Horse Research

image of Mongolian takhi
I study the behavior of horses. My master's thesis concerned mare-foal behavior of feral horses in Wyoming's Red Desert, and also covered related demographic features such as number of births and foal survivorship. My doctoral dissertation covered the behavior of the endangered Przewalski's horse (Asian Wild Horse or Mongolian Wild Horse, called takhi in Mongolia). These are the closest living relative of domestic horses, although considered to be a separate species because Przewalski's horses have two additional chromosomes and have never been domesticated. They were last seen on the border of China and Mongolia in the 1960s but then became extinct in the wild due to competition with domestic livestock, hunting, and a series of severe winters. Fortunately a captive population existed in zoos and it was these animals that were the subject of my dissertation. I studied their 24-hour time budget and the effects of gender, enclosure size and other housing conditions on this time budget. I also studied ontogeny of behavior in foals, and agonistic and affiliative behaviors. I helped pioneer the technique of monitoring urinary estrogen levels to track estrous cycles of mares.

Since the completion of my dissertation in 1988, I have continued to study Przewalski's horses. In 1991 I journeyed to the Ukraine as part of a research team collecting data on the largest captive population of these animals. In 1994 I co-edited a book  with Dr. Katherine Houpt on the species which has received very favorable reviews. In 1994 I also became involved in the reintroduction effort that returned these horses to Mongolia. The Foundation Reserves Przewalski Horse (Netherlands) and the Mongolian Association for the Conservation of Nature and Environment entered into a joint venture to restore the takhi to Mongolia.  Sixteen horses were flown to the newly created Hustain Nuruu Steppe Reserve in 1992 and placed in large holding enclosures to become acclimated to the environment. They were released to the wild in 1994. I studied the harems before and after their release, focusing on time budgets, spatial relations and home range establishment. I also gathered data on nursing/suckling behavior of mares and foals because the high birth rate presented a prime opportunity to do so.

I carried out a follow-up study in 1996, helped train Mongolian biologists on site in 1998, and returned in 1999 to film a half-hour documentary for the Champions of the Wild television series (Omni Film Productions, Vancouver).  I returned in 2001 to study juvenile dispersal, harem establishment and transfers, and suckling behavior.

© 2001 by Lee Boyd
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