LONDON-Eighty million years ago, during the Cretaceous Period, Mongolia’s Gobi Desert was a dinosaur’s paradise of vast valleys, freshwater lakes and a humid climate. Mammal-eating velociraptors, lizard-hipped sauropods and spike-armoured ankylosaurs could have been spotted roaming in what are now the Martian red sandstone spires of Bayanzag’s Flaming Cliffs.

These prehistorically favourable conditions make the Gobi Desert the largest dinosaur fossil reservoir in the world.

Over almost 100 years of palaeontological research in the Gobi, more than 80 genera have been found. But for many people living there, this scientific heritage remains unknown.

“Putting a fence up is not protection; protection is people’s knowledge,” Mongolian palaeontologist BolortsetsegMinjin explains as we wind through the Flaming Cliffs in search of signs of fossil poaching. It was here, nearly a hundred years ago, that the world’s first dinosaur egg nests were found by American scientist Roy Chapman Andrews - the whip-wielding, trilby-wearing inspiration for Indiana Jones.

This discovery was a turning point in the palaeontological history of the world - the first proof that dinosaurs laid eggs.

In the space of just two years, his expedition team unearthed over 100 dinosaurs and took them home to the American Museum of Natural History where many stand today. And in Bayanzag, renamed the Flaming Cliffs by Chapman-Andrews, little remains to mark this history.

There are no signs, maps or museums to give visitors information about these creatures. Fossil-poaching is rife and as we explored the site, motorcycle scramblers zigzagged over its prize excavation opportunities.

Unlike in America and the UK, where a finders keepers law applies if you happen to discover a T. rex lurking in your flower beds, in Mongolia, as with Brazil and China, any fossils found are state-owned and exports are strictly forbidden.

Yet, dinosaurs from fossil-rich sites like the Flaming Cliffs are still smuggled and find their way into premier auctions.