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.
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.
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.
As we continued our approach, the herd of Mongolian Gazelles became wary and we had to keep a safe distance away.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mongolia Mammal List: September 12 - 24, 2018
|1||Pallas’s Cat||Otocolobus manul||Two seen in Khalzan|
|2||Brandt’s Vole||Lasiopodomys brandtii||Khalzan & Hustai|
|3||Mongolian Gazelle||Procapra gutturosa||Khalzan & Hustai|
|4||Daurian Pika||Ochotona dauurica||Khalzan|
|5||Corsac Fox||Vulpes corsac||Khalzan & Hustai|
|6||Red Fox||Vulpes vulpes||Khalzan|
|7||Siberian Chipmunk||Eutamias sibiricus||Ulaanbaatar|
|8||Saiga Antelope||Saiga tatarica||Khovd|
|9||Siberian Jerboa||Allactaga sibirica||Khovd|
|10||Mid-day Jird||Meriones meridianu||Khovd|
|11||Tolai Hare||Lepus tolai||Khovd|
|12||Pallas’s Pika||Ochotona pallasii||Khovd|
|13||Snow Leopard||Panthera uncia||1 seen in Khovd|
|14||Siberian Ibex||Capra sibirica||Khovd|
|15||Tarbagan Marmot||Marmota sibirica||Khovd & Hustai|
|16||Goitered Gazelle||Gazella subgutturosa||Khovd|
|17||Mongolian Gerbil||Meriones unguiculatus||Hustai|
|18||Przewalski’s Horse||Equus ferus ssp. przewalskii||Hustai|
|20||Long-tailed Ground Squirrel||Urocitellus undulatus||Hustai|