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Across Mongolian Plains by Roy Chapman Andrews

And throws the dogskin over his shoulders


The marmots hibernate during the winter, and retire to their burrows early in October, not to emerge until April. When they first come out in the spring their fur is bright yellow, and the animals contrast beautifully with the green grass. After the middle of June the yellow fur begins to slip off in patches, leaving exposed the new coat, which is exceedingly short and is mouse-gray in color. Then, of course, the skins are useless for commercial purposes. As the summer progresses the fur grows until by September first it has formed a long, soft coat of rich gray-brown which is of considerable economic value. The skins are shipped to Europe and America and during the past winter (1919-1920) were especially popular as linings for winter coats.

We had an opportunity to see how quickly the demand in the great cities reaches directly to the center of production thousands of miles away. When we went to Urga in May prime marmot skins were worth thirty cents each to the Mongols. Early in October, when we returned, the hunters were selling the same skins for _one dollar and twenty-five cents apiece_.

The natives always shoot the animals. When a Mongol has driven one into its burrow, he lies quietly beside the hole waiting for the marmot to appear. It may be twenty minutes or even an hour, but the Oriental patience takes little note of time. Finally a yellow head emerges and a pair of shining eyes glance quickly about in every direction. Of course, they see the Mongol but he looks only like a mound of earth, and the marmot raises itself a few inches higher. The hunter lies as motionless as a log of wood until the animal is well out of its burrow--then he shoots.

The Mongols take advantage of the marmot's curiosity in an amusing and even more effective way. With a dogskin tied to his saddle the native rides over the plain until he reaches a marmot colony. He hobbles his pony at a distance of three or four hundred yards, gets down on his hands and knees, and throws the dogskin over his shoulders. He crawls slowly toward the nearest animal, now and then stopping to bark and shake his head. In an instant, the marmot is all attention. He jumps up and down whistling and barking, but never venturing far from the opening of his burrow.

As the pseudo-dog advances there seems imminent danger that the fat little body will explode from curiosity and excitement. But suddenly the "dog" collapses in the strangest way and the marmot raises on the very tips of his toes to see what it is all about. Then there is a roar, a flash of fire and another skin is added to the millions which have already been sent to the seacoast from outer Mongolia.

Mr. Mamen often spoke of an extraordinary dance which he had seen the marmots perform, and when Mr. and Mrs. MacCallie returned to Kalgan they saw it also. We were never fortunate enough to witness it. Mac said that two marmots stood erect on their hind legs, grasping each other with their front paws, and danced slowly about exactly as though they were waltzing. He agreed with Mamen that it was the most extraordinary and amusing thing he had ever seen an animal do. I can well believe it, for the marmots have many curious habits which would repay close study. The dance could hardly be a mating performance since Mac saw it in late May and by that time the young had already been born.


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