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horse Prezwalskis Horse

The Przewalski Horse (Equus przewalskii Poliakov) or Takhi as the Mongolians name them is rather small, sturdy animal with a short, strong neck. They are sand-colored all over except for a dark stripe running along the spine into the dark colored tail, covered by light deckchairs. The nose is cream-colored and the legs show zebra stripes. Their erect manes and tail are dark brown. Prehistoric drawings in caves in France and Spain show that primitive humans hunted these horses over 20,000 years ago. The earliest written reports on Przewalski horses date from the ninth century and in 1226 a herd of Przewalski horses is said to have caused Chingis Khan to fall off his horse. For millennia these horses roamed the steppes of Europe and Asia.

The increasing human population drove the Przewalski horse to remote areas and eventually they were forced off the steppe into the Zuungariin Gobi-desert in Southwest Mongolia. The harsh living conditions in the desert reduced the changes of survival and when the desert was also inhabited by nomads with their domestic horses, camels, and sheep, the number of Przewalski horses decreased dramatically. The intensive hunting of Przewalski horses by the Kazachs was the final blow. The last Takhi was seen in 1969 near Gun Tamga.

In the beginning of this century several hunting trips were undertaken to catch live Przewalski horses for private collections. As it proved very difficult to catch adult animals, these hunting parties focused on the foals. To catch the foals many stallions and mares were killed and a large part of the young animals that were caught died during transport. During several successful hunting trips in 1901-1903 54 foals were caught, of which several arrived in Hamburg alive.

In the studbook in 2000, about 1450 horses mentioned, originating from 13 founder bloodlines all from the mare foals caught during these expeditions. Because of this and because of unwise breeding-strategies the captive population became victim of inbreeding. It was mainly manifested in decrease of life expectancy and fertility. In 1950's, the German zoologist Erna Mohr started a studbook of the Przewalski horses. Now, the Dutch Foundation Reserves Przewalski Horse, founded in 1977, keeps a detailed database on all individual captive Przewalski horses that have ever lived. With these information systems responsible breeding became possible.

In Mongolia, in the Hustain Nuruu Reserve, there is a unique project supported by the Ecovolunteer organisation, the main objective of which is to reintroduce Przewalski horses in the reserve and to protect the biological diversity of the Mongolian steppe-ecosystem and the implementation of social-economic programs.

The Hustain Nuruu Reserve is the only place in the world where wild Przewalski horse harems can be studied. The research is very important to establish a management program for the reserve and to attain a successful reintroduction of the Przewalski horse. It is, for instance very important to determine the number of horses and other herbivores that can live inside the reserve (carrying capacity) before actually introducing large herds of Takhi.

It is exciting to notice that the reintroduced Takhi adjust very well to their natural environment. Also, successful takhi reproduction has occurred on the steppe and that is another indication for successful adaptation.

By 1990's, several harems of horses have already been released in the reserve after being kept under semi-wild conditions in acclimatization areas. The released harems are monitored to make sure they adjust to their new environment and to gain a better insight in their behavior as there is very little known about wild Przewalski horses.

With the results of the research, the project hopes to build up successfully a self-sustaining viable population of the Przewalski horse on the Mongolian steppe.

All the information and photographs in this article are kindly provided by the Ecovolunteer Organisation
Ecovolunteers To learn more about the Prezwalski's Horse Reintroduction Project please click here
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