Rare Asian horses thrive on the Prague Zoo steppe

Four rare wild horses from Central Asia gallop through a meadow in Prague that aims to reintroduce this breed, once on the verge of extinction, through breeding programs. The city zoo plans to expand a breeding program that aims to rebuild their numbers in the steppes of Asia.

The Prague Zoo has released four Przewalski horses onto a 20-hectare (50-acre) plain that provides breeding ground for small, stocky animals while the zoo rebuilds its permanent stables and enclosure.

The horses – which weigh between 250 and 360 kilograms (550 to 795 pounds) – at one time became extinct in the wild but now inhabit reintroduction sites in Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan.

“The whole project aims to recreate here a steppe environment with its original flora and fauna with the help of horses,” Prague Zoo director Miroslav Bobek said Thursday, as the four mares grazed with the city in the background.

The Prague Zoo first relocated four mares named Khamiina, Xicara, Lana and Gruhne, choosing them to ensure the greatest possible genetic diversity for future breeding. The zoo will later present a stallion.

In 1959, the zoo was given the task of managing the international studbook of the species, which once extended throughout Europe and Asia. The institution has been a leader in the reintroduction of animals into the wild.

Their first expedition took place in 1988. Between 2011 and 2015, the zoo reintroduced 18 mares and a stallion to wild herds in Khomyn Tal Reserve and Gobi B National Park in Mongolia.

While visitors are encouraged not to feed the animals, zoo officials have built three viewpoints on previously unused land while waiting for the pandemic to end to begin returning the horses to their natural habitat in Asia.

“We had to cancel the transport of horses to Western Mongolia last year and so will be this year,” Bobek said. “However, we are using this time to prepare a project to reintroduce Przewalski’s horses to the eastern parts of Mongolia.”

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