by Kathy Kranking
This mom and her baby may look a lot like regular, tame horses. But they're way wildler than your average horse. They are takhi (TAH-kee), which are the only truly wild horses left in the world!
Unlike tame horses, takhi have always been wild. For centuries, thousands of takhi lived in Mongolia and nearby China. But then people started moving into places where the takhi lived. They brought sheep and other livestock, which ate the grass the takhi needed. The takhi faced other problems, too, including disease, being hunted, and some unusually harsh winters.
Over the years, the number of takhi went way down. Finally, by 1970, the takhi had disappeared from the wild. But now takhi are back in their old stomping grounds. Read on to find out how they got there.
[Another name for the takhi is Przewalski's (sheh-VAHL-skeez) horse, named after a famous Russian explorer.]
A BRIGHT IDEA
Even though no takhi were left in the wild, there was a small number of them living in zoos in Europe and North America. So scientists came up with an idea: Return some of these to the wild places takhi once lived. They took a group of young, healthy takhi from the zoos. Then they brought them to special large, fenced areas. This was the first step toward releasing them.
In the fenced areas, the takhi got to know each other and learned how to find grasses and other plants they liked to eat, instead of waiting to be fed meals by zookeepers.
The takhi also got used to dealing with the harsh winters in their new home. In Mongolia, the temperature can get down near minus 50° F in winter! The takhi's coats grew thick, which kept them warm. And though at first scientists gave them extra food to help them through the winter, the takhi eventually became good at finding enough food on their own.
When scientists thought the takhi were ready, they released them into a few different places in the wild. One was the exact place in Mongolia that the last takhi had been seen before they disappeared.
LIFE IN THE WILD
Takhi live in family groups called harems. A harem is made up of a stallion (male) and a group of mares (females) and foals (babies). The stallion protects his family from enemies such as wolves. And he's the only male that gets to mate with the mares.
The released takhi have had lots of foals in their new, wild home. A mare gives birth to one foal in the spring. Some baby animals are born helpless, but not takhi! Shortly after a foal is born, it is already able to run. It nurses from its mom but can also nibble food on its own. Foals stay with their mothers for about two years.
The fact that the takhi are having babies shows that they are happy and healthy. Returning the takhi to Mongolia has been a big success. Where once there were no takhi left at all, today about 350 takhi roam free! Now that's something to neigh about!
This story originally appeared in the November 2013 issue of Ranger Rick magazine. Click here to download the full pdf of "Wild Comeback".