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23 September 2018

  The world’s biggest country, in a magazine. Since 1956.

Counting Sheep

Author: Ivan Kobilyakov
Translation: Paul E. Richardson
Illustrations/Images by Ivan Kobilyakov

Nov/Dec 2016
Page 40   (10 pages)

Summary: In which we follow scientists to the middle of Russian nowhere (so remote, rivers and valleys are unnamed), as they track the elusive and very rare Putorana snow sheep.


I am laboring beneath a very heavy backpack.

We have been underway for three hours already. The only thing I can afford to think about, however, are the huge, sharp rocks underfoot. They are unstable and treacherous. A person could slip and fall at any moment.

My fellow traveler, the biologist Mikhail Bondar, seems not the least bit tired. He is carrying two backpacks tied together with a strong rope. Together they weigh in at more than 40 kilos [88 pounds]. Aside from his personal effects, the gas stove and pot, he is carrying a tripod and 70x spotting scope. I wonder at his endurance and do all I can not to show that I am on my last legs.

“We’ll go another half-kilometer and then pitch camp,” Mikhail says with a hearty voice as he checks his GPS device.

I begin counting my steps: 500, 499, 498…

This is probably the first scientific expedition in my life requiring not only knowledge of the natural world, but also a level of strength that is near the bounds of human endurance.

The helicopter put us down on the Putorana plateau – like seeds in the middle of a giant garden bed – four teams, each separated from the other by several dozen kilometers. We have a week to complete our task, during which each team must search their patch of the plateau and count the number of snow sheep in their territory. This is the fundamental goal of the expedition and of the project as a whole.

Mikhail and I are one of the four teams. We have been given a stretch about 40 kilometers long to cover, and we absolutely must cover it before the helicopter returns again. The only question is, what will the week hold? Will we be lucky enough to meet the animals we have come all this way to see?

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