By Jan Marchal
Their galloping stocky, sandy-brown silhouettes inspired dreamy prehistoric cave paintings.
Now, an ancient species known as Przewalski's wild horse has narrowly avoided extinction thanks to zoos worldwide and is cautiously being reintroduced to its homeland on the vast Mongolian steppe.
In charge of keeping the world genealogy book for this rare species, the Prague zoo has played a key role in this historic homecoming.
"Three mares and one stallion have been acclimatising in the Mongolian province of Khomiin Tal since June," said zoo director Miroslav Bobek.
"We expect to move another four horses in 2012," he added.
For decades, Prague zoo has been breeding these sturdy animals which have survived in captivity since the last wild horse was seen in Mongolia in 1969.
More than one-third of some 1,800 Przewalski horses living all over the world today, including 1,600 in captivity, are related to horses bred at the Prague zoo.
Characterized by thick necks, large heads and stocky barrels, Przewalski's horses weigh between 551-771 pounds, are about 3.9-4.3 feet tall at withers and two meters long.
To kick up the dust on the land of their ancestors, the horses spend about 30 hours inside special containers aboard a Czech army plane and then a lorry.
The newcomers to Mongolia — a young stallion named Matyas and particularly the mares named Kordula, Lima and Cassovia — have already attracted the interest of the denizens of the Khomiin Tal provincial wildlife reserve in western Mongolia.
An earlier group of Przewalski horses were brought to the province six years ago from another location in Mongolia by Takh, a French association bearing the Mongolian name of Przewalski's horses.
"One dominant stallion, Carex, jumped over the fence into the acclimatisation enclosure and joined the (new) group," Bobek said.
"He started to harass Matyas, but he soon had to face the competition of another 'jumper', a stallion named Bo, who turned out to be an even stronger natural leader," he added. More....