The world’s last wild horses have returned home

07 February 2013 | Fact sheet

Hustai National Park, Mongolia

Background

Hustai National Park has become globally known for the successful reintroduction to the wild of Mongolia’s national symbol: the Przewalski Horse (Equus ferus przewalskii), or “Takhi” in Mongolian, to its country of origin in 1993. This reintroduction marked a milestone in conservation.

The typical Mongolian steppe landscape, which is characteristic in wide parts of the park, gives way in some places to red sandstone rocks and to patchy forest in others. The Tuul river, one of Mongolia’s largest rivers, runs through the park, flanked by riverine willow forests.

The park, which is also known as Khustain Nuruu National Park (Mongolian for “Birch Mountains”), was declared a Specially Protected Area in 1993, one year after the initiation of the Takhi reintroduction project.

It is one of the best-managed protected areas in Mongolia, and was the first one to be managed by a non-governmental organization, the Hustai National Park Trust (HNPT), which was established in 2003 and became a member of IUCN in 2007. The Trust’s approximately 60 employees work for the protection of ecosystems and historical sites in the park, the building up of a sustainable wild population of the Takhi, the organization of international research and training courses, the development of ecotourism, and the development of sustainable livelihoods in the Park’s buffer zone. The Trust’s work is supported through projects funded by the Dutch government. A variety of local stakeholders participate in the Buffer Zone Council.

Visitors can explore the park by jeep, on foot or horseback, enjoying close-up views of its wildlife, as well as swimming, fishing and camping. They can get to know Mongolian hospitality and cuisine by visiting one of the nomad families living in and around the park. The visitor’s center features information on natural and cultural values, biodiversity and the history of the park.

View images of the park

 

Size and location

Hustai National Park is located in Tov province in central Mongolia, about 100 km west of the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. It extends through the Khentii Mountains, and covers a land area of approximately 500 square kilometers.


Flora and Fauna

Przewalski Horses, or Takhi by their Mongolian name, are amongst the most threatened wildlife species in the world, with a total population of only about 1,500 individuals. They are the only surviving genuine wild horse in the world, not to be confused with, for example, the North American Mustang, a descendent from domestic breeds gone wild. They once were a key species of the steppe ecosystem, along with other large herbivores such as wild sheep and antelopes.

The story of the Takhi’s return to the Mongolian steppe spans a period of well over 30 years. The last wild Takhi had been seen in Mongolia in 1969, and the species was declared extinct in the wild. After that, captive Takhi survived only in the Munich and Prague zoos, with the total world population declining to 12 individuals at one point. A carefully planned breeding programme led to growing numbers of Takhi held in captivity, providing the genetic basis for eventually building a new wild population. After two generations of selected horses were held in semi-reserves in The Netherlands and Germany to re-adapt to living in the wild, they were finally moved to the species’ natural habitat in Mongolia in 1993. The move came after the species spent 13 generations in captivity.

The horses have adapted extremely well, displaying their natural social behavior and withstanding the harsh winters. The population has been growing continuously, and it now exceeds 300 individuals.

Apart from this iconic species, 43 other species of mammals populate Hustai National Park, including Red Deer (Cervus elaphus), Mongolian Gazelle (Procapra gutturosa), Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus), Wild Boar (Sus scrofa), Wild Sheep (Ovis ammon), Ibex (Capra sibirica), Mongolian Marmot (Marmota sibirica), Grey Wolf (Canis lupus), Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx), Pallas’ Cat (Otocolobus manul), Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), Corsac Fox (Vulpes corsac) and Eurasian Badger (Meles meles).

Mongolia is known among bird watchers as a prime destination, and the 217 species that can be spotted in Hustai National Park include the Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus), Great Bustard (Otis tarda), Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus), Black Stork (Ciconia nigra), Daurian Partridge (Perdix daurica) and Little Owl (Athene noctua).

The most numerous inhabitants of the grasslands of the steppe are insects, with a total of 385 species, including 21 species of ants, 55 species of butterflies, 10 species of bush crickets and 29 species of grasshoppers. A species of soil insect new to science was discovered in the park in 2000, and was given the scientific name of Epidamaeus khustaiensis. The park also contains 16 species of fish and 2 species of amphibians.

A total of 459 species of vascular plants have been found in the park, as well as 85 species of lichens and 90 species of moss.


Threats

Domestic livestock often enter the vicinities of the park, competing for food with Takhi and other wild herbivores. Interbreeding of domestic horses with the Takhi presents a risk to the genetic integrity of the Takhi population. Illegal hunting is another threat, which puts pressure on the populations of certain species, notably marmots and deer.

Effects of climate change are having a strong impact in some parts of Mongolia, particularly in the transition zone between steppe and forest steppe in which Hustai National Park is located. In this ecotone, where the Siberian forest reaches its most southern distribution, one major drought event can cause trees to die off, resulting in forest cover being irreplaceably lost.