Przewalski’s horses flown to Mongolia

The once near-extinct species is being re-introduced to a wildlife reserve near its original home

Their violent kicks rattle the small army plane flying over Siberia as it transports the four rare horses from Prague to the vast Mongolian steppe where the once near-extinct species is slowly recovering.

Known as Przewalski’s horses, the ancient species has narrowly avoided extinction thanks to breeding programmes at zoos worldwide and is now gradually being re-introduced to a wildlife reserve in its original homeland.

But confined to wooden boxes, Finnish sisters Helmi and Hanna, German mare Spes and Yanja from a Swiss zoo were not enjoying the 30-hour trip to get to their new home one bit.

Tough journey

“The plane trip is the toughest part,” Prague Zoo chief vet Roman Vodicka said. “The horse might make a wrong move, get stuck and lie down, stopping the blood flow to the legs. If this happened on the truck, we might release them for a run in nature, but you can’t do that on the plane,” he said.

Prague Zoo, which has bred Przewalski’s horses since 1932 and keeps the world genealogy book for the endangered species tracking all new births, launched a project to reintroduce the animals to Mongolia in 2011.

The four round-bellied, short-legged, sandy-beige mares are set to join wild herds in Takhin Tal (meaning the wild horse steppe), where 220 Przewalski’s horses now gallop free. In 1969, there was just one.

“These horses are getting a chance others won’t have. They’ll return home,” said Jan Marek, a Prague Zoo curator in charge of ungulates.

Keeping them cool also helps and the plane is air-conditioned to 15-19 degrees Celsius.

After landing on the dirt runway in the western Mongolian town of Bulgan Sum, the mares took a bumpy truck journey to the remote Takhin Tal reserve, where they were finally able to gallop into an enclosure to find their hooves in their new home.

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