START A PETITION 25,136,189 members: the world's largest community for good
START A PETITION
x

10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Last Wild Horses On Earth

10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Last Wild Horses On Earth

We think of horses as domesticated animals, and no wonder since we’ve been breeding them for millennia for everything from hunting and jumping to herding and ranch work to pulling plows and heavy carts. Over the centuries, some horses have gone feral, like the famous American mustang, the Camargue horses of France, and the brumbies of Australia.We call them wild, but technically they’re not. However, unlike the equids we’re used to seeing on farms or roaming over hillsides, the Przewalksi’s horse is a truly wild horse breed, having never been domesticated by humans.

The Przewalski’s horse, native to the steppes of central Asia, is the last completely wild horse species in the world. It is also endangered. So to kick off the Year of the Horse, here are 10 cool facts about these special horses and what’s being done to protect them.

1. The Przewalski’s horse is a subspecies of Equus ferus and is considered the closest relative of the domestic horse. It is cousin to zebras and the wild ass, which all fall under the Equidae family. The split between Przewalski’s horse species and the ancestors of domestic horses happened somewhere between 120,000 and 240,000 years ago.

2. Przewalski’s horses are named after Col. Nikolai Przewalski, who was the first Western scientist to describe the species in writing in 1878. However, the first sighting by a European occurred centuries earlier, when Johann Schiltberger recorded his sighting in the early 1400s during a trip to Mongolia while a prisoner of the Turks.

3. The Przewalski’s horse nearly disappeared into extinction. Very few in captivity made it through WWII and the last wild individual was spotted in 1969. The species was listed as extinct from the wild in the 1960s until the 1990s, when one surviving individual was found in the wild and other bands of captive-bred horses were reintroduced with continuing success. Currently, there are about 300 horses living in the wild and around 1,500 individuals in captive breeding programs and zoos, and the species’ status is now listed as endangered.

4. All the Przewalski’s horses alive today are descended from 12 horses — 11 captured and brought out of Mongolia around 1900, and a female captured in 1947. Captive breeding has increased the species’ numbers from a low of about 30 individuals to today’s count approaching 2,000 individuals. The first Pedigree Book was created by zoologist Dr. Erna Mohr, and a detailed studbook has been kept and updated ever since to minimize inbreeding and thus maximize genetic diversity.

5. Despite the careful captive breeding programs, a major threat to the species today is a loss of genetic diversity and thus disease. Their original decline was brought about by hunting, loss of water resources to domestic animals, and loss of habitat. Hybridization with domestic horses was (and is) a threat.

6. Like feral domestic horses, Przewalski’s horses live in small family groups comprised of a stallion and his harem of mares and foals, and bachelor groups of males who have yet to form (or have lost) their own harems. But they differ in appearance: they have a shorter, stocky build, thick necks, upright manes with no forelock, low-set tails, and coloring that more closely resembles wild equid ancestors including light-colored muzzles and bellies, a dark dorsal stripe along their backs and bar-stripe patterns on their legs.

Przewalski’s horses grow thick, warm coats for the winter, complete with long beards and neck hair. Winter coats are important in the harsh winter desert, where temperatures can be freezing. In high winds, Przewalski’s horses turn their back to the storm and tuck their tail tightly between their back legs! This may be an adaptation to help protect the eyes and nostrils, while also protecting the sensitive reproductive parts, from the severe winds and sand storms of the Gobi Desert. – See more at: http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/przewalskis-horse#sthash.L3fnSIea…

7. The four largest reserves where captive Przewalski’s horses roam are in Le Villaret, France; Buchara, Uzbekistan; the Hortobágy-National Park, Hungary; and the Chernobyl exclusion zone, Ukraine. The horses released in the exclusion zone thrived and their numbers grew to a high of around 200, but poaching has reduced their population to about 60 individuals in recent years.

8. Though most people know the species as the Przewalksi’s horse, it goes by several other names: Asian wild horse, Mongolian wild horse, and Takh (or takhi as the plural).

9. In 2013, the first Przewalksi’s horse born through artifical insemination was welcomed into the world. This success represents an exciting breakthrough in the preservation of the species, and the possibility of increasing genetic diversity without having to transport horses among captive breeding facilities.

10. If you’d like to see a Przewalksi’s horse in person, several zoos in North America have them as residents, including San Diego Zoo, Denver Zoo and Toronto Zoo. But for the real history and heart of the conservation of the species, Prague Zoo is the place to go. That’swhere Len lives, the grandson of the last Przewalski’s horse caught in the wild.

Article by Jaymi Heimbuch

Photo by Jean-Jacques Boujot

 

Related
Texas drought leaves heartbreaking toll of abandoned horses
Court lifts ban on cloned horses
Ancient horse genome sequenced
The healing power of horses
Horse slaughter halted in the US

Read more: Nature, Nature & Wildlife, Pets, Wildlife

have you shared this story yet?

go ahead, give it a little love

Kara, selected from Mother Nature Network

Mother Nature Network's mission is to help you improve your world. From covering the latest news on health, science, sustainable business practices and the latest trends in eco-friendly technology, MNN.com strives to give you the accurate, unbiased information you need to improve your world locally, globally, and personally – all in a distinctive thoughtful, straightforward, and fun style.

136 comments

+ add your own
12:55AM PDT on Jun 20, 2014

gosh, I first saw and heard about them in the 1960's, I thought they had been protected, I didn't realize their future is shaky. That's rather sad.

2:46PM PDT on May 20, 2014

so cool

8:48PM PST on Mar 2, 2014

Thank you.

10:33PM PST on Mar 1, 2014

Thanks

7:16AM PST on Feb 28, 2014

What neat horses. Thank you.

10:41PM PST on Feb 25, 2014

Gee, how I would love to see these horse.

9:41PM PST on Feb 25, 2014

thank you!

2:03AM PST on Feb 25, 2014

Thanks

7:37PM PST on Feb 24, 2014

Cool.

9:34AM PST on Feb 24, 2014

illuminating

add your comment



Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

people are talking

I have a few fancy goldfish and let me tell you, they are so much more than people think they are. t…

God Bless the folks at "Hope for Paws." You are Heroes, role models, good citizens and beautiful hum…

I submitted this story a couple of days ago on care2 news. I guess nobody saw it there. Glad someone…

I don't care who it is, there is no reason to buy from a breeder. There are so many unwanted dogs ou…

Story idea? Want to blog? Contact the editors!



Select names from your address book   |   Help
   

We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.