Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Takhi Return Home

Greetings Everyone,
To see the world’s only true wild horse in its native habitat you have to travel to the far reaches of Mongolia. This wasn’t always the case. Przewalski's Horse or Takhi as it is referred to by Mongolians became extinct in the wild in the 1960’s mainly due to human persecution. The last herd was spotted in 1967 and the last individual was seen in 1969. How then can we see these wild horses today? Fortunately, 13 Przewalski’s Horses survived in zoos and all present-day horses are descended from them. In 1992 sixteen horses were released into the wild in Mongolia. One of the areas they were reintroduced into became Hustai National Park in 1998 about a 2-hour drive from Ulaanbaatar. We were on our way to Hustai National Park to see how the Takhi are faring. Once inside the park, we drove along a deeply rutted road in search of the horses on the afternoon of September 22. We spotted a herd high on a ridge about 2 km away. Park policy allows you to approach the horses to within 500 meters so we set off on foot to get a closer view. A herd of 20 were grazing on the grassy slopes above. Although aware of our presence they did not flee and we sat down to observe them.

Takhi Herd

A radio-collared mare seemed to be in charge, The stallion of the group hung back keeping a watchful eye on his harem consisting of several mares and their subadult offspring and two foals. What a privilege to spend time with an animal that once numbered 13 in the entire world! The reintroduction has been a big success and today there are around 350 Takhi in the wild.


We were up early the following morning to photograph the Mongolian Gerbils living in a colony near our hotel. At first light, they would pop out of their burrows to warm up in the sunshine.

Mongolian Gerbils

The Park also harbors other mammals such as Mongolian Gazelles. A herd of 250 had recently returned to the park. We spotted them a long way off but set off on foot for a closer view. As we were approaching the herd, two domestic horses came galloping across the Steppe to check us out. I was surprised to see domestic horses in the Park. Despite having a different number of chromosomes, Takhi have 66 and domestic horses have 64, they can cross-breed resulting in fertile foals with 65 chromosomes. It is park policy to keep domestic horses out of the park and particularly away from the Takhi. Perhaps these were geldings used as riding horses by the park rangers.

Domestic Horses

As we continued our approach, the herd of Mongolian Gazelles became wary and we had to keep a safe distance away.

Mongolian Gazelle Herd

Tarbagan or Mongolian Marmots were common along the roadways. They would perch near their burrows and disappear as we drove past. Hustai provides a safe haven for these endangered marmots whose meat is considered a delicacy by the locals. Tarbagan Marmots are known to be carriers of the plague but it is unknown if the disease can be transmitted by eating their meat.

Mongolian Marmot

On the drive back to our hotel we encountered a herd of ten Takhi close to the road. They had come down from the high ridges to scratch on the utility poles along the road. They seemed unconcerned by the Mongolian tourists who approached them closely to get photos with their cellphones.

Tahki Rubbing Against a Utility Pole

We were up very early on our last morning to go in search of Tibetan Wolf. We were accompanied by a park ranger who knew where the wolves tend to hang out. We drove nearly to the top of a high ridge where we got out and proceeded on foot. The ranger could hear the wolves howling but we scanned in vain for them. It was difficult for me to discern the howling of a wolf from the bugling of a Wapiti or an Elk as we call them back home. It was the rutting season and the stags were competing with one another for the right to mate with the females.

Wapiti Stag

Ian Green, our tour leader, spotted four Argali far below in a distant valley. Argali are the largest species of wild sheep but were too far away for a proper photo. We returned to our hotel and packed up for the return trip to Ulaanbaatar. On our drive out of the park, we saw many Brandt’s Voles in colonies along the road. We stopped to take photos before they disappeared down their burrows.

Brandt's Vole

It was great seeing Przewalski’s Horses again after our first visit in 2005 and learning that their numbers are increasing. Once extinct in the wild, they are now considered endangered. In a time when many species are facing extinction at the hand of humans, it’s nice to encounter a true success story. Welcome home Takhi, may you continue to thrive in the wilds of Mongolia!

We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

Our route map:

      Mongolia Mammal List: September 12 - 24, 2018

 No.SpeciesScientific NameNotes
  1Pallas’s CatOtocolobus manulTwo seen in Khalzan
  2Brandt’s VoleLasiopodomys brandtiiKhalzan & Hustai
  3Mongolian GazelleProcapra gutturosaKhalzan & Hustai 
  4Daurian Pika Ochotona dauuricaKhalzan 
  5Corsac FoxVulpes corsacKhalzan & Hustai
  6Red Fox Vulpes vulpesKhalzan 
  7Siberian ChipmunkEutamias sibiricusUlaanbaatar 
  8Saiga AntelopeSaiga tataricaKhovd
  9Siberian Jerboa Allactaga sibiricaKhovd 
 10Mid-day JirdMeriones meridianuKhovd
 11Tolai HareLepus tolaiKhovd
 12Pallas’s PikaOchotona pallasii Khovd
 13Snow LeopardPanthera uncia1 seen in Khovd 
 14Siberian IbexCapra sibiricaKhovd
 15Tarbagan MarmotMarmota sibiricaKhovd & Hustai
 16Goitered GazelleGazella subgutturosaKhovd
 17Mongolian GerbilMeriones unguiculatusHustai
 18Przewalski’s Horse Equus ferus ssp. przewalskii Hustai
 19Wapiti Cervus canadensisHustai
 20Long-tailed Ground Squirrel Urocitellus undulatusHustai
 21Argali Ovis ammonHustai


Unknown said...

The Prague Zoo is one of the zoos that breeds the horse and releases it back to the wild.


Unknown said...


Marc & Peggy Faucher said...

Thank you Prague Zoo for all your help in returning the Przewalski’s Horse to the wild!