The Ninja Gold Miners of Mongolia
They’re called ninja miners not for their stealth but for the ubiquitous green panning bowls they sling over their backs. Even in outer Mongolia, where they lawlessly pan for gold, the resemblance to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is unmistakable. For years, they have furtively worked at abandoned commercial mines and on the edges of active mining sites, sleeping in canvas tents and laboring for 12 hours a day. But the 21st-century gold rush has pushed them into national parks, encroaching on the border with Siberia. Environmentalists say the ninjas are destroying pristine rivers and grasslands with their mining methods, which involve cyanide and mercury. Even the ninjas, many of them out-of-work herders, recognize the damage, but they say there is no other way to earn a livelihood in rural Mongolia. The mining can be dangerous, diﬃcult and cold: at the snow-covered sites where the ninja miners work, temperatures can drop below minus-50. But for the potential of $20 a day, the ninjas have little choice but to pan for gold.