After the first successful transport of four of the zoo"s Przewalski"s horses to Mongolia in June last year, Prague Zoo is preparing to transport another group of horses this month. Four mares, Anežka, Greta, Xara and Spela, have been moved to the zoo"s facility in Dolní Dobřejov station, where they are getting ready for their long-haul flight July 16.
For the transport, the Army will utilize airplane CASA C-295M - incidentally the same model whose purchase was overseen by former defense Minister Vlasta Parkanová, who now faces charges and a national scandal for approving the overpriced deal.
On July 17, the airplane is expected to land at an unfortified airport in Bulgan, Mongolia. The following day, the horses will be released in an acclimatization game preserve in Gobi B, a strictly protected wildlife preserve in the Gobi Desert.
The cooperation of Prague Zoo with Mongolia dates to the 1950s and "60s, when the zoo helped save the nearly extinct horses by founding a captive breeding program aimed at reintroducing them into the wild. Today, five horses live in the zoo while an additional 20 are kept at Dolní Dobřejov. The plan is to keep sending horses back to their original homeland. According to Prague Zoo Director Miroslav Bobek, the zoo can now also restore the breeding and already boasts pregnant mares.
The first transport in June 2011 proved a huge success, although the flight did not transpire as smoothly as zookeepers had envisioned. One of the mares collapsed, compelling the pilot to make an emergency landing. In the end, however, all four Przewalski"s horses landed safely in Mongolia. Their acclimatization was surprisingly fast, Bobek said.
"Two mares already gave birth to two foals just one year after the transport. This is great, especially if you understand how difficult the transport is."
"It is better than we hoped," he added.
Bobek also said the transport would have been difficult to realize without the aid of the Czech Army, which incorporated the opportunity into its pilot training program.
"Of course, we pay the fuel and fees," Bobek said. "This was the only possible way for us to realize the transport, because the commercial flight would be much more expansive."
The zoo has already pinpointed two locations in Mongolia where the horses historically belong. "We have one dream," Bobek said. "The best location for the Przewalski"s horses is close to Mongolia"s borders with China."
Twenty years ago, when the venues for reintroduction were chosen, the strained political situation did not allow zookeepers to target this specific site. Bobek says he still believes it will one day be possible to return the horses there, although he admits for now it is now just a dream.