In the mountainous region of Uyanga, there is concern about the recent surge in a kind of people who are regarded as different from other humans living in the area. Although these people are not new to the region, they have apparently never been as numerous as they are now. Whereas at first sight they look like everyone else, closer inspection might reveal subtle differences: an unusually firm stare, a sudden move of the arm, or a quick pointing of the ears. These differences are not lasting physiological features that are available for later examination and discussion. They exist only in the present moment and may disappear from view as soon as they are noticed. Locals pay much attention to the appearance of these indicators and discuss their discoveries in hushed voices. Their main concern is how to live peacefully together with a people who are considered predatory and essentially related to the wolf (Canis lupus lupus). More than being like wolves, ‘wolf people’ (chono hün) are said to transcend crucial distinctions, blurring divides between human and nonhuman realms. Whereas continuities between the human and the nonhuman have been richly documented elsewhere (e.g. Vilaça 2002; Vitebsky 2006; Viveiros de Castro 1998; Willerslev 2007), large parts of the Mongolian region place much emphasis on their distinction and separation (Pedersen 2001). Entering the nonhuman realm is considered eminently dangerous for humans and even shamans often refrain from such voyages. However, as growing numbers of wolf people are said to have emerged in Uyanga, this distinction is now becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. In Western folkloric accounts and legends, the metamorphosis of humans and

wolves usually entails the transformation of a human into a wolf (Baring-Gould 2009: 7). By shape-shifting into a theriomorphic wolf-like creature, often at times of full moon, werewolves (lycanthrope) attain extreme powers and can inflict harm on humans by biting their victims and potentially passing on the curse of the werewolf. On returning to their human form, werewolves are said to become physically weak and suffer intense pain (Baring-Gould 2009). In Uyanga, however, wolf people do not engage in periodic shape-shifting and their bodies remain human. Nonetheless, despite their familiar human form, they are

regarded as wolf-beings. Rather than drawing on zoologists’ elaborate classification of the Canis lupus species or the fantastic accounts of cryptozoological entities akin to werewolves, this chapter takes its analytical cue from the Mongolian association between wolves (chono) and wolf people (chono hün). By examining ethnographic and historical material on the position of wolves in Mongolian cosmology, I will argue that relations between humans and animals reveal both social continuities and moral ambiguities. In a region that has become the epicentre of a large gold rush, the search for mineral resources and the transformational agency of wolf people demonstrate the importance of moving away from a human-centred perspective on morality and personhood.

In many parts of the world, wolves are surrounded by elaborate cultural understandings (Lindquist 2000; Knight 2003). As the predator par excellence, their fierce strength and intricate social behaviours have given rise to an enduring interest among human audiences. In myths and legends, wolves often occupy a prominent agentive position. At times they are responsible for creating human beginnings on earth, whilst at others they set in motion a human demise. In contemporary eco-politics, environmental advocacy groups express their fascination with the species whereas farmers and pastoralists often voice their frustration and opposition to wolves (see Lindquist 2000; Moore 1994). Irrespective of the kinds of relations that wolves have with humans, they appear to be beings who command human attention. And this is no less the case than in the Mongolian cultural region, where unparalleled popular attention has, in recent years, centred on the wolf. Selling more than 20 million official copies in the first three years of its publication, the novel Wolf Totem, by Chinese author Jiang Rong, has become an instant ‘super-seller’ (Mishra 2008).1 Describing a man’s fascination with, and intricate understanding of wolves, the novel depicts the so-called ‘totemic relationship’ between wolves and nomadic herders of Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution. The novel has not only found a large readership and profitable market, but also drawn attention to wolves as a significant species in the region. When Mongolians talk about wolves, they often comment on the strength,

intelligence and determination of the animal. Many regard these qualities as admirable and highly desirable for both wolves and humans. Positioned as ‘teachers’ (bagsh) for hunters and herders, wolves are respected for their superior abilities in making a life on the Mongolian steppe. Although such praise and admiration for wolves may have inspired Jiang Rong’s view that Mongolians ‘worship’ and ‘follow’ their ‘wolf totem’, my informants do not view wolves in such singular moral terms. The reverence and explicit prescription of admirable wolf qualities does not amount to a species-rooted yardstick for judging human actions. Rather than being positioned as axiomatically ‘good’ (sain), wolves occupy a broad terrain of moral evaluation.

This diversity in character surrounds wolves whether they take on their familiar body (biye) of a greyish coat, yellow eyes and bushy tail, or take on a different kind of physical form. Given their multiple bodies and moral evaluations, understanding the centrality of wolves in local descriptions of wolf people requires a broad investigation into their various manifestations and transformational agency.