Status: Critically Endangered
Known as: Przewalski’s Horse, Dzungarian horse, Asian wild horse, Mongolian wild horse, Przewalski’s wild horse.
Estimated numbers left in the wild: Slightly more than 300.
Przewalski’s horse stands out among the wild horses of the world because it is a truly wild species, and not simply a strain of domesticated horses in a feral state. Small and shaggy, this equine stands 1.2 to 1.4 meters tall, weighs between 200 and 340 kilograms, and is easily distinguished by its stiff, dark, upright mane, which stands erect like a Roman centurion’s crest. The colour of these horses is greyish brown to tan, while each leg has a darker sock.
Diet: Przewalski’s horse eats grass and shrubs on the vast steppes of Mongolia and adjacent areas of China. They also live in grassy deserts in the area, and are believed to have ranged into hilly or mountainous terrain when their population was higher, up to nearly 2 kilometres above sea level. They are capable of eating the leaves and bark of bushes and small trees when these are available. These animals follow a strict daily cycle, grazing during the day and seeking water in the evening. Around half of each day is spent feeding.
Breeding: Herds of Przewalski’s horse are quite small, though they are as sociable as other horses. One stallion and a handful of mares and foals make up the typical herd, with a dominant mare controlling grazing and the stallion defending the herd and deciding where it travels. Przewalski’s horse tends to be quite affectionate with other members of its herd, though young males are naturally expelled as soon as they reach breeding age and form temporary bachelor herds. Foals can stand and walk within an hour of being born, in response to the highly nomadic lifestyle of this small wild equine.
Location: Przewalski’s horse was formerly found throughout Mongolia, northern China, and possibly some areas of Siberia as well.
Today, it has been reintroduced to several selected sites in Mongolia, though the captive population is still much larger than the free-ranging, wild one.
Threats: Przewalski’s horse dwindled to near extinction by the early part of the 20th century due to a combination of hunting for meat and interbreeding with domesticated horses. The species has been essentially “reconstructed” from 15 individuals who remained in captivity at around the time of the Second World War. Since the horses are heavily protected today, the main threat to their survival is the risk of an inbreeding bottleneck affecting their ability to reproduce successfully.
Conservation efforts: A number of successful captive breeding programs have raised the total world population of Przewalski’s horse to over 1,500 animals. The Ukraine, France, the United States, China, and Hungary all have captive breeding animals, with the Ukrainian and French efforts supplying most of the animals used for reintroduction. Both breeding and reintroduction are ongoing, encouraged by the positive results seen in the new wild populations. The horses have proven to be adaptable and tough, and are producing foals successfully in the wild.
The Aspinall Foundation The Aspinall Foundation introduced breeding programmes at Port Lympne in the UK with successful re-introduction of some of the horses to Central Asia.