The world’s last wild horses
Przewalski’s Horses, Hustai National Park, Mongolia
Drive west for a couple of hours through the semi-mountainous and barren land outside the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar, and eventually you’ll hit Hustai National Park. At first the border between the park and the surrounding land isn’t clear – the yellow grasslands flow across it with no regard. But you don’t have to go too far within the national park to realise you’re somewhere special. It won’t take too long until you come face to face with the Przewalski’s horse – the only wild horse left on the planet
There was a time when it would have been nearly impossible to see a Przewalski’s horse (named after Russian geographer and explorer Nikolay Przhevalsky). They had become extinct in the wild in the 1960s because of hunting, expanding agricultural land, and harsh winters. Only two captive groups remained in the world – in zoos in Munich and Prague. In 1992, some of these horses were reintroduced into the wild at Mongolia’s Hustai National Park and the herd has been carefully monitored since. Now, there are more than 350 living here.
Not long after arriving, I set out from the main camp in a car being driven by the park’s director, Dashpurev Tserendeleg. The camp is at the entrance to Hustai National Park and from here are dirt roads that head throughout the area. You are allowed to drive on some of them yourself but it’s much better to go with the local guides who can take you to different areas to get better views of the horses, other wildlife, and landscapes.
It doesn’t take too long until we see our first group of Przewalski’s horses. Standing on the slope of a hill, they are almost silhouetted by the afternoon sun. I can make out the shape of them – different from domestic horses. They are stockier, with shorter legs. From the top of their head, down to the middle of their back, is a short bristly mane that looks like a mohawk. Their heads seem bigger, rounder and, dare I say, cuter.
After having a good look at them, we drive on and find some more down by a river around the bend. They are in full sunshine and I can now see their colourings. They are pale brown and the tone gets slightly lighter the lower down it goes until a sudden black tinting just above their hooves. Around their muzzle is distinctly white, making them almost look like a cartoon drawing.
As Dashpurev drives around, he points out animals as he sees them – although another guide in the car who doesn’t have to concentrate on the driving sees most things first. Although the horses are the highlight here, we also spot deer, gazelles, and eagles. In the park but hidden from view today are marmots, wolves, lynxes, foxes, badgers and owls (and more, of course).
Visiting Hustai National Park
Hustai National Park is one of the best protected areas in Mongolia and has a unique situation because it is managed by a non-government conservation organisation, rather than by a government authority. I’ll write another post soon that explains a bit more about that because it’s a very interesting story.
One of the effects of this style of management is that the NGO needs to raise a lot of money to pay for its work. Tourism is one of the main sources of income. Luckily for visitors like me, it’s being done very well at the moment.
The main camp is the base for tourists who come for more than a day trip (which you should do if you have time). The accommodation is obvious as soon as you arrive – rows of white gers (traditional Mongolian tents) which have beds inside and are incredibly warm. They each have a stove in the middle and during the night a staff member will come in and add some more fuel. Only one of the gers has a bathroom attached (it was added when the Dutch Crown Prince Willem Alexander and Crown Princess Maxima stayed) so it can be a chilly run to the toilet in the middle of the night.
If that’s not your style, there is some more accommodation in the main building. This building is also where all the meals are served and there is a good hearty and authentic selection of Mongolian food on offer. There’s also a bar to relax in the evening.
Also at the main camp is an information centre that has very good displays about the park, the wildlife you can find, and the history of the Przewalski’s horse.
It’s learning this information about the horse – and then seeing them for myself – that is such a special experience. To think that an animal could be almost extinct and then, within a few decades, I am in a national park where there are no other humans outside our group and the horses wander happily around us in herds. And they’re such beautiful animals with an air of nobility that, to my mind, comes from being the only horse species never domesticated by man.
There are still threats to the species and the harsh Mongolian conditions are not always kind. But at least these Przewalski’s horses are back where they belong and they’ve got excellent people watching over them. The Mongolian landscape is a little less barren here.
How do you get to Hustai National Park?
To get to Hustai National Park, you drive along the main highway leaving Ulaanbaatar to the west until you reach Khustai Mountains Road after about 90 minutes. You’ll then turn left onto an unpaved road for another 10 kilometres until you reach the main camp. Click here to see it on a map.
Public transportation is difficult and it is better to hire a car or go with a tour. However, if you would prefer to do it by bus, I would suggest getting in contact directly with the national park (details below) and asking them for the latest information.
Can you visit Hustai National Park as a day trip?
Yes. I think staying overnight is the best option so you can make the most of your visit and enjoy the ger experience. However, I know people are often short of time so it is possible to see the horses on a day trip. I would suggest using this tour from Ulaanbaatar.
Need more information?
If you would like to book accommodation directly through the park or ask about tour options, you can contact the managers at this official website.