Woody Packard

Words + Pictures


Road Through Khustai National Park
In 1969 the last Takhi, a species of wild horse native to Mongolia, disappeared from the steppe here. As in other areas of their native Central Asia, the species became extinct—except for a few specimens that had been captured by a European visitor and taken to zoos there sixty years earlier. There they became known as Przewalski's Horse, after one of the first European explorers to document them. Takhi cannot be ridden or handled like domestic horses. Although they can breed with domestic horses, they have two extra chromosomes and the result is neither exactly Takhi or domestic horse.

Unlike the Mongolian population, the European Takhi population continued to grow, increasing in size from nine breeding individuals to the point where, in 1992, a small population was reintroduced to Mongolia in Khustai Nuruu National Park. Today there is a sustainable population in Khustai as well as in two other locations across the country, though Khustai maintains the largest herd.

The effort at Khustai has involved the cooperation of several other countries and international organizations, most notably the Netherlands and The Foundation for the Preservation and Protection of the Przewalski Horse. Its progress is being watched carefully by both scientists and ecologically inclined tourists around the world. And although most of the focus has been on the Takhi, other species are benefiting from the protected status of the park. In addition to the wild horses, there are what is translated here as red deer, large ungulates similar to our elk in size, shape, and the antlers of adult males, though their color is, as the name suggests, redder than our elk. Two decades ago they could be seen wandering around in downtown Ulaanbaatar, not such a stretch given the proximity of what was then the much-more-strictly-protected-than-it-is-now Bogd Khan Strictly Protected Area. Though we have hiked on Bogd Khan Uul and traveled many places in Mongolia during the past three years, we saw our first red deer in Khustai, with the help of our driver who knew where we could hike to catch them napping.

With international co-operation comes international scrutiny. Khuustai is the only national park in Mongolia that is not controlled by the national government. So far the park has assured a safe environment for the Takhi, with their numbers increasing as a result of natural breeding within the park. Unlike other protected areas, (which are controlled by the national government—see Public Land, Private Interest.) development has been limited to several buildings with a ger camp and some cabins near the entrance to the park, and a research station with a few living quarters inside. Traffic is limited to a main, unpaved, road and a few tracks that are off limits to most traffic.

On our visit to Khustai it was hot and dry, and the wind was still. We listened to cicadas and crickets, punctuated by the sound of a few small birds. It is spare land, and driving through it, it is hard to imagine where horses could possibly hide until looking up into the hillside of rocks and brush, you realize that something has moved, and then something else. If you are a photographer, bring the longest lens you own. There is a reason why the Takhi has never been tamed.

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Lizard Tracks

Identifying Rhubarb

Search Party


Takhi Movement


Close As We Get

Family Portrait

Red Deer

Red Deer Search

Deer Stones

Deer Stones

Takhi Territory

Takhi, Hillside

Demoiselle Cranes