May 1, 2005｜Mongolia
Former Ambassador to Mongolia
Mongolian people attach a great deal of importance to horses. This is because they are described as an equestrian people. At the height of the socialist period (1960) the country was home to 2.5 million horses; however, after democratization, the number of horses fell from more than 3 million in 1995 to 2 million in 2003. Even so, as it is said that there are 65 million horses around the world, this means that the Mongolian people, who account for about 1/2400 of the global population, are raising about 1/32 of the world’ horses.
In Mongolia, there is a custom of giving horses to distinguished guests. Even so, the person who receives the horse does not take it home with them, but leaves it where it is, with the herd of its previous owner. However, the ownership of the horse is remembered. I have a number of such horses around Mongolia and they remain my horses until they die. Sukhbaatar aimag (district) is one place that is famous for its horses. I was given horses in three soums (sub-districts), so I have three horses in that aimag. In one soum, I was told I could pick one of the herd for myself, so I chose a two year-old khongor (in the dictionary, this color is described as a pale chestnut, but it is actually closer to beige) that always wanted to be at the head of the herd; it had a black mane and its fetlocks were also black. The elderly newspaper reporter who accompanied me gave me the thumbs up and told me that it was a good horse that might even win in the annual Naadam festival. Its coat was exactly same as that of the legendary horse Niigmiin Khongor, which was born in the soum of Sukhbaatar (the birthplace of the country’s founding father General Sukhbaatar) in the aimag of the same name. When I left my position, Minister of Finance and Economy Ulaan (who was born in Sukhbaatar aimag) made a small ornament for me, in the likeness of my horse. I have many unforgettable memories of my dealings with Mongolian people in which horses were involved.
In Mongolia there are wild horses called takhi. In Japanese, they are called mouko-no-uma. Takhi are wild horses that originally inhabited the area from the Mongolian plateau to the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in China, and have a different ancestry from ordinary horses. The Polish explorer Nikolai Przewalski, who devoted his life to exploring Mongolia and Central Asia on the orders of Russia’s Tsar Alexander, introduced them to Europe more than a century ago, so they are also known as Przewalski horses. A museum conservator in Saint Petersburg, I.S. Poliakov, confirmed that they were a new breed in 1881. They became extinct in the wild, with the last one being seen in 1969. In 1992, they began to be re-introduced from zoos in Australia, Germany and the Netherlands and their re-indigenization in Mongolia is being promoted. In 1998, a region in the Khustai Mountains, about 40km west of Ulaanbaatar, was designated a national park, promoting their re-indigenization.
The late Ambassador Katsuhiko Oku (at that time he was Director of the United Nations Policy Division; he was later killed in Iraq), who visited Mongolia in July 2001 for the Japan-Mongolia Government Policy Conference, wanted to assist Mongolia in some way in the field of environmental problems and we were able to show him the Khustai takhi. He was fortunate enough to be able to watch as a herd of takhi came down to the river to drink water in the evening. He said that two nights previously he had worked late into the night in the Tokyo metropolis and that he had no idea that attempts were being made to preserve such wild animals so close by; he also told me that he wanted to be of assistance in these preservation efforts in some way.
I heard that there were takhi in Tama Zoo in Tokyo, so I went to see them. I felt somehow that it was unnatural for these creatures to be kept in a cramped enclosure, as though it went against some kind of basic rule; however, on the other hand, it is true that if they were not kept here, then the children of Japan would have no opportunities to come into contact with takhi. There are seven takhi in Japan. The others are in Chiba City. Leo and Sasha in Tama are getting old, so the zoo wants a younger breeding pair, but all the young takhi in Tama are females, so the zoo is seeking a boyfriend for them. I imagine that it would be difficult to introduce one from Mongolia, which has had to re-introduce its own from abroad, as that would be contrary to the spirit of the plan, but I wonder if there is no way in which we could do something to help the takhi of Japan.
[Translated by ERINA]