It’s the tale of an adorable baby camel in Mongolia, completely shunned by his mother after a tough birth. For much of the movie, the baby stands by himself and wails. It breaks your heart.
The movie’s supporting stars are the herders, fretting about their fractured camel family. It’s very clear that if the camels aren’t happy, neither are the owners; the human-camel connection is intense. They end up traveling many miles through the desert, looking for a music teacher to perform a camel-healing ritual.
We wanted to know more about what it’s like to tend camels in the Gobi desert, one of the world’s most rugged, punishing landscapes. We tracked down Badamsuren (Mongols only go by one name), a Mongolian herder in his mid-50s, for a few questions. His responses have been translated into English.
Modern Farmer: Tell us a little about your life.
Badamsuren: I have four children; three of them live and work in Hanhongor. My wife is also a herder. We live in the town center during the winter but move our ger (a Mongolian yurt) to the countryside in the summer. I love to collect old buses and use the working ones to move my ger and family each summer.
MF: How long have you herded camel?
B: I have been herding camels for about 25 years, other animals for longer.
MF: How many camels do you have?
B: About 45 camels of my own but I also herd other people’s camels. It is a common practice for people who are good at herding (and there is more skill involved than one might think) to herd other’s livestock for a cut of the profits. I, in turn, employ people to herd my animals at times when I am too busy.
MF: Describe a typical day.
B: I get up around 6 or 7 in the morning and work until 8 or 9 at night, depending on the season. Throughout the day I move the camels to different pasture areas, get them water (in the non-winter months), and check for injuries. Seasonal activities include castration, assisting with birthing, cutting off of wool, milking, inserting wooden sticks into noses for reins and butchering.
MF: Do the camels have very different personalities?
B: The camels range from difficult and temperamental to gentle and sweet. Sex of the camel doesn’t matter.
MF: Tell us about any poorly behaved camels. What do they do?
B: They don’t listen, they need correction, and in order to control them they often have to have wooden nose bits inserted.
MF: What is the hardest part of your job?
B: The hardest part of the job is in the summer. Since I herd in an area without open water, I must hand-pump water everyday for the herd. Each camel needs about 50 liters of water so that is at least 2250 liters of water (over 560 gallons of water) hand-pumped everyday.
MF: What is the best part of your job?
B: I love being outdoors and working with my family. And of course, spending time with the animals.
MF: Did you see the weeping camel movie? What did you think of it?
B: I thought it was very nice and true to life. My oldest son is one of the kids playing the morin khuur in the school when they go to find the music teacher.
MF: What are the different products you get from the camels?
B: From my camels we get wool which is used for clothing and rope, milk or hormag which is a popular summer time drink, often drunk warm with sugar. We also get other dairy products such as soft and hard cheeses and meat.
MF: If you weren’t herding camels, what job would you like?
B: I would still want to work with animals. My dream is to get some small-business funding to increase my herd and offer services such as trekking tourists around. A few years back I worked with a German group to make a book about a camel trek from the Gobi desert to Central Mongolia. I would like to do more like that, and always increase my own knowledge about camels.
Also, I am one of the four local government representatives for herders in the county.