“In the majestic Mongolian landscape, where the vast grasslands meet the endless dunes, herds of horses rove. Neither tethered nor constrained by fencing, they run and graze on the arid, windswept steppes…” —Jane Palmer

Wild Encounter with the Last “Man’s Messengers to the Gods”

I am leaving tomorrow and will reach the fantastic land of Mongolia 2 days later… If you don’t know this already, Mongolia is a land-locked country in East Asia, sandwiched between China to the south and Russia to the north. It is is the 18th-largest (roughly half the size of Europe) and the most sparsely populated unitary sovereign state in the world, with a population of around 3 million people. Excited and humbled at the same time, I am about to meet the last Man’s messengers to the Gods —The last wild horses on Earth.

The Mongolian Przewalski’s horses, known locally as Takhis (‘spirit’ horses), are the last few and wildest (genetically) horses on the planet. Most “wild” horses today, such as the American Mustang or the Australian Brumby, are actually feral horses descended from domesticated animals that escaped and adapted to life in the wild. The Przewalski’s horse may never have been domesticated and has long been considered the only true wild horse extant in the world today.

They were extinct in the wild in the 50s with just 31 Takhis that survived in captivity. 12 of which were bred. In 1947, a wild mare was caught in Mongolia, bringing the breeding population up to 13 individuals, from which all Takhis alive today are descended.

They’re endangered with maybe 2000 left in the World. This is a sobering reminder of the impact of Man on all species and of the undergoing 6th mass extinction. And for me, this is the opportunity to be for a few weeks with the people who reintroduced them in Hustai National Park, and now care and fight for the success of the reintroduction of a species struggling with climate change, land use, overgrazing & human-wildlife conflict, and too many other human-driven factors. Why is it important to spend the time, the effort, the resources to protect them? Because their protection is tied to the ecological health of the steppes – habitats (grasslands) that play a critical role in net-primary production and comprise the most endangered terrestrial ecosystems…

So, I’ll be out of reach, helping with the monitoring of this ancient species, recording species, gathering work material about reintroduction conservation, citizen science, wildlife ethics, and so much more.

Stay tuned: when transiting between places over there, I might be able to sneak in on EwA’s social media and share a few pics 📸 of this wonderful far away and remote land! And when I can, I will also add some live records of the species I encounter (& observe) in EwA in Mongolia Biodiversity Project.

Learn more about the Takhi and its habitat

📽️ Wild Encounter with the Last “Man’s Messengers to the Gods” (EwA Seminar)

Foundation for the Preservation and Protection of the Przewalski Horse —Today, Przewalski horses prosper in Hustai National Park. They display their natural group-behavior, stand the harsh winters, protect their young from wolves and produce offspring. Once this viable population was secured, the current programme’s activities are concentrated on the park’s protection and to help ascertain a novel and durable relationship between man and the Przewalski horse.

The World’s Last Truly Wild Horse is Making a Comeback (Jane Palmer, BBC 2015) —Most of the horses we think of as “wild” are just domestic horses gone feral. There is only one type of horse that remains utterly wild…

The Remarkable Comeback of Przewalski’s Horse (Paige Williams, Smithsoninan 2016) —Once nearly extinct, the population of these wild horses has rebounded on the dusty steppes of Mongolia.

Ecology and Conservation of Steppes and Semi-Natural Grasslands (Valkó Orsolya, 2016 in Hacquetia vol.15 no.2)

September 19th, 2018

The banner photo shows a family of Takhis (© L’irrésistible silhouette bleue

About the Author: Claire O'Neill ➔

Claire is a co-founder of Earthwise Aware (EwA), an environmental nonprofit that brings biodiversity knowledge and science, ecological ethics, and environmental leadership to the heart of communities. She is the director of EwA's Biodiversity & Climate Participatory Science program– an initiative that connects the public with its immediate natural systems and empowers communities. EwA focuses on place-based urban wildlife and natural history, and the conservation of species interactions. Its program runs regular continuous biodiversity and phenology studies in 8 cities. The program fosters a deeper understanding of ecological systems and provides tools to the public to make evidence-based environmental decisions. Locally, Claire is a co-organizer of the iNaturalist City Nature Challenge for the Greater Boston Area. She also serves as a board member of the Friends of the Fells, and is an advisor for the Green & Open Somerville group. [More...]

Claire strongly believes that individually and altogether we can be ethically & ecologically engaged–whoever we are, whatever we do, and wherever we are. Ethical Nature conservation is not circumstantial, it is a mindset that you acquire which then turns into a way of life. Once on that path, a great many rewards for us becomes obvious. And the satisfaction out of practicing good ethics is almost addictive. There is no looking back...

Her favorite motto: “Nature Conservation as A Way of Life”

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