The Przewalski horse population continues to grow. At the end of 2020, 487 animals of the endangered horse breed lived in the Xinjiang region in the far northwest of the People’s Republic of China.
The coat color varies from gray-yellow to red-brown © IMAGO / Xinhua
For a long time the Przewalski horse was considered the only wild horse species that still exists today.
Research has shown, however, that the horses of the Mongolian steppe with the characteristic long mane and flour nose are wild descendants of the first domesticated horses – which of course does not make Przewalski, which is on the Red List of Endangered Species, any less worthy of protection .
The news that the wildlings are increasing in their original homeland is all the more gratifying.
The population of the endangered Przewalski horses is growing again. © Erdenebayer | pixabay.com
Gone and yet back
The last free-living Przewalski horse was sighted in Mongolia in 1969. Since then, the Thakis have been considered extinct in the wild.
They had been hunted to extinction for their fur and meat and lost their habitat to grazing cattle.
The survival of the Przewalski horses is solely thanks to breeding programs in zoos and breeding centers.
The horses have been released back into the wild since the 1990s. In the meantime, several hundred Przewalski horses gallop through the grassy steppes of Mongolian protected areas.
Eel line and standing mane: Przewalski horses © IMAGO / Anka Agency International
In Mongolia, there are more than 500 wild Przewalski’s horses,with an adult population of 178 horses.
Exceptionally few captive Przewalski horses succeeded through the 1950s, and the last sighting of a wild individual occurred in 1969.
The species was listed as extinct from the wild in the 1960s until reintroduction programs began.
The species’ status has improved from extinct in the wild, followed by critically endangered, to a still-precarious endangered.
They are still considered critically endangered.
Like all wild horses, Przewalski’s horses live in small family groups consisting of a stallion, three to five mares and young foals.
Males without their own mares form their own “bachelor” groups. Bachelor horses fight bitterly for the right to mate and have their own group of mares (called harem).
They keep the rest of their herd in sight at all times and communicate through lots of noises, ear twitches and odor markings.
The Przewalski’s horse is a subspecies of Equus ferus and is considered to be the domestic horse’s closest relative.
It is a cousin to zebras and the wild ass, which also falls 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.
The beautiful wild horses owe their name – pronounced Pschewalski – to the Russian researcher Nikolai Michailowitsch Przhevalsky.
He discovered the largely unknown horses during his expeditions to Central Asia at the end of the 19th century.
But even then the wild horses had become rare.
Scientists do not quite agree whether the Przewalski horses are actually real wild horses, i.e. were never domesticated.
A genetic study from 2018 suggests that horses in Mongolia may have been domesticated several thousand years ago and only then went wild again.
A later study again supports the hypothesis that they are real wild horses after all.
And I mean…Horses play an important role in the culture of Mongolia. Przewalski’s horses, in particular, symbolize the national heritage and culture of this country.
Otherwise called the Mongolian wild horse, this mammal is an object of various folk tales. In this country, Przewalski’s horses are considered the riding mounts of the Gods and are hence called “takhi”, literally meaning “spirit” or “holy”.
These animals possess very sharp hooves, which they use in digging the ground, typically in search of a water source in their dry habitat.
There have been found prehistoric, 30,000 years old cave paintings in Spain and France, which feature sturdy ungulates, closely resembling those currently known as Przewalski’s horses.
Community members form very close bonds between each other. They feed together and practice mutual grooming. Communication system of Przewalski’s horses includes neighing calls, which display threat submission or frustration.
Additionally, these neighing calls are used to alert group members of a predator.
It is very good news to learn that the population of these intelligent and beautiful animals is growing.
In fact, there isn’t a single animal species that shouldn’t grow.
There is only one whose growth threatens all others.
My best regards to all, Venus