Slouching towards Altai

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

We left Urumqi and headed to the horse breeding center in the early afternoon. The day was warm and dry, with little or no breeze. Our translator’s name is Shalkar and the driver’s name is Omar – they are Kazakh and come from the same tribe (Karakas?). We followed the edge of the Tien Shan on our right, until the 216 turned north.
Our group arrived at the wild horse breeding center administrative building (a two-story, European/Soviet style of architecture) at just after 3 p.m. Beijing time. I was introduced to Mr. Ma, the Center veterinarian, and also a Kazakh. We were invited to sit in a reception type room and served tea in paper cups. So far I have only seen men and my interaction with them has been polite and very limited, which is not unexpected in this context since I am a woman. The discussion is in Chinese and Kazakh, and I pick-out only the words ‘tarpan’ and ‘takhi’. Dr. Z tells me the general idea of what is being talked about – Mr. Ma has had an opportunity to collaborate with a University on a [conservation?] project. The conversation seems casual and from what Dr. Z has told me, is mostly catching up. Mr. Ma inquires about Dr. Z’s recent experience in Mongolia with regard to wild horse re-introduction.
After doing a walk-thru of the center’s information center, I was able to get an spatial overview of the complex from both the info center rooftop and the observation tower nearby. There were not as many horses as I imagined there would be, although there were about 15-20+ individuals in a single enclosure, and two more that were kept in a separate and smaller enclosure. We approached these two and were separated by just a livestock fence.
The horses are much smaller than domestic horses. Their main is short (somewhat like a zebra or an ass) and they are dun colored, with darker hair on the lower portion of their legs and also their face. The tail has shorter hair closer to the rear (near the base), and then becomes longer. As soon as they become more accustomed to our scent and saw that Chalkhar and Omar had hay to feed them, they became willing to come closer to the fence. Mr. Ma says they are fairly docile. He asks my impression of them and I wonder silently if they are healthy (one of them seems to have a rash or sores on its muzzle), but I say that I am surprised by their small size. One of them is about ten years older than the other.

Jimusaer (“anytown [Han] China”)

I think Dr. Z is amused and maybe a little perplexed at how delighted I am by Jimusaer, this small regional town off of the 216. But it’s quiet pleasant. There’s a good energy when we arrive in the late afternoon. People are going about out their business and are curious, but not hostile toward us. We do, however, have some issues when we try to check-in to our hotel. As foreigners, we are limited in where we can stay, and apparently this hotel was unfamiliar with the paperwork and procedures. Eventually, we were helped out by a friendly policeman who looked like he was just at the end of his day. He was seemed sympathetic to our situation and quickly got on his cell phone to try and help us out. The matter eventually got sorted, the proper paperwork was found at a nearby hotel, and we got our rooms.


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