Return of the Wild Horse Project
To support stable populations of Przewalski’s horses in Mongolia
The Przewalski's horse (Equus ferus przewalskii) was exterminated from the wild in the late 1960s; last specimens were observed in south-western Mongolia in the region of the Dzungarian Gobi. It was the effort and interest of private subjects and zoological gardens thanks to which this last wild horse survived in captivity. The majority of horses, which became founders of the current stock, were transported from Mongolia to Europe between 1899 and 1902; the next and last one was imported from the wild in 1947. Based only on 13 founders and passing through the bottleneck of World War II, the number of captive Przewalski's horses and facilities, where the species was kept and bred, were successively growing.
In the mid-1980s, the number of captive horses went over 500 and ideas about reintroduction to its homeland started to be more realistic. So far the most successful reintroduction projects started in Mongolia, within the historical range of Przewalski's horses, in 1992. One site is located in the Gobi Desert in western Mongolia, the second one in the hilly region of Hustai National Park near Ulanbaatar. In 2004, the third reintroduction site in Mongolia – the nature preserve of Khomiin Tal in western Mongolia – received the first horses.
The Przewalski's horse is an iconic species for Prague Zoo. The first horses appeared in Prague even before the zoo was established in 1932. Since then the horses have been continuously kept in the zoo. After World War II, Prague Zoo and Munich Zoo were the only facilities where breeding groups survived. In 1959, the International Studbook for the Przewalski's Horse was established at Prague Zoo and is kept by the zoo until today. Three horses born in Prague Zoo joined the transports to Takhin Tal in Gobi B SPA in 1998 and one to Hustain Nuruu in 2000.
In 2011, the project „Return of the Wild Horse" was launched in an effort to help some of the current populations of Przewalski's horses in Mongolia. The following goals for the project were set: transport the horses from Europe to the reintroduction sites and related socio-economic help. In the first year, the project was aimed at the Khomiin Tal reintroduction site within a buffer zone of the Khar Us National Park. The local population was founded in 2004 by the French Association TAKH, which has been managing the place since then. One stallion and three mares were selected to become new founders of the population, which numbered 24 horses before the transport, by the Przewalski's Horse EEP and Association TAKH. After long preparations, seeking of resources, addressing sponsors and last but not least finding appropriate means of transport, Prague Zoo with the help of its French and Mongolian partners managed to organise and realise the set goal. The transport could be realised only thanks to an established partnership with the Czech army, which designated one of its transport aircrafts to carry out the task of transporting horses to Mongolia.
As the second transport headed to the Dzungarian Gobi in 2012, Prague Zoo integrated its Return of the Wild Horse project under the umbrella of the large-scale project of the International Takhi Group (ITG). ITG was established in 1999 to continue an earlier project of Przewalski's horse reintroductions and its subsequent and continuous co-management in the Dzungarian Gobi, in Gobi B SPA (see WAZA Conservation Project 03002). The growing population of horses in Gobi B, where the last international import took place in 2004, was severely hit by the hard winter 2009/2010. Losses during that winter averaged 60%. With a goal to support the low numbers and bring some new genes, the decision was taken to head the second transport to Gobi B. The challenge of transport to Gobi B is enormous, as it was not possible to use the original airstrip near the acclimatisation enclosure in Takhin Tal anymore. The nearest airport in Bulgan soum is remote and basic with only one unpaved runway. The number of permits and preparations needed to successfully land on such an airport and to use this domestic airport as the port of entry to the country is tremendous. As a result of joined efforts between Prague Zoo staff, ITG Mongolia staff and the very well trained crew of the Czech army, four young mares landed at Bulgan soum airport in July 2012.
In coordination and tight cooperation with ITG, who is embedding the Przewalski's horse related activities in the Dzungarian Gobi, and thanks to the continuous partnership with the Czech army, other transports should take place to the region of the Gobi Desert in upcoming years. To further promote the long-term sustainability of the Przewalski's horse population within the Gobi B SPA, Prague Zoo is also active in socio-economic help aiming at local communities and infrastructure. These activities, financed mainly by the Czech Development Agency, are as well as the transports running in concordance with ITG activities.
WAZA Conservation Project 12009 was launched by Prague Zoo and is recently operated within the frame of WAZA Conservation Project 03002, which is run by the International Takhi Group. Other stakeholders involved in the project include the Czech Development Agency, Przewalski's Horse EEP, Great Gobi B SPA, Khomiin Tal Reserve, Association TAKH, Czech army and Heinz Sielmann Stiftung.
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