THE RETURN OF WILD HORSES
In the middle of June 2011 - transport of Przewalski’s Horse back to Mongolia
Przewalski’s Horse, or the Dzungian Horse – the last wild horse in the world – was wiped out in the wild at the turn of the 1960s and 70s. It survived only due to the care of a few people, particular credit for its survival being deserved by Prague Zoo. In addition the zoo has been keeping a worldwide breed registry of this species since 1959.
Mostly under the management Netherlands, German and Swiss organisations, the reintroduction of Przewalski’s Horse to Mongolia has been underway since the beginning of the 90s. Prague Zoo became involved in this initiative in 1998 and 2000 by presenting four horses which were transported by internationally organised transfer to the Takhin Tal and Hustain Nuruu regions. The Zoo has been directly involved on the ground in Mongolia, mainly by supporting the rangers in Takhin Tal, or rather the Gobi B National Park.
Over the past few years, however, transfer operations have stopped, despite being necessary for increasing the present population. This is why we have decided that this year, on the occasion of the 80 anniversary of Prague Zoo, to perform the first ever Czech transport of Przewalski’s horses to Mongolia. We have decided to implement a project which, over the last 20 years, our zoo staff have not even dared to dream about…
Over the past few months, our plan began to gain a more solid form, until today we already know that we will be able to use an Army aircraft to transport four Przewalski’s horses. Soon it will be heading off to western Mongolia to Khomiin Tal, to reinforce and revitalise the smallest of the three Mongolian populations.
Transport of the horses and the four-member accompanying team will be provided by the military transport aircraft CASA C-295M from the Czech Army 24th Transport Air Force Base in Prague Kbely.
The stallion, Matyáš, born 13th April 2008 in Slatiňany as the 6th foal. In October 2009, he and his father, Fučík, were transferred to the stud and acclimatisation station at Dolní Dobřejov, to the same stallion group as the well-known Lomax, born in Prague. At first, he did not leave is father’s side, having been used to him from a young age, but after a couple of months, he and Lomax “hit it off” and since then have formed an inseparable pair.
The mare, Lima, was, like her brother, Matyáš, also born at the chateau in Slatiňany, but on 10th April 2007. She is mild mannered and does behave in any way aggressively with other horses. She was transferred with her mother on 20th April 2011 to Dolní Dobřejov. She very quickly adapted to the surroundings after the first couple of unsure days, now behaving as if she has never known any other home.
The mare, Kordula, was born on 7th June 2006 as the 213th foal at Prague Zoo. Her father was Gino, born in 1986 in Denver, and her mother was Uršula, born at Prague Zoo in 1990. In 2008, Kordula was transferred to the stud and acclimatisation station in Dolní Dobřejov where she joined a band of eleven mares. Kordula is a mild and composed mare, behaving friendlily not only to other horses but also to people.
The mare Cassovia, was born on 26th August 2006 at Košice Zoo. Her father is an eleven-year-old stallion from Prague, Xeron, who was transferred to Košice Zoo in August 2005. Cassovia was transported to the acclimatisation station in Dolní Dobřejov in mid-May, where she is growing accustomed to the wide open spaces and being prepared for transport to Mongolia. Cassovia is a calm-tempered mare.
All horses shall be assembled at the Prague Zoo acclimatisation station in Dolní Dobřejov in the Benešov district. Here, they will grow accustomed to open spaces and also will be taught to enter the courtyards from where they are to be loaded into crates on the day of transport. Continual veterinary examinations, vaccinations and hoof care will be performed.
On the day of transportation, loading will start in the early morning hours at Dolní Dobřejov. The horses will be sedated or immobilised before being loaded into the crates; during the journey they will be administered LAN, a drug for sedating animals for long periods and Equine Appeasement Pheromone, which will be supplied by our colleagues from the “Association pour le cheval de Przewalski: TAKH”. Afterwards, the horses will be transferred by lorry to the Kbely airfield where they will be transferred to the military aircraft in their transport crates; the veterinary surgeon, Roman Vodička, and the stud master, Jan Marek, will be present at the horses’ side for the duration of the flight, to make regular checks on their state of mental and physical health. Thanks to specially made openings in the transport crates, it will be possible to give the horses food and water, apply medicines or sedatives.
Before the horses will be united with the rest of the herd in Khomiin Tal, they will spend some time in quarantine enclosures.
It must be emphasised that the journey will be exceptionally arduous both for the horses and for those looking after them and any kind of complications, at worst leading to the death of any of the transported horses, cannot be ruled out.
Basic information on Khomiin Tal:
Khomiin Tal, occupying more than 250,000 hectares, is a buffer zone to the Khar Us Nuur National Park east of the town of Khovd (the Old Russian name was Kobdo). This town played an important role in the story of the Przewalski’s Horse, which all caravans of horses caught at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries in Gobi and Dzungaria passed through on their way to Biysk in the Russian Altai, then onward to Europe by the Trans-Siberian Railway.
Khomiin Tal project is run by the “Association pour le cheval de Przewalski: TAKH” (director Claudia Feh, senior project officer Munkhtuya Byamba). The association leads an integrated conservation project, combining the reintroduction of Przewalski horses with long term rangeland and pastoralist studies as well as working closely with the local community and providing support for development projects. The project is financially supported by several foundations (MAVA, Rita Roux) as well as the European Community. Over the years 2004 and 2005, the Association transported 22 horses to Khomiin Tal. Over the years the population grew to 24 and 8 foals.
The arrival of 4 young and genetically different horses from Prague is essential for successful continuation of the population in Khomiin Tal, both from a point of view of quantity and quality. If the Prague horses reproduce, they will make an important contribution to keeping the inbreeding coefficient at low level.
In Mongolia it is important to increase the population just in case some of the local populations are hit by great losses. Even though the winter was hard right across Mongolia, Khomiin Tal did not suffer any. Apart from that reason, we work on the philosophy of the gradual support by Prague of all programmes for saving the horses in situ – after Takhin Tal in 1998 and Hustain Nuruu in the year 2000, Khomiin Tal is the third location where horses directly from our studs are to be introduced.
Project Presented by:
Tomáš Chalupa, Minister of the Environment of the Czech Republic,
Alexandr Vondra, Minister of Defence of the Czech Republic,
Ivan Kabický, Vice Mayor of the City of Prague,
Bohuslav Dvořák, Brigadier General, General Staff of the Czech Army,
Jiří Vávra, Colonel, Commander of 24th Transport Air Force Base in Prague Kbely,
Jan Tajovský, Sales Director of Nowaco – Main Sponsor of the Airlift,
Roman Vodička, Veterinarian of Prague Zoo,
and Miroslav Bobek, Director of Prague Zoo.
Patronage of the project and active support has been assumed by the Minister of the Environment, Tomáš Chalupa.
Air transport shall be facilitated by the Minister of Defence, Mr Alexandr Vondra, in return only of reimbursement of direct costs incurred by the 24th Transport Air Force Base in Prague Kbely.
The Project has found an important sponsor in the person of the Chief of the General Staff of the Czech Army, General Vlastimil Picek.
Nowaco has donated the sum of CZK 500,000 for payment of the costs incurred with the airlift. In this way, sales of the company’s Mrož ice creams are helping the reintroduction of the Przewalski’s Horse into their natural habitat.
The Ministry of the Environment of the Czech Republic is providing a subsidy of CZK 300,000 to make the airlift possible.
Some of the costs will be covered by the proceeds of a Komerční Banka staff collection for the transport of the Przewalski’s Horse to Mongolia, which was initiated by the Chairman of the KB Board, Mr Henri Bonnet.
The Embassy of the Czech Republic in Mongolia, headed by the Ambassador, Václav Jílek and Mr Vladimír Hejduk, is providing invaluable support to the project.
The project is also running in cooperation with the International Takhi Group, a working group for the reintroduction of Przewalski’s Horse, the “Association pour le cheval de Przewalski: TAKH” and with the head of the European breeding programme (EEP; Dr Waltraut Zimmermann).
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