KEENE VALLEY — The Totem People of northern Mongolia will be wiped out without their reindeer herd.
And Daniel Plumley of Keene Valley intends to see that they get reindeer.
As the American director of Totem People Reindeer Project, Plumley has helped raise $22,000 toward a $35,000 goal to buy more reindeer for the Dukha tribe.
The Dukha are called Totem People because the reindeer is the totem animal around which their culture is based.
They are the smallest minority in Mongolia and the last reindeer-herding culture left in Mongolia's northernmost Darhat Valley territory.
The only thing north of the Dukha is Russian Siberia and the North Pole.
Plumley said only about 250 Dukha remain and without their reindeer — which they use for food, transportation, milk, and hides — they'll die or be forced to move to cities.
"These traditional people are facing the demise of their culture, due to the fact that their reindeer herd is weakened by illness and inbreeding," Plumley said.
"When I visited the Dukha settlements in October, I learned the true gravity of their circumstances.
"They have only about 500 head of reindeer left, and many of the animals are weakened by disease."
The Dukha herd was 1,500 strong 10 years ago.
Plumley relayed a message from Ovogdorj, a Dukha reindeer herder.
"The reindeer are our life. They represent our current and past lifestyle. If we continue to lose our deer, we will be forced to leave our land. We'll lose our very culture in the process."
Plumley is a cultural ecologist. He's also a reindeer expert.
Since 1993 he's worked with reindeer-based cultures in Siberia, and he got involved with the Dukha in May.
Working with specialists from New Zealand, Finland, Siberia and Mongolia, he got the Reindeer Project underway.
"Our challenge is to purchase new breeding stock and veterinary medicines, and start a selective breeding program with the Dukha herd to reverse the negative trends," Plumley said.
"We're all people of the North. We held our own even if they're halfway around the world."
Donating $75 enables the Reindeer Project to buy one new reindeer in Siberia, just across the Mongolian border.
So far the project has raised $22,000 toward a Feb. 1, 1999, goal of $35,000.
There have also been donations of services. Mailboxes Etc. of Lake Placid has given printing and promotional materials for the project.
Plumley will return to the Dukha tribe in mid-February to begin the purchases and the selective-breeding program.
"I'm reasonably confident we'll reach our goal, with the help of North Country and New York residents, as well as some supporters as faraway as Florida and Maine," he said.
"I'm working with Mongolian counterpart organizations now on project planning and approvals for the reindeer purchase and transfer in 1999, and we hope to raise an additional $10,000 as the minimum project level."
The project has had several major donors and 22 individual reindeer "adoptions" so far.
Once he's back in central Asian, Plumley said he'll arrange the purchases and make arrangements to transfer the reindeer from Siberia to Mongolia by fall 1999 in time for the annual reindeer mating season in October and November.
"This is one Northern people helping another Northern people," Plumley said.
"We'll do it one reindeer at a time if we have to.