Przewalski Horses from Whipsnade Wild Animal Park and Marwell Zoological Park to be re-introduced to Mongolia
Thursday 16 May 2002
Two Przewalski horses, the ancestor of the domestic horse, bred at Whipsnade Wild Animal Park and Marwell Zoo, are to be re-introduced back into the wild as part of an ongoing project to re-establish this species in their native country of Mongolia.
Today, 16 May 2002, Priscilla, a three-year-old female from Whipsnade, and Jack, a two-year-old male from Marwell, will be transported to Landgenberg Zoo Park in Switzerland in the first leg of their journey. They will join a herd of approximately sixteen individuals from various collections which is being assembled there before the final leg of the journey to Mongolia.
"A very strong population has been established in captivity and the Przewalski horse has become a real success story for zoos" comments Nick Lindsay, Senior Curator at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), which owns Whipsnade. "The next stage is a real challenge for everyone involved and for the horses. They are a tough species but their natural environment is harsh and acclimatising the horses to this is crucial to the success of the project."
Nick Lindsay continues "After a period of adjustment and acquaintance, it is planned that the assembled herd will be transported to Mongolia before the onset of winter, where they will be re-introduced into the Djungarian area of the Gobi Desert."
The horses will be a huge boost to the re-introduction of the species to Mongolia. All the horses have been carefully chosen to ensure that there is a good genetic variation in the introduced population.
The Przewalski horse became extinct in the wild only thirty years ago. Luckily, more than 100 Przewalski horses were already being successfully bred in captivity by that time. A carefully managed breeding programme has led to a world herd of almost 2,000 horses in about 175 zoological collections.
In the 19th Century, the Przewalski horse was thought to be extinct, but in 1881 was rediscovered and became a priority among breeders and zoological collections world-wide. This eventually led to the large captive population that exists today. Sadly, during the 20th Century, competition from livestock herds and hunting decimated herds of the Przewalski horse. Numbers decreased and the last Przewalski horse was reportedly seen in 1968 in a nature reserve in SW Mongolia.
In the early 1980s experts surveyed Mongolia and found key areas that would make good sites to re-introduce this species. In the early 1990s the first reintroduction was attempted but since then a number of further sites and re-introductions have been established in Mongolia, involving many of Europes leading zoological institutions and the Mongolian Association for the Conservation of Nature and Environment (MACNE).
The horses from Whipsnade Wild Animal Park and Marwell Zoo are joining an ongoing re-introduction project that has gathered momentum since the mid 1990s. This is co-ordinated by the Przewalski horse European Endangered Species Programme (EEP), and organisations including MACNE, the International Takhi Group (ITG) and the Foundation Reserves for the Przewalski Horse (FRPH).
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<b>Notes to Editor:</b>
<li>Whipsnade Wild Animal Park is part of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
<li>ZSL and Marwell Preservation Trust (MPT) are each providing over 5,000 Euros (approximately £3,200 each) to cover the costs of the move.
<li>ZSL has bred over 110 Przewalski horses, of which over 100 were bred at Whipsnade Wild Animal Park.
<li>Whipsnade currently has a herd of 10 Przewalski horses.
<li>Marwell Zoo has had Przewalski horses since 1970, and they have bred over 100 foals.
<li>Mongolia has a population of 2.2 million. Most are herdsmen that move seasonally with their livestock and families to different pastures.
<li>In Mongolia cattle breeding is the main source of income consisting of 26 million animals.
<li>The abundance of domestic sheep, goats, cows and horses has gradually replaced their wild counterparts, helping to cause the extinction of the Przewalski horse. Therefore, the organisations involved in the re-introduction of the Przewalski horse to Mongolia, also work closely with local people, including herdsmen, to find alternative ecologically sustainable means of employment.
<li>'Takhi' is the Mongolian name for the Przewalski horse.
<li>The Przewalski is a heavily built horse. It stands typically between 12 and 14 hands.
<li>Its colour is beige-brown or dun with a light coloured muzzle. It has a black stripe over its back, called 'eel-stripe' and stripes across its legs like a zebra. It has an upright mane that stops between the ears and is dark in colour. The tail, also dark in colour, helps protect the horse in sandstorms. The horse will turn its head away from the wind and the long hairs of the tail, that grow lower down that the domestic horse, help protect vulnerable parts of the rear.
<li>The Przewalski horse is a social animal, which means they live in groups. There are two kinds of social groups, family and bachelor. A family group generally consists of a stallion plus three or four mares, with their foals and some yearlings. As the name implies a bachelor group consists of stallions only, mostly led by an older stallion. Their ranges vary seasonally as they graze on vegetation and move on to new locations seeking food, water and shelter.
<i>For further information/photography, please contact:
<b>Zoological Society of London Public Relations Office:</b>
Tel: 020 7449 6361
Fax: 020 7449 6362
<b>Marwell Zoological Park Press Office:</b>
Tel: 01962 777 947
Fax: 01962 777 511
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