Meet the only truly wild horses in the world: a day in Hustai National Park

Only an hour's drive out of Ulaanbaatar, Hustai National Park offers an excellent one-day escape to view wildlife and spend an afternoon with nomads.

A mere hour’s drive out west of Ulaanbaatar sits a beautiful wildlife sanctuary where the last truly wild horses in the world roam free. They are a wholly independent species that have never been domesticated, as opposed to say, the wild mustangs of North America which are feral descendants of domestic horses.

Stocky and muscular in build, somewhat similar to the zebra in silhouette, the wild horses, referred to as the Takhi by Mongolians and Przewalski’s horse by the scientific community, have dun sand-colored coats with short upright manes and dark primitive markings on their legs.

A mother and a foal

Takhi, aka Przewalski's horse, is the only truly wild horse in the world

Once extinct in the wild, they were reintroduced back in the early 1990's.

Possessing 33 pairs of chromosomes, compared to the 32 pairs for the domestic horse, it’s speculated that the takhi and the domestic horse split from a common ancestor tens of thousands of years ago, long before horses were domesticated. Declared extinct in the wild in 1969, the Takhi were reintroduced back into the wild in the early 1990’s from a population that remained in captivity across zoos in Europe.  Today, Hustai National Park is one of three designated sanctuaries in Mongolia, and home to a herd of nearly 400 wild Takhi. The park has the added the benefit being only 100kms (62 miles) out of the city, in a country where visiting many of the attractions such as Khuvsgul lake and Flaming cliffs lie requires careful planning and logistical maneuvering, sometimes weeks ahead.

A mother and a foal

A wild Takhi mother and a foal at Hustai National Park

Hustai National Park is home to a 400-strong herd of wild horses

The drive is a pleasant, uneventful affair through the naked steppes typical of the Khangai mountain region. As you get closer to the national park, the landscape transforms. Hills give way to sand dunes splattered with the occasional vegetation and trees, a stark contrast to the eyes. Rhubarbs adorn the roadsides with their gigantic leaves. Driving past, not too far away, is the Hustai National Park’s camp. A pleasant camp with gers for overnight stays, the restaurant offers a good selection of dining options. The camp’s small but thorough ger museum showcases the park’s highlights, including the history of Przewalski’s horse reintroduction program.

After becoming a specially protected area, Hustai National Park became home to flourishing wildlife, including more than 44 species of mammals, and over 200 species of birds.  The park’s varied habitats, including steppes, forested mountains, and river valleys, support a rich ecosystem. Marmots waddle from hole to hole as you drive to the viewing spots. A herd of gazelles leap past. On hot days, the takhi make their way up the mountain to the cooler spots and can be seen with telescopes. Timing is vital when viewing the takhi. Early mornings and evenings offer the best close encounter chances as they make their way down the mountain to their watering spots. The 400 strong herd is the biggest population in the world (in total, there are around 1,000 takhi in the wild in Mongolia across three sites).

Tuul River Basin

Just outside the protected area, the river basin is favored by nomads for the summer.

Hustai is not only a great short escape to nature and wildlife, but also an excellent spot to spend an afternoon with herders, who like to spend their summers in the Tuul river basin area just outside the protected area.