In a fight to save endangered species, a Canadian woman travelled half way around the world and hopes that her experience will help other animals on the verge of extinct.
This past summer, Brandi Petrukovich, an animal sciences student at the University of Saskatchewan, travelled to Mongolia to begin work on her thesis with the focus on sustainable grazing and nutrition of the Przewalski horses. Petrukovich hopes her research will help identify any nutritional deficiencies of the horses and help other animals.
“Out in the national park at Hustai�my research was taken from a few of the home ranges collecting vegetation in representative samples from the entire area,” said Petrukovich. “We also did feces collection and our analysis in the lab and are looking at digestibility.”
According to the Foundation for the Preservation and Protection of the Przewalski Horse, the Przewalski horse is the sole surviving genuine wild horse in the world, with the entire world population of 1,435 animals.
Thirty years ago, the species was almost extinct and in captive existence. Since that time, a breeding program was started to help build a new population, and two generations were placed in a semi-reserve in The Netherlands to relearn their social behaviours. In 1992, the groups of horses were taken from the semi-reserves and placed in adaptation enclosures in Mongolia and finally released into the Hustai National Park in 1992.
But Petrukovich says that much of the land in Mongolia is highly overgrazed, very much degraded and has a number of invasive plant species from years of overgrazing. The country receives little precipitation with a few centimetres of snow each year and most of the rain in July and August.
“That is all they have to eat out there,” she said. “They are not supplemented. Are they meeting the nutrient requirements with the horses? Nutrient deficiencies can lead to any number of problems.”
Back in Canada, Petrukovich is compiling her data but has not made any conclusions. “We did 12 different analysis, plus 25 different mineral analysis and then we look at digestibility and energy,” she said. “It should give us a very broad idea of what is going on there.”
The population of the Przewalkski horse has been slowly increasing over the last few years, but Petrukovich says the reintroduction of a large herbivores species is a difficult task.
“Pretty much the whole world is watching to see success or failure and are going to use this as a model for reintroducing other species that have gone extinct in the wild that are kept in zoos or semi reserves,” she said. “I hope this research is really going to help them over there.”