The Deadly 'Dzud' Is Back, Has Killed Millions of Animals

More than 7.1M dead in Mongolia so far this year, and that number could more than double
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 15, 2024 1:40 PM CDT
The Deadly 'Dzud' Is Back, Has Killed Millions of Animals
In this photo released by Mongolian Red Cross Society, a Mongolian herdsman stands near his livestock in Ulaangom Soum, Uvs province of Mongolia, on March 1, 2024.   (Mongolian Red Cross Society via AP)

An extreme weather phenomenon known as the dzud has killed more than 7.1 million animals in Mongolia this year, more than a tenth of the country's entire livestock holdings, endangering herders' livelihoods and way of life, the AP reports. Dzuds are a combination of perennial droughts and severe, snowy winters and they are becoming harsher and more frequent because of climate change. They are most associated with Mongolia but also occur in other parts of Central Asia. Many deaths, especially among malnourished female animals and their young, occur during the spring, which is the birthing season. Herding is central to Mongolia's economy and culture—contributing to 80% of its agricultural production and 11% of GDP. Thousands of families have lost over 70% of their entire herds.

  • In Mongolian, the word dzud means disaster. Dzuds occur when extremely heavy snows cause impenetrable layers of snow and ice to cover Mongolia's vast grasslands, so the animals cannot graze and they starve to death. Drought at other times of the year means there's not enough forage for the animals to fatten up for the winter.
  • Dzuds used to occur once in a decade or so but are becoming harsher and more frequent because of climate change. This year's dzud is the sixth in the past decade and the worst yet. It followed a dzud last year and a dry summer. Snowfall was the heaviest since 1975.
  • Disposing of the carcasses quickly to ensure they don't spread diseases is another big challenge. By early May, 5.6 million, or nearly 80%, of the dead animals had been buried. The total death toll may ultimately increase to 14.9 million animals, or nearly 24% of Mongolia's total herd.

Much more on the devastating phenomenon here.

(More Mongolia stories.)

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