Inktober 20- “Khomyn Tal Takhi Mare” I’ve been to the Khomyn Tal takhi reintroduction location in northwestern Mongolia twice. Once in 2006, two years after it was established, and again in July 2015. Takhi/Przewalski’s horse (Equus ferus) are the world’s only surviving species of genetically wild horse. I first saw them at Hustai National Park on my first trip to Mongolia in 2005. They’ve been one of my favorite art subjects ever since. Pilot EF fountain pen, Prismacolor white pencil, Strathmore Toned Tan sketchbook.
I’m into the final push now to finish the paintings that will be in “Wildlife Art: Field to Studio” at the Flinn Gallery in Greenwich, Connecticut from March 31 to May 24. It’s a group exhibition with six of my colleagues, all Signature Members of the Society of Animal Artists who take their inspiration from the field, which in this case includes Mongolia, India and the Himalayas, Central America, Africa, the Rocky Mountain States, the Chesapeake Bay and Long Island Sound areas. There will be a lot more on the exhibition soon, but if you live near Greenwich, mark your calendars for the opening reception on March 31. It looks like all of the artists will be there!
The painting at the top, “Chronos, Khomyn Tal Takhi Stallion” is of a horse that I saw at Khomyn Tal in western Mongolia this past July. It turns out that he is one of the original 22 horses who were reintroduced there in 2004. Since I was there in 2006, I may have seen him. I had no idea that any of those takhi would still be alive, but there are a number of others besides him.
I photographed the tolai hare at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve. I’d been trying to get paintable reference of Mongolia’s only native lagomorph (member of the same family that includes rabbits) for years and mostly all I had was them running away after exploding almost at my feet and just about giving me a heart attack. But this one evening at the research camp, I was already sitting up on a rocky slope waiting for argali to come to the spring to drink and this hare hopped out into the great light to nibble on grass and forbs. All I had to do was stay as still as possible and click the shutter. I believe this is the first painting ever done, at least by a western artist, of this species.
Before I left Ulaanbaatar on the Expedition arrangements had been made for me to go to Khomyn Tal for three specific days…in on one day and out on another. I left Hovd with the driver/cook and guide on July 27 for the long run east. It took around nine and half hours and we arrived at dusk. By the time we got to the research camp it was dark. The staff members present let us use a ger for the night, which was much appreciated. The next morning we set up our tents not far away.
On hand were two of the Mongolian ranger/researchers and one French volunteer, who spoke good English. He explained the routine to me. I wasn’t sure what to expect and had not assumed any particular assistance since I knew from my very short trip there in 2006 there is always much to do. So I thought that we might be driving around the reserve area on our own looking for the horses every day. But a much better plan was suggested, which was that I would go out in both the morning and evening with whoever was assigned for that time slot to either locate the horses and check on them or to follow a pre-determined two of the three family groups for an hour each doing behavioral observations. This was perfect! In return we used the Land Cruiser for three of the drives, donating our petrol and wear and tear. The camp vehicles were a Russian fergon van and a small white jeep, so we could offer more comfortable “accomodation”.
The reintroduction project at Khomyn Tal in Zavkhan Aimag, (which is in western Mongolia) after many years of planning and breeding of takhi who would be acclimated and able to survive in Mongolia through the use of semi-reserves in the French Alps, officially began in 2004 with the shipment of 22 horses. It is the brainchild and inspiration of Dr. Claudia Feh who is still in charge of the project but who, unfortunately, I was unable to meet with. I did go to Khomyn Tal on my second trip to Mongolia in 2006, met her then, and have wanted to go back ever since. So this year I finally made it.
I will be doing an extensive, more science-oriented post reporting on my interview with Florian and what I learned about the project, but for now I just want to share what I saw…these wonderful wild horses and the place they live:
One difference between the project at Khomym Tal and the other two reintroduction sites, Takhiin Tal and Hustai National Park, both of which I’ve also been to, is that the horses are quite acclimated to the presence of humans who they know or, in my case, a human who is with someone they know. Dr. Feh told me in 2006 that she didn’t believe there was a reason why they should fear people and being able to approach them closely allowed a visual examination that did not require tranquilizing them with the attendant risks that that entails. This approach clearly has not changed, as you’ll see.
So I went out with one of the rangers and sat next to him as he did his behavioral observations, recording certain specific things by voice. And got an eyeful of equine wonderfulness.
The project is located in a remote river valley, with an upland and some mountains. There are local herder families and much effort has been made over the years to create and maintain a cordial relationship.
After around an hour, one after the other, the three family groups left the sheds. One grazed past us up onto this hillside.
The other two went in the same direction but on the valley floor. The social organization of the Khomyn Tal takhi, of which there are now 53, seems to differ from that of the other two locations. There are three family groups, each with a dominant stallion and a lead mare. But they merge into one herd on and off through the day and the stallions get along, although I was told that two of them don’t like each other. There is also a “bachelor” group of five, which has two young mares in it, for reasons currently unknown, and one young stallion born with very short ears who lives on his own.
One of the great things about going out with the rangers is that it was during the part of the day, morning and evening, when the light was terrific.
When doing behavioral observations rangers like Florian must follow the horses wherever they go and whatever the weather. The weather part could be pretty uncomfortable in the winter and spring, but the scenery, well…
There is other wildlife around, like Mongolian gazelles. I had to crop in quite a bit so you can see them at all. Zooming in on my iMac, I’ve got what I need for one or two nice paintings.
I got to see and record quite a variety of behaviors, including these two young stallions. I found it interesting that the foal just stood close to them until the serious bumping and then a kick happened. But he still didn’t move very far.
I didn’t go with Florian the first time he followed the horses because I wasn’t sure how far it would be and was afraid that I might inadvertently affect his observations as a stranger. But the second time we were at the sheds and when the horses started to move off, he said to come on along. Oh my goodness. Ok. So off I walked on a parallel path with two family groups, around thirty horses who paid no attention to me. We all just walked along together on a lovely summer morning.
I took the next photo for a personal memory of what it was like to, literally, walk in the hoofprints of the world’s only surviving true wild horse.
There was finally an opportunity to have my picture taken holding Explorers Club Flag 179 with takhi in the background. It would have been nice to have been closer, but the ranger’s observation routine took precedence.
In some ways it was a difficult stay. The mosquitos were really bad where we were near the river and it got very hot for a couple of the days, so exploring much on foot was limited. I did do some sketching and managed one watercolor, the view from my tent. You can see the sketches I did of the horseshere.
The time to depart arrived, but not before we were invited to lunch by one of the rangers who had his family with him. His wife made us a tasty boortz soup (homemade noodles with bits of dried mutton or goat meat in it). Then we were on our way. I didn’t see any of the horses, so just enjoyed a last look at the scenery.
But this was just the first stop, albeit a most special one, on the second phase of the 2015 WildArt Mongolia Expedition.
I arrived back home a week ago and have been resting and catching up after seven wonderful (as always) weeks in Mongolia. I’ll be blogging the whole trip in multiple parts as I have past trips, but wanted to start out by sharing the sketches I did of takhi at Khomyn Tal. The horses there are used to people and are easy to get pretty close to without causing them stress or distress. I went out morning and evening for three days with the “rangers”, local Mongol men and one volunteer from France, while they either located the all the horses, 53 as of this writing, or spent an hour each with two of the three family groups (rotating between them on a set schedule) doing behavioral observations. This arrangement was perfect for my purposes since it got me close to the horses during the times of day with the best light.
The horses are provided with large “sheds” which provide shade and shelter. That’s where I did these sketches, sitting on the ground about ten yards away, since they were mostly resting, not moving much. I’ve sketched them at zoos also, but it was deeply satisfying to sit and draw these extraordinary creatures in their natural habitat.
I’m back in Ulaanbaatar, tired after three weeks in the field (resting today at a comfortable hotel, the Bayangol) but very, very pleased with the Expedition and its results. There will be a series of posts on all aspects of the 3rd WildArt Mongolia Expedition once I’m home, but for now I’ll share some favorite images with you. Consider these the appetizer…
In chronological order:
And to give credit where credit is due…no one does a trip like this alone. Those of us who travel deep into the countryside of Mongolia have to rely on our guides and drivers to get us there and back again. To mine, show below, a heartfelt “bayarlalaa”.
Thank you also to Jan Wigsten and the staff at Nomadic Journeys, who have provided all my travel resources and logistics since 2006.