Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Winters day on the Mongolian Steppe: Hustai National Park

I find it hard to describe what the word endless really means. Its the feeling that you have when you lie down on you back and look at the dark sky and start feeling like you are actually falling into the sky. And I find the word endless very apt to describe the Mongolian steppe. It just goes on and on for ever! If you tried to keep looking at the horizon you will probably feel some kind of horizontal vertigo! 
This trip changed my perception of the Steppe. It went from being a sea of grass to a sea of snow
 Hustai National park is about two hours drive away from Ulaan Baatar. The famous attraction is the Prezwalski's Horse, the last remaining wild horse of the planet. Locally called the Takhi. It is in fact incorrect to call it the last remaining wild horse because it actually went extinct from the wild in the 60's. In 1992, 16 takhi were returned to the Khustain Nuruu National Park, and a captive breeding and re-introduction program was started. Such experiments are now being carried out for many species. Zoo's around the world claim such programs as their contribution to Wildlife Conservation. Current a similar mega project is underway in India where we are trying to bring back the cheetah that Went extinct in India in the 40's. 

A takhi! Image by Jeff Kubina from Wikimedia commons
The day began well for us. I was accompanied by Natsuko, a Japanese anthropology student and her two friends. After a nice two hours drive which felt like sailing in the snow we were welcomed in the park by two Golden Eagles at the park entrance. immediately followed by two Saker Facons. The park has a very good information center and restaurant. The showed a movie about the entire program. After paying an small entry fees we were accompanied by a guide inside the park. A few minutes drive and we spotter our first Takhi!
The Takhi grazing in the Hustai National Park

Seeing a wild horse in Mongolia has been my childhood dream. The fulling of this dream was very calming for me. Domestication of the horse is an important chapter in the history of civilization and to see that the ancestors of the horse was a very touching experience. This is the place where we are actually acting on our mistakes and re-wilding what was lost. I was also surprised to know that Mongolia welcomed this project and declared the Takhi as their national animal. Mongolia has a whole suit of charismatic species such as the Marco Polo Sheep, snow leopard, ibex but they chose to have the takhi as their symbol.
The endangered black vukture
The other surprise of the day was seeing the red deer in the in the middle of the steppe. I have always associated deer with forests but here the red deer were occupying the exact same landscape that I would have expected an argali or a blue sheep to occupy in the Himalaya. The day came to close with some brillient sightings of the black vulture, a globally endangered vulture. Also I did not fail to notice the large amount of livestock around and inside the park. It is not yet clear to me as to the impact of the livestock on the wild ungulates but clearly with over 270 takhi, the project is a success.

About 500 goat and sheep grazing just on the edge of the park



  1. They better be strong; they have to survive the winter which will mostly be 40 below!