In the studbooks there are accurately registered all the animals of the particular species that are being bred in human care. Using the studbooks we can for example arrange the breeding groups so that the unwanted mating of related animals does not take place etc.
The specialist committees of European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, the so -called Taxonomic Advisory Groups, decide who will keep the studbook for particular species and if the book will be kept at all. The executive body of the association, the EAZA Office, has to give the final approval. The abilities and conditions for keeping such a studbook are much more important than the number of the animals kept. For example Mrs Sarah Christie from the London Zoological Society keeps the studbook for Amur leopards. She is a typical workoholic and works for the leopards really hard. The studbook is an instrument that helps to organise the breeding of a particular species. Therefore it is possible that an institution is successful in reproducing a species of animals but, as it is the only institution that is capable of that, the studbook is not being kept. That is also the case of crocodil-tejus that are being successfully reproduced in the Prague zoo. We do not keep the studbook, as there is no breeding that would have to be organised.
- The international studbook of the Przewalski’s horse
- The European studbook of the tiger cat
- The international studbook of the Cuban boa
- The international studbook of the Cuban ground iguana
- The international studbooks of the Malaysian giant turtles and giant Asian pond turtles
“Would you help us back to the wild?”
Project for saving the endangered species
During the summer holiday, a project focused on reintroduction of some species of animals will take place mainly in the Prague zoo and also in some other selected zoos in the Czech Republic. It is focused on the return of endangered species of animals back to the wild or to special natural reserves. The project was prepared by the Opavia company and zoological gardens in the Czech Republic and the following species have been chosen: Przewalski’s horse, European bison, European ground squirrel and common barn owl.
The event started on 1st July 2006 and it will finish on 31st August 2006. Anyone can take part in the campaign by buying Tatranka. During the summer months 10 halers from each sold Tatranka will go to a special account that is designed specially for the purpose of reintroduction of the animals. The results will be currently presented in the media and the total amount will be ceremonially donated into the hands of PhDr. Petr Fejk, the director of the Prague zoo, in September.
“The project of reintroduction that the Opavia company decided to support by the trademark Tatranka represents a very important signal for the future. It is not only a sponsor gift to the zoological garden but it is also a project that supports the mission of all zoological gardens. Money is the means here that can help the animals go back to the wild. In the Czech Republic it is a brand new dimension of cooperation with the zoo. I hope that this partnership with the Opavia company is the beginning of the future for such projects that are a common matter in West Europe,” said PhDr. Petr Fejk.
The Prague zoo, where all the four animal species live, shields the whole project. In the regions the following zoos also take part: Zoo Plzeň (bison, ground squirrel, owl), Zoo Brno (ground squirrel, owl), Zoo Ostrava (ground squirrel, owl), Zoo Dvůr Králové n. L. (owl), Zoo Liberec (owl), Zoo Ústí n. L. (owl).
The charity campaign “Would you help us back to the wild?” will be finalised at the moment when the animals will be reintroduced back to the wild. The main focus was from the very beginning on Przewalski’s horse as it is the most endangered among the four species. What is more, the Czech Republic plays the main part in the breeding of this species. The real reintroduction will take place during the autumn in the mountain national park Chustajn Nuruu, not far from Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia.
“Przewalski’s horse is the best evidence of the necessity to support the reintroduction programmes. The animal species that was almost extinct after the second world war is now represented in the wild by almost 500 individuals,” said RNDr. Evžen Kůs from the Prague zoo.The former Czechoslovakia started with the saving of the Przewalski’s horse
At the end of the second world war the situation with the Przewalski’s horse (Equus przewalskii) became critical as the total amount of the individuals kept in the zoological gardens decreased below the number of 40. During the military occupation of the Ukraine German soldiers shot the most precious breeding herd in the station Askania Nova and the breeding of the Przewalski’s horses was also finished in the USA.
In 1945 only two breeding herds were left all over the world – in Prague and in Munich. Prague obtained the wild horses thanks to professor František Bílek who imported three individuals from Halle in 1921. The founders of the famous Prague breeding – the stallion Ali and the mare Minka – lived till 1932 at the school farm of the Institute of Breeding Biology at the Czech Institute of Technology in Netluky near Uhříněves. In August 1932 they moved to the newly founded zoological garden in Troja in Prague. Our republic and the Prague zoo can be proud of the longest and unbroken tradition of breeding in the world. Dermoplastic dissections of Ali and Minka can be seen in the hippologic museum at the castle in Slatiňany. At present the oldest living horse lives in the Prague zoological garden – the mare Cilka born on 21st March 1972. In Prague so far 213 foals have been born (including the 4 in Netluky) and another one is expected this year.
In the middle of the nineties of the last century the Prague zoo sent four horses back to their homeland. Out of these, two mares already have grandchildren living in the wild. At present the most money is needed for support of the population of the Przewalski’s horses living in the wild in Mongolia and for the technical equipment necessary to monitor them in the wilderness.
As one of the most important breeders, in 1959 the Prague zoo was deservedly appointed to organise the 1st international conference on saving the Przewalski’s horse. At this meeting our garden was selected to start and keep the studbook for this species. So the studbook has been published regularly since 1960 and there are registered all the Przewalski’s horses that had been imported from the wild or had been born in zoological gardens from 1899. At present there are registered more than 4650 individuals. From 2001 the second oldest studbook is accessible also on the Internet.
The Prague symposium stated the fact that the situation of the wild horses in wilderness is critical and called on the Mongolian and Chinese governments to take relevant measures. Despite all the efforts, it was not possible to provide efficient protection for the horses due to the tense political situation on the border between the two states.
Przewalski’s horse is the last living species of wild horses, all the others including the European tarpan have been made extinct by people. Przewalski’s horse was discovered on the border between China and Mongolia at the end of the 19th century. It is really hardy and the animals are protected against the severe freezing by long and dense fur.
It was described as new species in 1881 by Russian zoologist I. S. Poljakov and the description was based on the coat and skull that had been brought from Central Asia in 1879 by the famous Russian traveller N.M. Przewalski. Poljakov gave the horse the species name as a tribute to the explorer. Nevertheless, the horse had been known before – the Mongolian called it tachi, the Chinese jie-ma and the Kirghiz kertag.
The first alive Przewalski’s horses got to Europe on the turn of the years 1899 and 1900. Till 1903 altogether 53 wild horses got from the border between Mongolia and Northwest China to the zoological gardens and breeding stations in Europe and North America. The last wild horse was caught in 1946 in Mongolia and it was a mare. Out of the total number of 54 individuals, only 13 horses reproduced and gave the origin to the present population that nowadays has got about 1860 individuals.
The main cause of the low numbers of the imported horses was the difficult access to the places where they lived and the long transport from there.
Till the beginning of the forties of the last century, the Przewalski’s horses were quite common in the wild but towards the end of the fifties the numbers were rapidly decreasing. Among the main reasons there is the fact that they were chased by horse hunters, the rivalry between the herds of wild horses and domesticated ones that occupied the water resources, the illnesses, long-lasting draught and severe winters when the temperatures get to –50 şC. The last wild horses were observed in May 1968 on the border between Mongolia and China. Later, despite various news the existence of the horses in the wild has never been confirmed.
When it was clear that the Przewalski’s horses in the wild became extinct, the zoological gardens started to co-operate in the breeding and work on the preparation of their return back to their homeland.
At the beginning of the eighties the worldwide population reached the number of 500 individuals which is the number considered to be the borderline for the survival of a species. In 1985 there was a symposium in Moscow that was supposed to deal on the conditions for the return of the horses back to the Gobi desert and prepare it. The challenging plans finally turned into vain as the world protection organisations failed and at the right time the promised financial support did not come.
At this time private charity foundations from Germany and the Netherlands took up the initiative and they started building acclimatisation stations and buying horses in the zoological gardens. In 1988 the first Przewalski’s horses were transported to the Chinese province Xinjiang and in 1992 they were followed by the transport of a German charity COS to Gobi. There was built the station Tachin-tal near the places where the last wild horses had been observed in 1968. The Netherlands charity chose for the reintroduction the mountain national park Chustajn Nuruu near Ulaanbaatar. The Netherlands station not only successfully sets horses free to the wilderness but it also gave work to the local inhabitants in the cheese factory and in the workshop for weaving wool.
In the course of twelve years in both stations they managed to form several breeding herds and in 1995 the first horses were set free from the ranges into the wild. In 2004 thanks to the initiative of the French branch of WWF the third station was built in Mongolia and at the same time the Chinese set first horses free to the wild in the Kalameili mountains not far from the Mongolian border. At present more than 250 horses live in the wild and other 300 horses live in the acclimatisation stations half wild. The free horses are being observed, also by the means of satellite transmitters. More than 600 foals were born in Asia from 1990. Despite the fact that not all of them survived it proves the fact that the horses were able to adapt to the harsh conditions in the homeland of their ancestors. Apart from men the only enemy of the horses in the wild is the wolf as it kills up to 25% of the foals.
“Within the framework of the reintroduction programmes it is mainly the foals that are sent from the breeding stations to Asia. It turned out that a two- to- three-year-old foal can bear up the change of the conditions better. It is more immune against the bacteria and it can adapt faster to the conditions in the new home,” says RNDr. Evžen Kůs.
It can be expected that in several years a viable population of wild horses will live on the border between Mongolia and China and that the breeding in the zoological gardens will serve only for adding to the gene pool and as a safety policy in case of unexpected emergencies.
The Przewalski’s horse in dates
- 1881: The Russian zoologist I. S. Poljakov described the Przewalski’s horse as a new species based on the coat and skull brought from Central Asia by the famous Russian traveller N.M. Przewalski in 1879.
- 1899: The first alive horses were transported to Europe.
- 1921: Prague obtained the wild horses thanks to professor František Bílek who brought three individuals from Halle.
- 1939–45: During the occupation of the Ukraine German soldiers shot the most precious breeding herd in the station Askania Nova and the breeding of the Przewalski’s horses was also finished in the USA.
- In 1945 only two breeding herds were left in the world – in Prague and in Munich.
- 1946: The last horse caught in the wild – a mare was caught in Mongolia.
- Towards the end of the second world war the numbers of the Przewalski’s horses decreased below 40 individuals.
- 1959: The Prague zoo was appointed to keep the international studbook.
- The eighties of the 20th century: The worldwide population has got 500 individuals.
- 1988: The first Przewalski’s horses were transported to the Chinese province Xinjiang.
- From 1990 more than 600 foals were born in Asia. Despite the fact that not all of them survived it proves the fact that the horses were able to adapt to the harsh conditions in the homeland of their ancestors.
European ground squirrel
European ground squirrel (Citellus citellus) is a steppe animal that lives only in Central and Southeast Europe. It moved to our latitudes from Balkan 3000 years ago when people started to deforest the countryside. The ground squirrels need for their life grasses of short blades (up to 15 centimetres) as they can orientate there well and no predator can surprise them. Unfortunately, as the ways of farming got changed and as the cut and grazed areas are disappearing, the ground squirrels are disappearing as well. At present it can be found only in the localities where the grass is cut regularly. Among these places here are namely airports and golf courses.
“Another danger for the ground squirrel represents water. It has got sensitive fur. When it rains a lot, water stays in the long grass longer and when the fur of a ground squirrel gets wet, the animal gets cold and dies. The spring thawing is another critical time of the year. If the snow melts too fast it waters the burrows and when it starts freezing again the ground squirrel has got no chance to survive,” says the curator of the mammal breeding in the Prague zoo RNDr. Pavel Brandl, PhD.
European ground squirrel belongs to the Sciurine family but it differs from the related squirrel in many aspects. It has got different looks – short tail, small external ears and clinging fur and it lives a very different life. It moved house under the ground and it looks for society. It lives in colonies of tens and sometimes even hundreds of individuals. From the protection point of view it is a remarkable example of a species that can turn from the so-called field vermin very fast to disappearing, critically endangered species.
The centre of their appearance used to be (and still is) in the Southeast Europe and Asia Minor. From there it moved already in the historical times do central Europe. When exactly it happened remains to be a question but the arrival of the first farmers, the cutting of the original forests and spreading of the cultural country suggests itself as a reason for that. It is clear from the oldest lists of our mammal fauna that at the end of the 18th century the ground squirrel was far from being precious in our country. The most favourable conditions for it were in the 19th century when it spread to the deforested middle altitudes (500-600 m a.s.l.) Our border mountains became the barrier for the ground squirrel on its move through Central Europe, only in Krušné hory mountains it got up to the northern slopes to Saxon.
There was a notable turn in he development of our populations of ground squirrels after the second world war when the numbers increased remarkably. At that time the ground squirrels became unpleasant vermin of most of the agricultural plants, with the only exception of root crops. They attacked the juicy vegetation tops of lucerne, cereals, corn and even cucumbers and pumpkins. The affected plants got dry or yielded much less crop. The lands were dug up so intensively that the burrows caved in. This threatened namely the road and railroad ramparts as well as the buildings. There are no catastrophic news on the outbreak of the ground squirrels from the period before the great war and so it seems that their fate was positively influenced by the first phase of the collectivisation of the farms.
The joining of the lands and the way of using up the fallow lands, balks and meadows offered the ground squirrels better food and opportunities for setting the colonies. The population explosion that followed made them unacceptable field vermin. Nevertheless, the ground squirrel boom did not last long. The continuing devastation of the agricultural lands in the sixties and seventies of the 20th century created the vast stretches of fields that were contaminated by tons of fertilisers and pesticides and this on the contrary lessened the space for life of the ground squirrels.
The last results of the census of the ground squirrels are alarming. Out of the 24 localities inhabited in 2004, one disappeared, several others are at the end of their existence and the numbers of the individuals in the others do not overcome the range between 10 and 40. The specialists found more numerous colonies only at the airports in Letňany in Prague, in Vyškov, in Milotice near Hodonín or in Bezděčín near Mladá Boleslav. Not only the low numbers of individuals in the colonies cause problems but also the great isolation of the colonies. The possible local influences can cause the doom of the individual colonies and lead up to the absolute extinction of the ground squirrels in our country.
The zoo in Pilsen started a reintroduction programme and a similar one is being prepared in the Prague zoo. In Troja there will be opened an aviary for the ground squirrels in summer.
“The range will be protected against the predators and torrential rains. In advance we will bore the burrows where the ground squirrels can find their natural refuge,” adds dr. Pavel Brandl.
The reintroduction programmes take place also in other countries that belong to the natural territory of European ground squirrels – Austria, Hungary and Poland. The ground squirrel appears also in Southern Slovakia and in the lowlands of Romania.
Common barn owl
There are 36 described subspecies of common barn owl (Tyto alba) but in the Czech Republic there lives only one of them – Middle European common barn owl. Formerly it belonged to quite common species in the Czech Republic and it lived really close to people.
Nevertheless, in the several past decades the numbers were decreasing rapidly. In the area of the Czech Republic common barn owls are among the critically endangered species at present. Between the years of 1985–1989 the numbers of the common barn owls were estimated at 400 – 700 pairs in the area of the whole former Czechoslovakia. In many areas it disappeared completely and elsewhere there were observed only rarely adult individuals without any evidence of nesting. The continuing decrease of the numbers of common barn owl caused increase of the interest in the species and also the protection of it. In 1997 it was pronounced the Bird of the Year and in 1998 the group for research and protection of common barn owl in the Czech Republic was established.
“The natural enemy of the barn owl is marten. At the time of nesting it attacks the nesting boxes. Therefore these are situated at the places that are not easily accessible for the martens and they are specially protected so that they can be reached by the owls only, “ revealed RNDr. Karel Pithart, the curator of breeding birds in the Prague zoo.
Common barn owls are dying out as there are less and less natural nesting offers, such as older farms and other buildings for agricultural purposes. Many reconstructions are taking place and so the traditional nesting places at the church towers get closed. The food offer has been limited due to the vast changes in the farm lands. The owls often drown at the farms in the mostly not used tanks for molasses and other liquids.
The vertically standing pipes represent a great danger for the owls, e.g. air shafts in the not used or only seasonally used chimneys. The owls use them up as a shelter but they do not have a chance to fly out without any help.
There are three methods of reintroduction of the common barn owls. The first one is the adoption when the artificially hatched young birds are laid to the nests in the wild. Secondly, there is the preparation for the life in the wild while still living under human care. The owls are trained to catch live prey and they are free to fly within a limited space. The third possibility represents the method of an open aviary. The owls live at their nesting place and so they come back to the aviary but the young birds can during their trips to the wild start living there and so naturally enlarge their territory.
At present the common barn owls live in the Czech Republic mostly in lower territories, mostly in South Moravia. On the contrary it almost disappeared from the hilly country (e.g. Czech-Moravian Highlands) but also from the vast regions of South Bohemia. The total amount of the nesting birds is estimated at 500 pairs.
European bison (Bison bonasus) is the biggest mammal on the European continent. It has got no rival in the forests of the Carpathian bend with its height of more than 180 cm at withers, length reaching almost 3 metres and weight of more than 900 kg. Even this majestic animal got to the Red List of the endangered species. There are several reasons for that. The most important of course seems to be the influence of the human kind. The war conflicts in the first half of the twentieth century and the following instability in the region where the bison used to live caused the dramatic decrease in the numbers of the population.
The first world war brought the bison to the brink of extinction. It became a hunted animal. During the second world war in the area of the Bialowiez national park in Poland where most of the bisons lived, there was established the capital punishment for shooting them,” says PhDr. Jaroslav Šimek, the curator of breeding Ungulates in the Prague zoo.
Another but not less important cause is the outbreak of other herbivorous animals and also the grazing of herds in the forests where the bison lives. It is a very skittish animal and it is a precious opportunity when you see it in the wild. It survives in the least inhabited areas. The most individuals live in Poland.
The return of the bison back to the wild started with the reproduction of the animals in the zoos and reserved areas. The first reintroduction took place in 1952. The first calf was born in the wild in 1957.
At the very beginning of the whole experiment with the saving of the bisons living in the wild, there were 54 animals. Out of these 39 came from the population living in Bialowiez in Poland. These days the total numbers of the population of European bisons reached the amount of 3000.
History of European bisons in dates:
- 1812–13: The then registers stated 300 – 500 individuals of European bison.
- 1857: The numbers of bisons reached the amount of 1900 pieces.
- 1862: The riots in the Bialowiez area caused the decrease of the population by almost 400 pieces.
- 1889: European bison gets to the critical number of 380 individuals.
- Till the first world war the population was growing but during the war German soldiers shot about 600 animals and European bisons got to the brink of extinction.
- 1918: Only nine animals survived the first world war!!!
- 1919: The last European bison living in the wild was killed by a poacher.
- 1923–1952: 54 individuals live in human care – in zoological gardens and in private breeds.
- In the course of the twenties of the 20th century the first attempts to return the European bison back to the wild started. The animals were kept in the breeding stations where people worked on the increase of the numbers.
- 1952: The first two bulls were set free in the Bialowiez national park. Shortly after that the females were also set free.
- 1957: The first European bison born in the wild after the start of the reintroduction programme.
- 2000: The population of European bison reached the amount f 3000 animals.
- 2005: At the beginning of August two animals from the Prague zoo were sent for reintroduction to Southeast Poland to the area of Bieszczad.