If you want to see the wind-ruffled manes of the last wild horses in the world, you need to travel to the wildernesses of Mongolia… or to the Causse Mejean in Lozère as Roger St Pierre reports…
The majestic Przewalski breed has become symbolic of European wildlife protection efforts. Przewalski’s horse (takh or takhi in Mongolian) is the ancestor of today’s domestic horses. However, as a species, it was never domesticated and is therefore the world’s last truly wild horse. The Przewalksi horse’s name comes from Colonel Nicolaï Przewalski, a Russian explorer who spotted the horse in the Gobi desert in 1879 and later identified it as a species unknown to Western scientists. Mongolian nomads had lived with this species for centuries and, as shown in French cave paintings, Europeans likely encountered the Przewalski’s horse (or a close cousin) 20,000 years ago.
Le Villaret, located in the Cevennes National Park in southern France and run by the Association Takh, is a breeding site for Przewalski Horses. Eleven zoo-born horses were brought to Le Villaret in 1993. Horses born there are adapted to life in the wild: they are free to choose their own mates and must forage on their own. The programme has been so successful that in fact several horses from here have been reintroduced to their original native environment in Mongolia.
Other species too are making a comeback here, with European bison once again crossing the Margaride while rare birds of prey spread their wings to the thermals above the rugged Gorges de la Jonte.
Nearly a third of the department now has protected Natura 2000 status (www.natura.org), a distinction that conserves the habitat of rare species, such as the otter and the white-footed crayfish. For its part, the Cévennes National Park has been campaigning and working for 40 years to foster a system of responsible cohabitation which respects the natural environment.
On its territory the Cévennes Ecotourisme association is encouraging local tourism enterprises to become signatories to a durable charter for a responsible European tourism industry.
The reason?: It has identified and wants to maintain its 89 species of mammals, 208 kinds of bird and 2,250 types of vegetation – the greatest number of species yet found in any French national park. It’s a priceless treasure – and it belongs to Lozère.
For more information on Lozère see:
Islands in the Sky – Causses and Cévennes – an outstanding natural landscape and UNESCO World Heritage site
Lozère – the “Big Country” of France – magnificent landscape, mountains and lakes,
Despite his French name, veteran globetrotting writer Roger St. Pierre is proudly British; he is, though, passionately Francophile and has been to every one of France’s 94 metropolitan departments.