Ensuring the continued growth of self-sustaining populations of Asian wild horses requires mitigating conflicts between humans and wildlife through cooperation with local herders, community education, robust science-based population monitoring and research, and expanding habitat and population sizes.
Between 1992 and 2000, 84 Asian wild horses were brought to Mongolia’s Hustai Nuruu National Park from reserves in Europe. Since then, the number of free-ranging horses has increased to over 300 in the 354 square mile park. Hustai Nuruu National Park currently supports the largest wild population of Asian wild horses in the world. However, much work still needs to be done to ensure the park can maintain a healthy population growth rate that can withstand natural disasters and disease epidemics. Furthermore, the population is only occupying 35% of the park and still requires close watch by park management.
The Minnesota Zoo is partnering with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Hustai Nuruu National Park for work in Mongolia. One aim of the project is to support the current Asian wild horse population to expand to other parts of Hustai Nuruu National Park. Year-round water availability is a critical factor in determining where to settle in this mountain forest steppe habitat and water sources across the park are limited. Park biologists believe they can encourage the horses to use other areas of the park and increase their numbers if they improve the habitat by adding artificial water sources. However, first, we need to understand how the horses are currently using their habitat and investigate the impacts of artificial water holes.
- We hosted a Hustai National Park staff member to intern at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s GIS lab. We are working with him to analyze 10 years of wildlife data from the park to build the park staff’s skills in analyzing and using wildlife data to improve their tools to make management decisions at the park. We will also work with them to publish in international journals to make this important information available to other scientists.
- We purchased a new computer to host a country-wide Asian wild horse database in Mongolia to simplify the sharing and collection of important research data. Biologists from two of the three Asian wild horse reintroduction sites in Mongolia have begun to enter Asian wild horse data into the database.
- We set up ten camera traps in Hustai National Park to monitor water resources and set the groundwork and planning for more intensive research that will start in spring of 2016. From the camera trap photos we can learn how often wildlife and livestock visit the water and what time of day (or night). This is important to document to better understand the potential impact of adding artificial water sources.
- We deployed eight GPS tracking collars on dominant mares from different harems in Hustai National Park to answer questions about area and resource use. The collars will collect data on horse movements for two years.
- We continue to monitor ten water sites in Hustai National Park with camera traps. Minnesota Zoo volunteers are helping to identify and count species in each photo and enter the information into a database.
- We continue to work with park biologists to analyze 10 years of wildlife data from the park.
- We have been working with park staff to plan an artificial water hole in a location that we hope will encourage the expansion of Asian wild horses into the central area of the park where they are currently not established.
Projects in China
Since 2001, the Xinjiang Forestry Department in China has been working to restore Asian wild horses to the Kalamaili Nature Reserve. Xinjiang Province was the last place in China where the horses were seen prior to their extinction in the wild.
Local Kazakh nomads have been using the Kalamaili Nature Reserve for centuries for their livestock, the herders’ primary source of income. During the winter the herders bring thousands of livestock down from the mountains to find forage in the reserve. The livestock compete with the Asian wild horses for the same pasture areas. Close contact between these populations also increases the risk of spreading livestock diseases.
More information about our projects at Kalamaili Nature Reserve is coming soon.