Przewalski’s Horse is the last remaining wild horse in the world.
Though once extinct in the wild, this species has made a remarkable comeback due to conservation efforts.
In this post, we’ll cover everything from their history and biology to current conservation initiatives.
So read on to learn more about these fascinating creatures!
Przewalski’s Horse Breed Info
Here are some of the key things you need to know about the Przewalski’s Horse:
|12.0 – 14.0 hands high
|Yellowish or light red (dun), with a dark mane and tail and, usually, a dorsal stripe
|Country of Origin
|Mongolia and China
Przewalski’s Horse Facts & Information (Breed Profile)
Przewalski is the only horse in existence today that may be considered truly wild.
Other horses that people believe to be wild, like the American Mustang or the Australian Brumby, are actually feral because they descended from domesticated horses who escaped or were let loose; and live today without human interference.
Historically, they roamed what is now western Mongolia and northern China.
It is estimated that there are around 2,000 of them alive today, with the most of them living in Hustai National Park, which is about 60 miles (100 km) from Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia.
Prior to the recent reintroductions in the wild, the last documented sighting of the Przewalski horse in the wild was in 1969.
Mongolian name for them is takhi, which means spirit, or worthy of worship.
Przewalski’s Horse was not generally known to Western scientists until Colonel Nikolai Przhevalsky described it in 1881.
Even though the Russian explorer was formerly credited with “discovering” the Przewalski horse, it turned out that they were sighted many decades prior all the way in the 15th century by a German writer Johann Schiltberger.
While in Mongolia as a prisoner of a Mongol Khan named Egedi, Schiltberger wrote a description of the animal in his diary “A Journal Into Heathen Parts”.
However, the name ‘Przewalski’ had already stuck.
In addition to this, for reasons unknown, the Polish spelling of the animal’s name has been more often used than the Russian one.
Of course, prior to Schiltberger’s arrival, the Mongolians were, no doubt, quite familiar with Przewalski’s Horse.
Przewalski’s Horses have never been domesticated, much like their equine relatives the zebras and African wild asses.
Evidence from recent genetic studies challenge the long-held belief that Przewalski’s Horses (Equus przewalskii) are the ancestors of all domestic horses (Equus caballus).
Using an advanced sequencing approach, a team of researchers in 2011 concluded that Przewalski’s Horses are a distinct clade from the domestic horse lineage:
“Our results suggest that Przewalski’s Horses have ancient origins and are not the direct progenitors of domestic horses.
The analysis of the vast amount of sequence data presented here suggests that Przewalski’s and domestic horse lineages diverged at least [117,000 years ago]“.
Other studies place the divergence between 38 and 72 thousand years ago.
It is generally agreed that both domestic horses and Przewalski’s Horses are descended from the same ancestor, much as humans and chimpanzees have a common ancestor, rather than one species having descended from the other.
In general, members of two separate species that have a differing total number of chromosomes cannot breed and produce fertile offspring.
Domestic horses, for instance, have 64 pairs of chromosomes, but donkeys only have 62.
When they are interbred and their offspring is a mule (mare+donkey) or a hinny (female donkey+male horse) with 63 chromosome pairs, it is usually sterile.
With 66 chromosomes, The Przewalski’s Horse has the most chromosome pairs of any equid species.
Interestingly enough, when they are bred with a domestic horse, the offspring is mostly fertile even though they have 65 chromosome pairs.
Even so, the two continue to be classified as distinct species.
By the year 1900, a German merchant by the name of Carl Hagenbeck had captured the vast majority of them.
Hagenbeck was an exotic animal dealer who supplied animals to zoos around Europe and to P.T. Barnum.
While he was among the first to push for more naturalistic enclosures, the Przewalski’s Horse population surely suffered as a result of his business.
Even though it is not all his fault, at the time of his death in 1913, the majority of the world’s Przewalski’s Horses were already living in captivity.
Over-hunting had already taken a toll on the Przewalski’s Horse population before Hagenbeck got his hands on them, and the few surviving wild herds suffered further losses due to habitat destruction and a few exceptionally severe winters in the middle of the 20th century.
During World War II, German occupying forces slaughtered one herd living in the Askania Nova region in Ukraine.
In 1945, there were only 31 Przewalski’s Horses alive in the whole world, located in two zoos: Munich and Prague.
At the end of the 1950s, there were a total of just 12. Nine of the 31 captured horses in 1945 are the ancestors of all Przewalski’s Horses who are still alive today.
Since then, experts from the Zoological Society of London and Mongolia have collaborated to keep this species alive.
Because the breeding efforts in captivity were so effective, the species was able to recover and reach a population of about 1500 individuals by the early 1990s.
Somewhere about 300 Przewalski’s Horses have been released back into their natural environment in Mongolia, and live in the Khustain Nuruu National Park, Takhin Tal Nature Reserve, Khar Us Nuur National Park, and Khomiin Tal Reserve.
A population of these animals was reintroduced into a reserve close to the Gobi desert by Chinese researchers who ran their own captive breeding program.
However, the biggest herd of reintroduced Przewalski’s Horses may now be found at the Askania Nova reserve in Ukraine.
Another group of these horses has been brought to the Hortobágy National Park in Hungary.
Furthermore, the Chernobyl exclusion zone has become a safe haven for animals, and there is a herd there that is reproducing on its own.
The Prague Zoo is still responsible for keeping the studbook for Przewalski’s Horses up to date, documenting the lineage of every living member.
From their studies, scientists know that Przewalski’s Horses are sociable animals and that they form small, permanent family groups consisting of a stallion, one to three adult females, and their offspring.
Juveniles often remain with their families for between two and three years before venturing out to look for possible partners.
Herds are made up of many different family units that travel together to look for food.
The main predator of the Przewalski’s Horse foal is the wolf.
If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating breed, keep reading!
“Takhi”, “Mongolian Wild Horse”, “Dzungarian horse”, “Asian wild horse”, “Przhevalsky horse”
Cannot be tamed or domesticated
The head is big in comparison with the rest of the body, pony-like and rectangular.
The ears are darkly rimmed.
The mane is short and standing straight, and they have no forelock.
The withers are low and the back is narrow.
The croup is short and steep.
They grow thick, warm winter coats with long beards and neck hair.
Yellowish or light red (sometimes called dun), with a dark mane and tail and, usually, a dorsal stripe
12.0 – 14.0 hands high
550 – 800 pounds (250 – 365 kg)
The only really wild horse in existence today
Country of Origin
Mongolia and China