I visited Hustai National Park in 2013 (where there are almost 300 takhi/Przewalski’s horses) and was photographing horses on a hillside that dropped below eye level to a streambed, when one horse, then two, then three, then more and more, suddenly started to come up over the edge on my side. I sat down on right the spot and had the extraordinary experience of watching a large harem of takhi walk right past me, about 30 yards away, snapping photos of them as they went by. This drawing is one of the mares who had a foal with her. She kept an eye on me as she and her baby went by.
This installment of my occasional series “Five Photos of Favorite Places” features Hustai National Park, one of the three places in Mongolia where takhi/Przewalski’s horse has been reintroduced and by far the easiest to get to, since it’s only a two hour drive from Ulaanbaatar, the capital, and most of that is on tarmac road. You can view the other parts by scrolling down the Categories drop down menu in the right hand column to “5 Photos….
I’m very proud to announce that my latest takhi painting “Enchanted Evening”, has been accepted into the Society of Animal Artists’ 52nd Annual Exhibition of “Art and the Animal”. This is the fourth year in a row that I have had work in the show and they have all been Mongolia subjects, which pleases me a lot.
The exhibition will be held at the Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum, which is located in Oradell, New Jersey, and officially opens on the weekend of October 5-7. I plan to be there for all the festivities. More details later on as the opening approaches, but consider yourself invited!
The story behind the painting: Last August, nationally-known sculptor Pokey Park and I were on a two-week tour of the best wildlife watching locations. We were leaving Hustai National Park, one of the three places in Mongolia where takhi have been reintroduced, after a last horse-watching drive, which had already been very successful. Then, less than 50 feet from the road we spotted this small group of takhi coming down to a pool of water. We stopped and got our cameras ready. Would they come or not…
And here’s a short video that I shot on my Flip HD. Unfortunately we ended up with a lot of cars stacked up behind us, just like a bear or bison jam in Yellowstone. One woman came up next to me out in plain view (I was behind the open door of the car, using it for kind of a blind) and spooked them, but at least they’d all been able to drink. Enjoy!
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.
It’s been awhile since I’ve done some finished graphite drawings and that’s what I’ve been doing this week. I’ve always loved to draw, so it was fun to just sit with a pencil (a General’s Draughting Pencil) and paper (Strathmore 300 vellum bristol) and work from some of the takhi photos I’ve shot during my trips to Mongolia.
A French equid researcher I know told me that this body position is known as “snaking”. It’s purpose is to get the stallion’s harem moving quickly. His low body position is suggestive of a stalking predator and triggers the response he wants from his mares. I’ll probably be doing a painting of the whole scene at some point, so this is a useful study.
All of these horses were photographed at Hustai National Park, which is an easy two-hour drive west of Ulaanbaatar.
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.
I’m currently working on a large painting that is the most complex one I’ve done yet. I’ll post it when it’s finished. But, in the meantime, I’ve kind of taken a break from it on and off to do something simpler and more straightforward, a head study of a takhi stallion I saw at Hustai National Park in 2006. I had a reference shot that I liked because of the shadow pattern, but as you’ll see there were adjustments that had to be made for it to work as a painting. I hope this step-by-step illustrates how important it is to not, as they told us in art school, get “married to your reference”.
“Takhi Yearling” is a painting of a takhi that I saw at Hustai National Park in Mongolia in Sept. 2006. Takhi are the only surviving species of true wild horse. It’s a thrill and a privilege to see them in their native habitat. I’ve now visited two of the three places in Mongolia where they have been reintroduced after going extinct in the wild in the late 1960s. Click to bid here