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Goats that died as result of a zud

A zud or dzud (Mongolian: зуд) is a Mongolian term for a severe winter in which large number of livestock die, primarily due to starvation due to being unable to graze, in other cases directly from the cold. There are various kinds of zuds, particularly a white zud, which is an extremely snowy winter in which livestock are unable to find foodstuff through the snow cover, hence starving.

The economy of Mongolia has long been heavily dependent on pastoral farming, and harsh zuds can cause economic crises and food security issues in the country.[1][2]

Description and mitigation[edit]

Locals differentiate between black, white, cold, and iron/ice zuds. The black zud (har zud) consists of a lack of snowfall combined with freezing temperatures, which causes drought. The white zud (tsagaan zud) is caused by very heavy snow fall, which makes it impossible for the livestock to feed on the otherwise accessible frozen grass, causing famine. The cold zud (khuiten zud) occurs when the temperature gets extremely low for consecutive days, so that animals must conserve body temperature instead of grazing freely. The iron zud (temur zud) is brought about by rain which freezes and covers the land in ice hindering the animals from feeding on grass or herbs. Some also refer to a storm zud (shuurgan zud), in which snowstorms of high winds and drifts are dangerous for herds.

Some traditional methods to protect the livestock from such inclement weather conditions include drying and storing cut grass during the summer months, and collecting sheep and goat dung to build dried flammable blocks called "Khurjun" or kizyak. Dried grass can be fed to animals to prevent death from starvation when zud occurs. The "Khurjun", or blocks of sheep and goat dung, were stacked to create a wall that protects the animals from the wind chills, and keep them warm enough to withstand the harsh conditions. These blocks can also be burnt as fuel during the winter. These methods are still practiced today in the westernmost parts of Mongolia, and areas formerly part of the Zuun Gar nation.

Also because of the semi-permanent structure of the winter shelter for their livestock and the cold, most if not all nomads engage in transhumance (seasonal migration). They have winter locations to spend the winter that is in a valley protected by mountains on most sides from the wind, while in the summer they move to more open space.

Extent and history[edit]

It is not uncommon for zuds to kill over 1 million head of livestock in a winter. The 1944 record of almost 7 million head of livestock lost[3] was shattered in the 21st century. Of note, the arctic oscillation in both 1944–45 and in 2010 was pushed much deeper into Central Asia bringing prolonged extreme cold weather. In 1999–2000, 2000–2001 and 2001–2002, Mongolia was hit by three zuds in a row, in which a combined number of 11 million animals were lost.[4]

In winter 2009–2010 80% of the country's territory was covered with a snow blanket of 200–600mm.[5] In the Uvs aimag, extreme cold (night temperature of −48°C / −54°F) remained for almost 50 days.[6] 9,000 families lost their entire herds while a further 33,000 suffered 50% loss.[7] The Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry reported 2,127,393 head of livestock were lost as of February 9, 2010 (188,270 horse, cattle, camel and 1,939,123 goat and sheep).[5] The agriculture ministry predicted that livestock losses might reach 4 million before the end of winter.[8] But by May 2010, the United Nations reported that eight million, or about 17% of the country's entire livestock, had died.[1]


  1. ^ a b Jacobs, Andrew (May 19, 2010). "Winter Leaves Mongolians a Harvest of Carcasses". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  2. ^ "Mongolia: The zud strikes again". The Economist. 2001-03-15. 
  3. ^ "Mongolia faces calamity". BBC news. 2000-03-29. 
  4. ^ Olivier Mahul, Jerry Skees (March 2006). "Piloting Index-Based Livestock Insurance in Mongolia" (PDF). AccessFinance No.10. The World Bank Group. Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  5. ^ a b "Severe winter kills two million livestock". Montsame News Agency, Ulaanbaatar. 2010-02-11. Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  6. ^ "Ch. Khurelbaatar works in Uvs.". Montsame News Agency, Ulaanbaatar. 2010-02-12. Retrieved 2010-02-14. [dead link]
  7. ^ Branigan, Tania The Guardian 21 July 2010 Mongolia: Winter of white death
  8. ^ "Livestock Loss Could Reach Up to 4 Million By Spring". UBPost. 2010-02-05. Retrieved 2010-02-14.