The WildArt Mongolia Expedition, Part 9: Takhiin Tal, In The Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area

Takhiin Tal
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 second 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.)

Four takhi mares
The four takhi mares from Prague Zoo, plus “their” stallion (darker horse on the left).
Wild harem
We went on a morning “game drive” and had a great encounter with this purely wild family group.
Wild harem
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.
Wild harem
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.
Khulan crossing river
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.
Large herd of khulan grazing in the evening
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.
Takhiin Tal scenery
So many….and no way to get closer.
Takhiin Tal scenery
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 scenery
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
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
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.
Approach to mountain on road through steppe grassses
We passed through this stretch of lush grasses on our way to the trailhead.
Close-up of the mountain
A close-up of the mountain.
Juniper, a sacred plant to the Mongols, grew in profusion on the hillside
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
My journal sketch
Location watercolor
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.
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.
Group shot
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
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.

Mongolia Monday- WildArt Mongolia Expedition Supporter ASSOCIATION GOVIIN KHULAN

log goviin khulan I want to introduce you today to one of the supporters of the WildArt Mongolia Expedition, Association GOVIIN KHULAN, which is run by French khulan researcher Anne-Camille Souris. We’ve corresponded via Facebook for a couple of years and were able to meet and chat in person in Ulaanbaatar during my trip last year.

Anne-Camille also works with Mongol artists through her International Art for Conservation project.

International Art Goviin Khulan ©In the past she worked at Takhiin Tal, one of the destinations of the Expedition, studying takhi. Very few researchers were  carrying out research on khulan compared to takhi, so she switched species. There are also khulan at Takhiin Tal, which is in the Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area. She has offered to lend her expertise in both these wild equids, for which I am greatly appreciative.

You can find out more about khulan here. And below is the information Anne-Camille sent me about her organization and its work.

Khulans2008_2_A-C SOURIS_S.FOX_FB

“The Association GOVIIN KHULAN is a French non-profit organization that works in the southeast Gobi, Mongolia, to protect the endangered Mongolian Khulan (Equus hemionus hemionus) and its habitat in partnership with local rangers and communities.

The Mongolian Khulan – also known as Mongolian Wild Ass – is an endangered wild Equid and is one the 5 recognized sub-species of the Asiatic Wild Ass. The Mongolian Khulan represents the largest population of this species in the world. However, its population has known an important decrease by as much as 50% since the end of the 1990’s and about 15 000 individuals are now left in the wild.

The Association GOVIIN KHULAN has built a multidisciplinary approach to ensure protection of this endangered species on a long term: a) research, b) local and international information, education and awareness, c) involvement of local communities, d) partnership with local rangers,  e) technical and professional support to rangers and citizen conservationists/scientists, f) partnership with Buddhist monks, g) reinforcement of links between Mongolian culture and traditions with nature protection, and h) community development & animal and environment ethics (in progress).

Khulans2008_A-C SOURIS_S.FOX_FB

Mongolia Monday- Mongolian Postage Stamps, Part 4; Takhi And Khulan

Concluding this series on postage stamps for now, today’s post features the two native equids of Mongolia, the takhi, traditionally known in the West as Przewalski’s horse, and the Khulan, one of a number of species of wild ass.

Takhi are the only remaining species of true wild horse. What Americans call “wild horses” or mustangs are really, simply, feral domestic horses. The two species diverged around 500,000 years ago, so the takhi is not the ancestor of modern horses, nor have any ever been successfully tamed, other than a few instances where a young horse was taught to tolerate humans riding it for a short time. The last wild takhi was a stallion seen in 1969. Captive animals started to be reintroduced to Mongolia in the early 1990s. Being a horse culture, the Mongols are very pleased to have takhi in their country again. And it’s not a surprise that they have been featured on a set of postage stamps.

Khulan are also known as the Mongolian wild ass. Their survival is threatened by habitat reduction and they are also subject to poaching. Not a great deal is known about their behavior or even their total numbers. However, there is an organization, started by a French researcher who is a friend of mine, which carries out the research needed to learn about the ecology of the animals and what their survival requirements are. You can find out more about her project here.

Unlike the takhi, which is a grassland species, the khulan live in the arid environment of the Gobi.