Habitat Preference: Steppe, semi-desert; now also mountain steppe (Hustai)
Best places to see takhi: In the wild: Hustai National Park, Mongolia. Captive animals: Many zoos and some reserves, including: San Diego Zoo, Denver Zoo, the National Zoo, the Berlin Zoo, the Wilds (near Cincinnati, Ohio)
-Takhi are the only surviving species of true wild horse. What are called “wild horses” in the USA are feral domestic horses.
-The last wild takhi, a lone stallion, was spotted at a waterhole in the Dzungarian Gobi in 1969, and not long after the species was declared extinct in the wild. After WWII, only 55 survived in captivity, all descended from 13 founder animals. Today there are approximately 2000 takhi of which, as of 2011, 360 were at three release sites in Mongolia.
-Their range originally included, along with Mongolia: Belarus, China, Germany, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Poland, Russian Federation, Ukraine.
– Takhi have 66 chromosomes. Domestic horses have 64. They can mate and produce fertile offspring. It is estimated that they diverged around 500,000 years ago, so the speciation process is not complete. Domestic Mongol horses with takhi characteristics like carpal and tarpal leg stripes are fairly common, indicating a cross at some point in the past. Modern horses are not descendents of takhi.
-Other than a few instances of intensively hand-raised foals who would tolerate a rider while young, no one has ever “tamed” a takhi.
-They became known in the west when Col. Nikolai Przewalski brought a skull and skin, which had been presented to him at a border crossing between far western China and Mongolia, back to Russia. The official description was published in 1881.
Two of the things I like best about traveling to Mongolia are staying in a ger and visiting people in their gers (“ger” means “home” in Mongolian).
Actress Julia Roberts was hosted by a family of horse trainers during the filming of an episode of the PBS series “Nature” called “The Wild Horses of Mongolia” (which isn’t what it was about, although there was a little takhi footage from Hustai National Park included). At the end, she’s sitting in a ger filled with Mongolians, looking into the camera with this big grin, saying something to the effect of “I’m sitting here in this ger and I don’t understand a word of what these people are saying, but I’m as happy and content as I’ve ever been in my life.”
Yup, she nailed it. I feel the same way. There’s something about the quality of space created by a ger that is very special. I’ve been in clean ones, dirty ones, sat on stools, beds and the floor, seen beautifully furnished ones and ones with next to nothing in them and I get the same content feeling in all of them. Hand me a bowl of suutei tsai (milk tea) or airag (fermented mare’s milk) and some aruul (dried yogurt) or tsotsgii (cream) and I’m a happy camper (and a cheap date too, I guess, although my husband would probably beg to differ). Anyway, here are some of my favorite images of gers from my four trips to Mongolia.
First, ger camps:
In 2005, I got to visit a ger factory and see how they are made:
Then we went to the Black Market where you can buy anything ger; from individual parts to the whole thing.
The research camp at Khomiin Tal (takhi reintroduction site) in western Mongolia is spectacularly sited in a river valley:
My first experience of staying in a ger was during my first trip to Mongolia on an Earthwatch project “Mongolian Argali” (now called “Wildlife of the Mongolian Steppe”; highly recommended) in the spring of 2005. The camp is much bigger now; seven gers, two containers and a volleyball court:
I thought I’d get a two-fer this week and combine my eBay listing with Mongolia Monday since the painting up for auction is a 8×6″ oil of a takhi (Przewalski’s horse). It’s from a photo that I took at Khomiin Tal, the westernmost of the three takhi reintroduction sites in Mongolia. I visited there in September of 2006. What an adventure that was for me! I flew out to Hovd, met my guide and then went by Russian Fergon van (those of you who have been to Mongolia know what that means…) east over 100 miles on what the Mongols call “earth roads” to the river valley where the horses were. I got to see them in late afternoon and morning light and got a lot of good reference. Here’s a photo of some of the horses grazing-
And here the painting that is currently available at auction here
Here are four more new paintings to go with the two I posted last week. I had a problem with the background in the last one and thought I’d show how it was and how I changed it.
Here is one of the takhi (Przewalski’s horse) that I saw when I was at the Khomiin Tal reintroduction site in western Mongolia in September of 2006. It was first light a group of horses were coming down out of the hills to graze.
This was a harem stallion that I saw at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu last fall. He was also the model for Mongol Horse #2. It amazes me that, given the extreme environment that they are exposed to year in and year out, that these tough small horses grow such long manes and tails. But they do.
I saw this Rocky Mountain bighorn lamb with his mother near Tower Campground in Yellowstone National Park a couple of years ago. They were by the side of the road, which lacked interest as a setting, to say the least. So I moved him.
This argali ram, along with five others, gave me an eyeful on my first morning at Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve in Mongolia in July. I wanted to work on capturing the quality of light without worrying about painting too many animals, so decided to start with a small painting. I had one idea for the rocks as you’ll see below but, on further review, something wasn’t working. Time to get out the scraper. What do you think was wrong? Answer below the second image.
There were a couple of problems. One, in getting into the grooviness of painting the rocks, I completely lost track of my light source. The rocks are in full light, but are on the same plane as the ram. Buzzz. Second, I tried to use what I knew to design the rocks more or less from memory, which resulted in a boring, distracting (what an awful combination!) set of shapes. I went back to the rocks that were in the original photos and saw that they were much less rounded, which provided a needed contrast with the curves of the ram.
I’m going to start posting drawings of various subjects since, after all, I am an artist, not a photographer or book reviewer. Today’s drawing is of two young takhi stallions that I photographed at Khomiin Tal, the third takhi reintroduction site after Gobi B and Hustai Nuruu. It is located in the Zavkhan province or aimag, which is in western Mongolia. I read on one of the Mongolian news websites that the herders out there lost 250,000 livestock over the winter. I haven’t found any info on the takhi, but I know that people stay out at the research camp and feed them if necessary. Twenty-two horses were initially shipped to Khomiin Tal from a semi-reserve in France which is located at high altitude in the French Alps. I would think that there would be over two dozen horses by now.
These two young guys were “feeling their oats” when I saw them in the morning and were pushing, mouthing and generally harassing each other. What made it nice for me is that they were Doing Something instead of just standing around or grazing with their heads down. Getting reference of wild animals actually moving and behaving naturally is kind of a gold standard in wildlife art. More next week!
Well, I certainly enjoyed the last two Mongolia Monday posts and hope you did, too. Thanks again, Simon!
Today it’s back to a subject that has become near and dear to my heart- the takhi or Przewalski’s Horse. I always liked horses, even though I was deathly allergic to them as a kid, but have never been, ahem, drawn to them as a subject until I saw takhi for the first time at the Berlin Zoo in October of 2004. I didn’t even know they were there. I just happened on them in the far nether reaches of the zoo. Seven of them, looking like they’d just stepped out of a cave painting.
I remember that I plopped down on the nearest bench, probably with an idiot smile of delight on my face, to sketch and photograph them. They were enchanting.
I did some research when I got home and found out that they were being reintroduced into Mongolia. So when I signed on for an Earthwatch project there, I arranged a three day trip to the closest site, Hustai National Park. It was spring, which meant cold, windy and and occasional snow, but I saw the horses and got some decent photos. The next step was to get back to Mongolia, which I did in late September-early October of 2006. By then, I’d found out about a third, new release site in western Mongolia, Khomiin Tal, and managed to get out there. There is also a series of three articles I wrote for Horses in Art. One on Hustai National Park, one on Khomiin Tal and one on the domestic Mongolian horses. Look under “Writings” for those.
Then, this last May, I was at the Denver Zoo and saw takhi there. They looked much different from the Berlin animals, as you can see. There are a number of reasons for this that have to do with being kept in captive conditions, which can lead to much heavier bone structure and skull defects. The animals for release come from semi-reserves where they can live and eat more normally.
I’ve been drawing and painting them since that first trip to Hustai, but have hardly scratched the surface of the picture possibilities.
Here’s one of the first paintings, which is available as a limited edition giclee. When I showed a photo of it to a Hustai biologist on my second trip there, she immediately recognized the mare by her mane, which reinforced my desire to paint individuals of a species.
Followers of this blog know how adamant I am about doing fieldwork. I think this next piece illustrates why. There is no way this painting would have happened if I hadn’t been there at Khomiin Tal to photograph both the horses and the habitat. I’ve seen a few other paintings of takhi and so far none of them really looks to me like it was done from reference shot of reintroduced horses in Mongolia. They are pretty obviously captives in Europe or North America. The light’s not right, the land isn’t right and, mostly, the horses themselves aren’t right. But I sure can understand the compelling desire to paint and draw them anyway!
Here’s the most recent painting, a stallion at Hustai. I wanted to really show the valley that is the core habitat of the population of, now, over 200 horses in 15 harems and to try to capture the interesting shape of the shadows on him.
This 10″x 8″ study is going to be listed for sale on EBay tomorrow or Wednesday. It was amusing to watch the foal work out the motor coordination required to scratch that itch.
Lastly, I did a batch of drawings a couple of weeks ago and I rather liked the way these came out. The photos were taken at Hustai this past September. It was late afternoon and this one foal was having “crazy fits”. I’m always looking for animals in action and he/she certainly delivered.
I was given a bag of aruul on my last trip to Mongolia in the fall of 2006. I’ve kept it in the freezer and have been eating a little at a time to make it last. I’m now down to the final three or so pieces, plus some bits of dried cream. So, I’ve kind of had Mongolian food on the brain, thinking about the upcoming trip.
One of my first goals upon arrival is to snag a bag of aruul for snacking on the road. Aruul is essentially dried skim milk. It’s really hard and is definitely an acquired taste. My first encounter with it was when I was out in the early morning viewing the takhi at Khomiin Tal and the ranger offered me a piece for breakfast. I hadn’t even had a cup of coffee yet, so I started to chew away at it and figured I’d better make it through most of it to be polite. By the time I was done, I liked it just fine. It has a yogurty tang.
The humidity is so low in Mongolia that they can keep raw meat and dairy without refrigeration, although Westerns had better be careful what they try since we don’t have the resistance the Mongolians have built up. On the way back from Khomiin Tal, we stopped at a soum center (county seat) for lunch, which turned out to be what is almost the national dish, buuz, pronounced more like booooz, with a long “o”. Every culture, it seems, has some version of meat/veg in a dough pocket. Think Cornish pasties. So here’s the inside of the cookshop. I asked to take a picture and the reaction was along the lines of “Sure, if you want to photograph something so utterly ordinary and uninteresting it’s fine by us.”
While waiting for our order to be prepared, we wandered around the busy central “plaza”. Over in the shade were three women setting up a table with their wares, a dismembered carcass of some kind. They saw me taking the picture and we made eye contact. I went over, gestured with my camera and thanked them. Then I summoned up my very minimal Mongolian and told them that I was an artist from California. That elicited all kinds of smiles. This kind of experience is a big reason Why I Don’t Take Packaged Tours.
The soum center. I’m not sure of the name. It’s on the north shore of Khar Us Nur and I have maps with two different names. Someone help me out here.
I just found out that “Takhi Stallion and Mare” as seen at the top of my masthead, has been awarded third place in the show “The Spirit of the Horse”, which is currently on view at the Palos Verdes Art Center in southern California. My newest takhi painting “That’s The Spot!” was also accepted into the show. You can see it by scrolling down a few entries.
This is my second award. Last year, I won a Juror’s Choice Award from the California Art Club for “Made In The Shade”, soon (as of tomorrow) to be available as a limited edition giclee.
And here’s a favorite takhi photo from Khomiin Tal. Plans are starting to gel for the September trip. David and I leave on August 24. I’ll start a countdown on August 1st. I’m hoping to blog from Mongolia.