By Pzewalski's Horse Keeper, Todd
Earlier this year I travelled to Mongolia to monitor released captive bred Przewalski Horses (Takhi) at Hustai National Park.
Hustai National Park is 50,600ha and is home to 664 species of mammals, fish, birds, amphibians and insects. In 1992, a reintroduction program of Takhi at Hustai National Park was started and by 1994 the first of two harems were released into the park. Ten groups in total have been released into the park with the last in 2002. The Takhi population at the park is growing by 7% per year and now has 230 horses – 190 stallions, mare and foals in 29 harems and 40 bachelor males.
Monitoring and research of the numerous harems and bachelors in the park is done so to ensure there is not a negative influence on the soil and vegetation system. It also provides information to ensure there is sufficient amount of water and food to accommodate all the species who call it home.
The trip turned out to be more than just daily observations of the horses, but an amazing experience with the country and culture as well as the people and how these people worked with the international community to bring the Takhi back to the steppes of Mongolia.
My direct contribution was to the research of the Takhi in the park. A typical daily schedule involved being transported into the park at 5am to search for harems and stallions, at this time the harems could be found at lower altitudes where water sources are plentiful. We were equipped with a GPS, an anemometer and ethogram sheet. Working in pairs we would follow the stallion and his harem as they moved higher up into the steppes where it is cooler and there are fewer flies. Every ten minutes for five hours we would record the harems activity, GPS coordinates, the elevation, wind speed, temperature and position of the harem as well as any snow or rain and the nearest other harem, bachelor group or other herbivores.
The data would then be collated and used by resident biologists and researchers to help manage the reintroduction of the Takhi into the wild, and to aid the study and protection of the first-steppe ecosystem.