The Przewalski Horse, known as “Takhi”, last roamed free in 1968, across the desert plains of Mongolia. The Takhi is the only living ancestor to the domesticated horse. For nearly three decades, the Takhi survived exclusively in captivity. Then, in 1997, backed by the International Takhi Group (ITG) in cooperation with the Mongolian Ministry of Environment, Mongolian National University, and the European Endangered Species Breeding Program (EEP), the first herd of Takhi was reintroduced into the Gobi desert in southwestern Mongolia. The goal of the program is to re-establish a self sustaining Takhi population. The reintroduction project is applying a variety of geospatial technologies to ensure the released Takhi survive in the wild.
The Zoo Salzburg in Austria is very active in the reintroduction project. In 1999, the zoo provided a major research grant to install a research laboratory to monitor the released herds for the ITG. The research team is made up of the zoo’s own veterinarian, Chris Walzer, zoo biologists, Petra Kaczensky and Leopold Slotta-Bachmayr, and a host of students from Mongolia, Austria, Switzerland, and Germany.
The research project is funded by the Austrian Science Foundation (FWF) and focuses on tracking the released Takhi herds, as well as their main predator, the wolf. The goal is to study the factors that influence the Takhi’s habitat selection, population biology, and survival. One horse from each release herd is tagged with a Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite transmitter. This data, which pinpoints the moving location of the Takhi herds, is transmitted via satellite to the zoo’s research team. The researchers will soon begin tagging the wolves with similar transmitters.
The location data is then integrated into an ArcInfo database, labeled TakhIS (Takhi Information System). The system overlays the real-time locations of the animals with topographic base maps, satellite imagery , vegetation maps, and a three-dimensional terrain model of the area. The result is a visual, interactive tool to monitor the horses, wolves, and surrounding landscape.
LAND INFO provided Zoo Salzburg with 1:200,000 scale Mongolian topographic maps for the release areas. These maps were used as a background map for the research data. LAND INFO color scanned each paper topographic map to produce a high resolution, digital image. Latitude and longitude coordinates are then assigned to each map. This geo-referencing enabled the the research team to easily integrate the topographic map data with the TakhIS system. LAND INFO’s topographic data was also used by area rangers to monitor the distribution and movements of wild ungulates and grazing livestock.
Today, the wild Takhi population in the Gobi desert now stands at 35. This summer, the ITG plans to transport 18 more horses to the Gobi desert. The initial goal is to sustain 100 wild Takhi by 2004.