Prague Zoo taking responsibility for the survival of endangered breeds
Three years ago Prague Zoo launched its biggest conservation project to date – helping to save the Przewalski horse from extinction. The zoo successfully breeds these Mongolian wild horses here in the Czech Republic and then transports them to the Mongolian steppes to enrich the gene pool of a small protected herd that is to help the endangered breed survive. I met up with the zoo’s spokeswoman Jana Ptáčinská Jirátová to find out how the project has been coming along.
You breed these horses here at the Prague Zoo and then transport them to the Mongolian steppes –how many do you have here, how many of them are there in the world today and what zoos do you cooperate with?
“Prague Zoo has two locations for these horses, one on the grounds of the zoo itself and then we have a special acclimatization station in Dolní Dobřejov –that is located in an area known as Czech Siberia where the weather conditions are closest to those in Mongolia. We have around twenty horses at this point and altogether in European zoos there are around 1,000. There were none left in the wild but thanks to joint effort to save the Przewalski horse there are now around 350 of them in Mongolia.”
What does it entail to transport them there are give them a good start in the wild?
Who are your sponsors in this project?
“We are very happy that the public supports us in this activity. People contribute via donation SMS messages, they send money to a special account in support of the project and we also raise money by selling souvenirs with the Przewalski horse and the motto “We help them survive”. So that is part of the income used, but of course the main part comes from our sponsors and partners in the project.”
So what zoos do you cooperate with on the project? Who else is in on this?
Is it difficult to get the horses to breed once they are there and to live in the wild when they were used to being taken care of?
“The most difficult part is getting them acclimatized to the weather and ground conditions, to new food and new animals in their vicinity. They have to grow stronger so that they can survive the winter in their new conditions. Because in Mongolia there is a big difference in temperatures in the winter and summer –they range from minus forty to plus forty so it is a big extreme which the horses have to get used to.”
How long did it take for the first foal to appear and how many do you have there now?
“We had to wait a whole year for the first foal, but now we have three of them and we know that five mares are pregnant.”
And the Mongolian authorities are helpful? I understand two or three Mongolian officials traveled to Prague last week to thank you for your efforts. Do they give these horses protection in the space they are in?
So what happens now – how long does the project continue for? How many horses will it take for you to say, OK we are happy with that, we are satisfied, they are saved?
"As many as possible. The population of Przewalski horses seems quite stable now in Mongolia but the winters are dangerous and one winter could destroy the whole population. So we try to transport as many horses as we can."