest to use the following airlines for your flight (ex United Kingdom, and US) to Ulan Bator: Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, Air China, Korean Air
- Staying in the true wilderness with hardly any other people around
- Fascinating landscapes
- Mongolian Ground-jay, Grey-necked Bunting, Desert Warbler, Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Pallas’s Gull, White-headed Duck, Eastern Marsh Harrier
- Lammergeier, Steppe and Golden Eagle, Saker, Upland Buzzard, Cinereous and Himalayan Griffon Vulture
- Guldenstadt’s Redstart, White-winged Snowfinch, Brown and Kozlov’s Accentor, Red-headed Bunting
- Azure Tit, Long-tailed Rosefinch, White-crowned Penduline-tit, White-cheeked Starling, Meadow Bunting, Daurian Partridge, Demoiselle Crane, Amur Falcon
- Mammals: Snow Leopard, Grey Wolf, Saiga Antelope, Black-tailed and White-tailed Gazelle, Przewalski’s Horse, Argali, Siberian Ibex, Siberian Marmot, Corsac Fox, Tolai Hare, Red-cheeked and Long-tailed Souslik, Siberian Jerboa, Pallas’s Pika, etc.
23 July – 4 August 2024
from 6,690 USD + 665 USD (single room supplement) depending on the group size
Ask for the actual price
- A new exciting possibilty to add 2 nights at Gun Galuut to search for Pallas’s Cat! Price: 1,095 USD + 105 USD srs
- 3 or 5 extra days in Terelj National Park for Taiga forest landscape and species and Gun Galuut for birds and mammals of the steppes and steppe lakes
Arriving at Ulaanbaatar we check into our comfortable hotel. Depending on the time of arrival we will do an introductory birding walk near the city where we might see Azure Tit, White-crowned Penduline Tit, Long-tailed Rosefinch, Azure-winged Magpie, Amur Falcon as well as migrating passerines. Dinner in a traditional Mongolian restaurant offering delicious local and regional cuisine.
After arriving to Khovd we drive to our ger camp where we will stay for the next 6 nights. It is operated by a local wildlife protection community, which is a local organization with the single purpose of protecting the extremely rich nature and wildlife reserve, and which we aim to support with our tours. The camp is located by the foothills of the mountain facing another mountain chain on one side and semi desert with sand dunes and lakes on the other. Our local team is keen to provide everything we need for the maximum comfort in the area where we will be literally on our own, most probably not meeting any other human being apart from our team mates and our local crew for days.
The next 5 days will find us searching primarily for the elusive Snow Leopard as one of our main priorities.
We timed our trip to match the period when the cats are most likely to be seen hunting or guarding their prey. It is difficult to say how good the chances are. There is no guarantee of sightings, but by working with the local conservationists to find the best location we hope to see this majestic animal.
The terrain here is considerably easier to negotiate than in their other habitats where the conditions are generally much harsher (high altitude, low temperature, difficult terrain, need of acclimatization, hikes, sleeping in tents, etc.). Our experienced drivers will take us as close as possible to the observation sites. At times walking will be limited to a few meters. At other times we will have to take a short or medium length walk that will demand basic fitness and ability to walk on rocky, uneven or steep terrain. However, many of the typical observation points can be reached by a 4X4 vehicle or a short walk. As we have plenty of time we will be able to proceed at a speed that is comfortable for everyone.
This holiday is planned to be a very slow paced one with plenty of time for everything. Our local guides will be on the mountain most of the time looking for Snow Leopard. They successfully locate one or more Snow Leopards during almost each tour, and we hope one will be in an easily accessible area. We are also in contact with local shepherds and if one of their animals was killed by the leopards they will immediately report it to our local team. While our local helpers are scouting we might opt to locate ourselves in a key area to scan the mountainsides where animals occur regularly during hunting or patrolling their territories. To find a Snow Leopard needs patience, but it is in fact a special aspect of the holiday: it is a very slow-paced activity that allows us to admire the breath-taking scenery, incredible alpine flora and the highlights of the avifauna without haste.
There will always be things to look at; the soaring raptors above us, the playful Siberian Marmots that keep whistling to each other signalling danger, or the grazing herds of Argali sheep or Siberian Ibex with their amazing ability to climb almost vertical cliffs. There will be many White-winged Snowfinches flying around us, as well as the local race of Horned Lark. Those with sharp eyes will be able to spot the beautiful Guldenstadt’s Redstart that inhabits the highest peaks, and we will surely have time to track down some of the flocks of Altai Snowcocks by scanning the cliffs. Lammergeier, Steppe Eagle, Black-eared Kite, Saker Falcon, Cinereous and Himalayan Griffon Vulture are often seen as they scan the pastures for prey or carcasses, the latter most probably left by the Snow Leopards.
Saiga Antelope is probably one of the oddest-looking animals of its kind, and now it’s critically endangered due to various factors. Mongolia has two populations; one of them is actually a few kilometres from our base, in a flat semi desert area. The local subspecies is called “tatarica” which is sometimes considered to be a separate species. They can run at a very high speed and are easily identifiable as they always keep their head down, even while running.
Another possible highlight here is strictly an after-dinner activity just in and around our campsite. We will walk in the flat rocky desert area scanning with our torchlights for small “jumping, glowing eyes”. The tiny kangaroo-like rodents are most likely Siberian or Northern Three-toed Jerboas, which with luck and with some skill can be approached and observed as they feed on insects just a few meters away, sometimes even jumping between our shoes. Their long ears and tails that end in a fluffy ball of fur make them very special, unique animals to watch. We shall also visit a huge lake and the adjacent wetland nearby which offers a lot to see, perhaps less “furry things” but equally special.
Pallas’s Sandgrouse might come to drink on the shore, Whooper Swan and Dalmatian Pelican breed amongst the vast expanse of reedbeds, Pallas’s Gulls, Whiskered and Gull-billed terns are also here. Massive concentrations of hundreds of White-headed Ducks are usual and Red-crested Pochards are also found on the lake.
The nearby grasslands seem to be perfect for many passerines including Asian Short-toed Lark, Richard’s Pipit, the yellow-headed form of Western Yellow Wagtail and Pallas’s Bunting.
Another avian highlight of Mongolia, the Henderson’s Ground-jay is living very near to our campsite, and a short drive should produce one if not more of these wonderful birds.
On one of the evenings we will organize a local cultural group to visit our ger camp for a short performance. We feel this is a great addition to our tour and allows us to appreciate the region’s ancient and rich cultural and spiritual heritage.
Leaving this magical place behind, we drive to the airport and fly to Ulaanbaatar, where our private coach is waiting for us. In less than two hours we will find ourselves in Hustain Nuruu National Park, home to the successfully reintroduced wild horse, the Thaki or Przewalski’s Horse.
Short walks along the rolling hills will bring us Siberian Marmots and Long-tailed Sousliks, but most probably we will spend quite some time admiring the beauty of the world’s only true wild horse species.
Scanning the gently rolling hillsides, grasslands and shrubs might sometimes also produce Wolf as the relatively small area holds at least two packs, and early evening is when they start hunting for marmots or some unwary deer.
The rocky areas are home to Pied Wheatear, Meadow Bunting and Lesser Whitethroat.
The elm trees along the valleys hold a small population of the elegant Amur Falcon, while Lesser Kestrels hunt on the hillsides and Golden Eagles patrol the skies.
Some spots are particularly productive for Daurian Partridge.
This is our chance to add Mongolian Gazelle to our list of mammals. We shall drive a few kilometres away from the central part of the national park to find them in the lowlands.
Should time permit we can reach the meandering Tuul river, where we will hopefully find Azure tit in the riparian woods.
On our way towards the river we will stop to search for the large Mongolian Lark.
We drive to the airport with those leaving on that day, or to Ulaanbaatar with those who decide to stay on their own or in an extension with us. The airport is a one-hour drive from our last base at Hustai NP (this might change as a new airport is under construction).