In case you find yourself dying of thirst in the desert


Golden Eagle hunters. Mongolian Golden Eagle Festival in Ölgii, Mongolia / Alamy

In his "Book of the Diversity of Life," Marco Polo shares an interesting anecdote from the lives of the "Tatars" (by "Tatars," he meant all the nomadic peoples of the Great Steppe).

"When the need arises, they can go for about ten days without food, without making a fire, and sustain themselves with the blood of their horses; they puncture a horse's vein and drink its blood."

Although this account has widely circulated, almost becoming a common belief about nomads, it must be acknowledged that there is no actual evidence of this practice—neither in local epics nor in folk traditions.

In adventure and popular literature, you can find numerous instances of heroes from various cultures and nations resorting to the "Tatar way" under dire circumstances.

"I had just opened the carotid artery of this poor beast, pressed my lips to the wound, and drank. It immediately revived me. I fashioned a tourniquet out of mimosa thorns to stop the bleeding. I'll have to remove the thorn, and the blood will flow again. Then I can drink. It's revolting to the point of nausea, but there's no other choice. She's dying. Do you see?

– I can't... I can't drink... blood.

– Hurry up... She's gasping... You see, she's already wheezing!...

His Eminence lay on his stomach, burying his face in the sand, but he didn't miss a word of Albert's advice. He got up, staggering, approached the dying horse, embraced her neck, and began to drink her blood like a vampire." – Louis Boussenard, "The Diamond Hunters."

"For the besieged Franks, terrible torments began. They were forced to drink the blood of their horses and donkeys." – Amin Maalouf, "The Crusades Through Arab Eyes."

However, the nomads of the steppe had a different view of blood compared to, for instance, the Germans who invented blood sausage. Whether in Tengrism or Islam, blood was considered the vessel of the soul, and consuming it was an extremely dangerous, undesirable act in a mystical sense. Moreover, what would be the point of drinking blood in the steppe, where any true steppe dweller could always find a river, stream, spring, or well to fill their empty water skins? Eating a horse whole—well, that's another matter.

However, the inhabitants of genuine deserts and arid savannas have practiced, and continue to practice, to this day, similar customs. Kenyan and Tanzanian Maasai warrior men feed on the blood of the herds they tend. Today, it is more of a ritual than an urgent necessity, but any self-respecting Maasai can skillfully perform bloodletting that does not harm the animal. In fact, the Maasai believe that cows and bulls subjected to such a procedure are less prone to illness.

So, here's how it works:

1. You need to tether the animal and secure it somewhat reliably. It's better to choose a small cow or horse and bring assistants who will hold the animal.

2. Avoid the neck area and jugular veins to prevent harm to the animal. Blood is taken from one of the prominent arteries on the front leg, closer to the hock on a horse and closer to the shoulder on a cow.

3. Maasai typically pierce the artery with an arrowhead, but any sharp knife will do.

4. Place a container under the blood flow, which initially spurts out like a fountain. Avoid taking more than a liter, as the animal can withstand this blood loss without harm to its health. (The total blood volume in hoofed animals is about 10% of their weight, so for a 400 kg cow, it's roughly 40 liters.)

5. After collecting the blood, cover the wound and apply pressure for some time to stop the bleeding. Maasai use a paste made of clay and dung for this purpose.

Notably, even the Maasai do not drink pure, undiluted blood. The sharp, sweetish, and instinctually unsettling taste of fresh blood can induce vomiting in an unaccustomed person. Moreover, blood almost instantly clots and turns into a lumpy mass. In the 19th century, tuberculosis patients seeking fresh blood at slaughterhouses mixed it with wine before drinking. The Maasai prefer to mix blood with milk, either fresh or soured, in a 50/50 ratio.

Enjoy your meal!

Man collecting blood from a cow. Turgit village, Ethiopia. July 5, 2010/Eric LAFFORGUE/Getty Images

Man collecting blood from a cow. Turgit village, Ethiopia. July 5, 2010/Eric LAFFORGUE/Getty Images


1. Marco Polo, "The Book of the Marvels of the World," "Olma Media Group," 2015.

2. K. Yu. Reznikov, "The Demands of the Flesh," "Litres," 2014.