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.
Gazelles
We saw this one group of goitered gazelles (Gazella subgutturosa) from a long distance. I think of these as my “I saw them.” shots.
Khulan
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
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.
Mountain
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.

The WildArt Mongolia Expedition, Part 8: En Route to Takhiin Tal

Grove of trees west of Eej Hairhan Uul
Grove of trees west of Eej Hairhan Uul.

We loaded up our watermelons from the garden and started the day’s journey west. Now we were in the deep Gobi, where there were no herders or their gers to be seen. We camped for the night in or near Alag Hairhan Uul Nature Reserve. There were no boundary signs, so I couldn’t tell for sure.

We made a short stop for this unusual rock formation.
We made a short stop for this unusual rock formation.
Between two lanes at a high points was this ovoo.
At a split in the road at a high point was this ovoo.
I was struck by the presence of this delicate cup among the rough rocks out in the middle of the desert.
I was struck by the presence of this delicate little cup among the rough rocks of the ovoo out in the middle of the desert.
Once past the ovoo, this view stretched before us.
Once past the ovoo, this view stretched before us. The sky is dark in this and some of the other photos because I was shooting through the front windshield of the van.
We came down into a valley with a stream running through it and sometimes right in the road. Got this photo of a yellow wagtail.
We came down into a valley with a stream running through it and sometimes right in the road. Got this photo of a yellow wagtail.
Met and passed this family.
Met and passed this family, the only “traffic” we saw for most of the day.
Flowers blooming in the Gobi.
Flowers blooming in the Gobi.
We came upon this road construction project.
We came upon this road construction project. We were able to get water and found out that this road was being privately built to serve a mine. There were already large ore trucks moving on it. We used it for awhile and made good time.
Checking out the roadbed.
Checking out the roadbed.
There was also a Mongol dog, which are called bankhar, hanging around.
There was also a Mongol dog, which are called bankhar, hanging around.
Entering a narrow valley we passed a herd of horses.
Entering a narrow valley we passed a herd of horses.
Wherever there is water, and it's not far below the surface, large plants like these trees can grow.
Wherever there is water, and it’s not far below the surface, large plants like these trees can grow. This was a really lovely place, right in the middle of the Gobi.
Up another hill, on a typical earth road.
Up another hill, on a typical earth road.
The ovoo at the top.
The ovoo at the top.
The view on the other side. A boundary sign told us that we were entering the Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area. So there it was ahead of me, a place I'd been wanting to see for years.
The view on the other side. A boundary sign told us that we were entering the Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area. So there it was ahead of me, a place I’d been wanting to see for years.
Continuing on.
Continuing on. I never get tired of seeing an earth road stretched out before me as far as I can see.
We came to this ger in a sheltered area, after stopping at a very small settlement where the drivers had asked directions. Apparently they were told that this was THE place to stop because we could get very good "tsagaan idee"/white food, meaning the summer dairy products. They were right.
We came to this ger in a sheltered area, after stopping at a very small settlement where the drivers had asked directions. Apparently they were told that this was THE place to stop because we could get very good “tsagaan idee”/white food, meaning the summer dairy products. They were right.
She is heating fresh milk so it will separate the cream.
She is heating fresh milk so it will separate the cream. Behind her on the left is her kitchen.
One of my most favorite things in Mongolia...urum, otherwise known as clotted cream.
One of my most favorite things in Mongolia…urum, otherwise known as clotted cream.
The interior of the ger.
The interior of the ger.
All the gers I've seen or stayed in have been, I think, factory-made.  This one was handmade in an older traditional way.
All the gers I’ve seen or stayed in have been, I think, factory-made. This one was handmade in an older traditional way.
Outside I found these lovely bits of rope tied to a picket line.
Outside I found these lovely bits of handcrafted rope tied to a picket line.
Something you see all over the Mongolian countryside in the summer....aruul/dried curds or yogurt drying on the roof of the ger.
Something you see all over the Mongolian countryside in the summer….aruul/dried curds or yogurt drying on the roof of the ger.
Onward we went through this beautiful scenery.
Onward we went through this beautiful scenery.
Takhiin Tal, the main goal of the Expedition and our farthest point west.
In the late afternoon we arrived at the headquarters of the takhi release project at Takhiin Tal, the main goal of the Expedition and our farthest point west. The project Director, Ganbaatar, graciously let us stay in the gers and an old converted railway car, plus use another ger as our kitchen and dining room. There were also squat toilets and a shower building where we could use our pump sprayer filled with hot water. Our first showers in days were wonderful!

Next time: Two days in Takhiin Tal.

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.

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“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).

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