Takhiin Tal. On the left is a wild-born takhi stallion. On the right are four mares who had been flown in from the Prague Zoo two months earlier in July, so were still being kept in a big acclimation enclosure. The reintroduction people had learned early on that if the transhipped horses were simply released into the reserve upon arrival they would mostly not survive the winters (temperatures as low as -50C) or the wolves. Rangers keep an eye on all of them, but ultimately nature is allowed to take its course.
We had finally reached the main goal of the Expedition, Takhiin Tal, the first location where takhi/Przewalski’s horses were reintroduced to Mongolia in 1992. I had wanted to go here for years, having already been to the other two release sites: Hustai National Park (at least six times) and Khomiin Tal (in 2006, my second trip), which is in Zavkhan Aimag.
My friend, Anne-Camille Souris, a khulan/Mongolian wild ass researcher, had given me an introduction to the Director of Takhiin Tal, Oyunsaikhan Ganbaatar, He proved to be a most wonderfully gracious host, taking time out during a very busy part of the year when he and the staff were preparing for winter to give us a detailed briefing on the project and making one of his rangers available to us as a guide.
Everyone at Takhiin Tal went out of their way to make us feel welcome. We stayed in the guest gers and had the use of another for our kitchen and dining room. There were shower stalls in which we could use our pump sprayer to get clean for the first time in days. The camp managers took care of any problems, other members of the staff aided our drivers in doing badly needed repairs to our Russian fergon vans, which had just gone over some very rough terrain on the way. One repair required welding equipment, which was generously loaned to us as needed. To top it off, there was a party our final evening with khorhog (real Mongolian BBQ, a sheep roasted in a metal can over hot coals), side dishes from our wonderful cook. Soyoloo, and good Mongol vodka. I got coaxed into singing a Mongol song. I held everyone off for as long as I could, not knowing any that didn’t require having the lyrics in front of me, but finally remembered that I could probably get through “Zoolon, Zoolon Zambuulin” with help and that’s what I did. Magvandorj presided over the evening and led the toasts, of which there were, well, quite a few.
And….we saw the horses!
(Note: I was totally focused on seeing and photographing the takhi and other wildlife in the too short time we had there, so I didn’t get the names of the individual horses, the mountains or plants in the photos below. I hope to do so and will add them when I do.)
The four takhi mares from Prague Zoo, plus “their” stallion (darker horse on the left).
We went on a morning “game drive” and had a great encounter with this purely wild family group.
Stallions don’t lead the family group, the dominant mare does. The stallion keeps them in front of him, ready to defend them from predators like wolves. Domestic Mongol horses do the same.
I worked my way slowly towards them, always going at a diagonal and stopping if it looked like they were tensing up. They were definitely more cautious and ready to run than the takhi at Hustai who are far more used to seeing humans walking around.
We saw this one group of goitered gazelles (Gazella subgutturosa) from a long distance. I think of these as my “I saw them.” shots.
There are two wild equids in Takhiin Tal, the takhi and also khulan/Mongolian wild ass (equus hemionus). They are extremely skittish and we never got closer than this.
The ranger with us hoped that we could do a closer approach by going to the river while the khulan were there to drink. But they must have heard the vans. The line of splashes are khulan dashing across the river.
We went back in the evening, trying a different approach direction, but once again by the time we were able to see them they had moved away, maintaining this distance. It was a huge herd of various family groups that had come together for water and grazing. I took a lot of photos and found when I reviewed them that I had recorded a variety of interesting interactions that will make good paintings. But I’ll have to use other reference to get their appearance correct.
So many….and no way to get closer.
Takhiin Tal scenery showing the wide variety of vegetation found in the Gobi. It’s not all sand, as so many people think.
Takhiin Tal. I would really like to go back again, not only to see the wildlife, but to paint the spectacular scenery.
Grasses in the evening light.
On the way back to the reserve headquarters, we got one last treat…a small group of takhi right by the road. It was totally dark, no tripod and no time, but I got a few shots through the windshield of the van. Still, I think this has an interesting, perhaps a little mysterious feeling with these horses who came very close to extinction.
Plants that are fodder for the takhi.
Sorry to say that I didn’t get the name of this distinctive pink mountain. A hike was planned and I I started it, but realized that my legs just weren’t going to do it. I stayed down below with our drivers and guide and got in some good sketching time. We were told that snow leopards have been seen here, so this is the second habitat of theirs we observed.
We passed through this stretch of lush grasses on our way to the trailhead.
A close-up of the mountain.
Juniper, a sacred plant to the Mongols, grew in profusion on the hillside; it’s considered an endangered plant since in many places it has disappeared due to harvesting for use in Buddhist ceremonies. I enjoyed having time to sit and do a study of it.
My journal sketch
Location watercolor of juniper spilling over a rock in a picturesque pattern
We had been told that there were Lammergeier/bearded vulture on the mountain and, sure enough, while we were sitting around, this one appeared over our heads.
Finally, it was time to depart. But not before the “traditional” group shot, this one taken in Ganbaatar’s office. From left to right: In back- Tugsoyun Sodnom, I.Odna, Oidoviin Magvandorj, Chinbat (ranger/guide), camp manager. Middle: Sharon Schafer, Oyunsaikhan Ganbaatar, reserve director, myself/Susan Fox. In front, our drivers Sendag and Batmaa
Group shot from left to right: camp manager, I. Odna, Chinbat, unknown man, Tugsoyun Sodnom, Sharon Schafer, camp manager, Soyoloo (cook), Sendag, me, Batmaa
You can find out more about Takhiin Tal, which is supported by the Switzerland-based International Takhi Group, here.
Next stop: Sharga and Darvi soums for saiga antelope, we hoped.