November 17, 1995
Web posted at: 6 p.m. (2300 GMT)
From Correspondent Peter Humi
PARIS (CNN) -- A European expedition to Tibet has returned to France with news of a discovery that could help scientists trace the development of the horse.
The expedition members came across what they are calling an archaic, previously unknown species of small horse in a remote Tibetan valley.
The tiny horse, only 4 feet tall, was discovered purely by chance, grazing in groups of two or three in the Riwoche Valley, an unexplored region in northeastern Tibet. The expedition, led by French anthropologist Michel Peissel to study another rare species of horse, had been forced to divert from it's planned route due to bad weather.
Peissel recently recounted his discovery. "We reached Riwoche by the southeast having crossed for 11 days on horseback the central part of Tibet, an area known as Pemba, which was unexplored, where we were the first Europeans, and it was on the way out that we discovered this horse," he said.
With its stubby mane, dark stripes on its back and legs and flat angular head, the Riwoche Horse, as the expedition christened it, bears more than a passing resemblance to the horses painted in pre-historic cave dwellings. Among the striking similarities: a small triangular face, tiny eyes and little nostrils."
Tests on the horses' blood and DNA will be needed to extract a more complete idea of the their pedigree. But getting one of the animals out of Tibet is not going to be easy.
"It took me two years to get permission to go to that area," says Peissel," and it will be very difficult to get permission to go back and export them. As you know, Tibet is occupied by the Chinese and they're not very keen on foreigners visiting these remote areas."
The horses, says Peissel, are probably a relic group, isolated from other breeds, and thus, never interbred.
The local Khamba tribespeople have long made use of the horse.
"They are domesticated horses," says Peissel. "They are ridden and used as pack animals. They're tiny but very robust."
They have a short temper too. A video Peissel brought home shows one of the horses kicking a man. (325K QuickTime movie) Peissel, who has made 25 expeditions to Tibet in 36 years, is now planning yet another trip to visit the Riwoche Valley and its unique, archaic horse.
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