Savior of Przewalski’s Horses – The Prague Zoo

The Mongol Messenger
2023-03-05 09:42:51

Ulaanbaatar, March 5, 2023 /MONTSAME/. On January 29th, we met with Mr. Miroslav Bobek, the Director of the Prague Zoo, in Hustain Nuruu. We discussed the tragedy and eventual recovery of Przewalski's horses, the Prague Zoo’s ongoing projects, and new initiatives being implemented by the zoo.

Mr. Bobek is a zoologist who graduated from Charles University in Prague. Since 2010, he is serving as the Prague Zoo's director. In addition to being a zoologist, journalist, publisher, and author, Mr. Bobek is also the creator of numerous books, documentaries, and television shows about animals. He has also won renowned science and wildlife conservation awards. To name a few of his most recent accomplishments, he is in charge of initiatives such as the reintroduction of Przewalski's horses to their native land, Mongolia, and the conservation of gorillas in Cameron, Africa.

Under his direction, the Prague Zoo set a new annual visitor record, and information about rare and endangered animals became more widely available to the public. He first visited Mongolia in 2000 to conduct studies on animal migration. The President of Mongolia awarded Miroslav Bobek the “Medal of Friendship” in 2014 and the “Order of the Polar Star” in 2022 for his significant role in the reintroduction of Przewalski's horses to Mongolia.

Miroslav Bobek: "It's no accident that I became a zoologist, my grandfather was a hunter and my mother was a natural science teacher. I believe that all of this influenced me to choose a career related to the animal world."

The fourth project to reintroduce Przewalski's horses to Mongolia will take place in Eastern Mongolia

- The purpose of our trip to Mongolia this time is to work in the new location chosen for the reintroduction of Przewalski’s horses, as well as to meet with Mongolian officials and discuss this new project. Przewalski’s horses were reintroduced and are now reproducing in three other locations, Hustain Nuruu, Gobi’s “B” territory, and Khomyn Tal. Currently, there are no Przewalski’s horses in Eastern Mongolia. We chose Sumiin Khooloi in Khalkh Gol Sum of Dornod province in Eastern Mongolia as the site of our fourth reintroduction project after conducting in-depth fieldwork, biological research, and geographic analysis on the distribution of the animals, the yield of plants, species, pastures, topography, parasites, winter weather, and other factors. We are planning on signing the last necessary documents with the Mongolian side soon. Afterward, other important tasks, such as funding and transportation will begin. To start, we are planning domestic transportation of Przewalski’s horses to the east of Mongolia (the first transportation work from the Hustain Nuruu to Khalkh Gol is scheduled to be finished by 2026), followed by transportation of a number of Przewalski’s horses from the Czech Republic.

The majority of the funding will be provided by the Prague Zoo, and we'll coordinate efforts to secure additional funding from other sources. While in Mongolia this time, we met with the Minister of Environment and Tourism of Mongolia, the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Light Industry of Mongolia, and the Governor of Dornod province. We conclude that the meetings were effective. They all warmly support the reintroduction of Przewalski’s horses in Dornod province. This project is anticipated to be advantageous to all parties. 

The process of transportation

From Prague to Khomyn Tal and to Takhiin Tal

-For the past twelve years, our zoo has been actively working on the reintroduction of Przewalski’s horses. Shortly after I was appointed as the director of the zoo, I visited a center where horses are trained for transportation to other locations; it was located 100 km from Prague. Two gates were there, one containing mares and the other stallions. The director of the center informed me that it was planned to transport these horses to Mongolia, but the transportation was cut off at that time and it was unclear when it would resume, so they were waiting. After learning about this, I told the director that I will arrange the transportation of these horses, which took the director by surprise.

There was news that approximately 50% of the previously transported horses had passed away due to severe weather conditions during those years. So I soon began looking for an aircraft to complete the transportation work in the quickest amount of time feasible. Because of our zoo's difficult financial status at the time, we were unable to rent a commercial airplane. So we went to meet with the General Staff of the Czech Armed Forces, explained our predicament to them, asking if they might assist. They agreed to fly us there using one of their aircraft. Petr Pavel, who was the Chief of General Staff of the Czech Armed Forces at the time, was elected President of the Czech Republic yesterday (28th of January). In May 2011, a military CASA aircraft flew the first Przewalski’s horse mares to Mongolia and landed at the Khovd provincial airport. Four mares were driven to Khomyn Tal from there in a car. The other mares were then transported from Khovd airport to Bulgan airport, where they were then sent to the "B" territory of the Gobi. Seeing these horses today thrive and graze in the countryside makes us incredibly proud. I recall the most emotional moment when we opened the crate and the Przewalski’s horses stepped out, with happiness after many hours of work and a 20-hour aircraft flight to arrive in Mongolia. We transported a total of 34 Przewalski’s horses to Khomyn Tal and Gobi’s “B” territory between 2011 and 2019 via 9 different shipments. One of our biggest accomplishments is this. Transportation is one thing, but the support and assistance for them to live in the wild is the most crucial component. We are therefore working on providing the preservationists with a comfortable environment, transportation, and support for their research.

The blood of the Przewalski’s horses from our Zoo is running through the bodies of many horses in Mongolia...

-You all might get surprised. There isn't a single horse that was born in the Prague Zoo in Hustain Nuruu, where we are right now. There was one... but it is no longer here.

However, this does not negate the Prague Zoo’s contribution to the reintroduction of Przewalski’s horses in Hustain Nuruu. Our zoo was involved in the projects from the beginning by donating our horses, and the chosen horses were settled in Mongolia. Hence, it can be claimed that the horses still carry a little amount of the blood of the Prague Zoo horses because the majority of the horses from the first generation to settle in Mongolia were from Prague. All of the horses that our zoo sent to Mongolia were not born at the Prague Zoo; rather, they were transported to Prague from various locations in Europe where horses are found and were then chosen to be transported. For generations, the horses in our Prague Zoo have been considered to be the healthiest and most genetically fit. Hence, horses from our zoo have been selected from the very beginning when Przewalski’s horses were first reintroduced to Mongolia, their native land.

“Little Mongolia” will open soon

May I surprise you again? Right now there are not any Przewalski’s horses on the territory of the Prague Zoo. Besides our Prague Zoo, five horses are placed in another site, and thirty horses are in a center where horses are trained for transportation to other locations. The reason for this is that we are currently trying to build a "Little Mongolia" that will depict the steppes and meadows of Mongolia in the area of the Prague Zoo where the Przewalski’s horses used to live. In other words, the visitors, who are coming to see the horses will not only learn about their history, their life in the wild, and their biology, but they will also learn about the steppes and meadows of Mongolia, how they were reintroduced to Mongolia and much more all in one setting. We believe that this will present several opportunities to increase scientifically based understanding of Przewalski’s horses while also promoting Mongolia and the horses around the world.

To be completely honest, our Prague Zoo does not rank among the best zoos in terms of territory size, funding, animal population, or species diversity. Yet we do rank in the top 10 zoos with the best living conditions for the animals.


Prague Zoo’s Przewalski’s horse stepping onto Mongolian land. 2013.

The Prague Zoo is a place that has contributed the most to the rescue of the Przewalski’s horses, which were transported to Europe, from the danger of extinction over the years, and is still taking a leading role in reintroducing the horses to their homeland. Therefore, in 2021, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums awarded the WAZA Conservation Award to the Prague Zoo for its "long-term contribution to the rescue of the Przewalski’s horses". "It was a great honor for us" Mr. M. Bobek recalled.


Mr. Miroslav Bobek, the Director of the Prague Zoo after receiving the WAZA Conservation Award. 2021

The introduction of Przewalski’s horses to the Prague Zoo dates back to the 1930s. In 1934, the zoo bought its first Przewalski’s horse from a wildlife dealer. Subsequently, in 1959, the reintroduction of the horse to its native land was initiated by the director of the zoo at that time, Professor Zdeněk Veselovský and Yuri Wolf. After more than 30 years, this initiative became a reality. Several Przewalski’s horses from the Prague Zoo were among the Przewalski’s horses that were brought back to Mongolia in 1992. Because the zoos in Prague and Munich housed the healthiest and most genetically fit horses in Europe.

Mr. M. Bobek noted that, along with the reintroduction projects, the Prague Zoo has been involved in the protection of the Mongolian Saiga antelope and the Mongolian wild Bactrian camel in recent years, and is providing financial assistance to implement projects.

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