Przewalski’s Horse

QUICK FACTS

Scientific Name

Equus ferus przewalskii

Species Survival Plan

Yes

Habitat

Steppe vegetation and scrubland

Predators

Man and wolf

Food

Grasses

Originally Native To

Grassland and steppe in Mongolia

Height

54 inches at shoulder

Weight

770 lb.

Characteristics

Light tan to reddish coat, stiff dark mane, lower legs are black or brown

Gestation Period

340 days

Offspring

1 foal

Birth Season

April or May

Lifespan

Captivity 20 years

Social Behavior

15 - 20 females led by one stallion

iucn_badge_endangered

About Przewalski’s Horse

Przewalski’s (“shuh-VOLL-skis”) horse was thought to be "the last true wild horse" and the only ancestor of the domestic horse alive today. However, scientists have found this horse is a descendant of one of the earliest known groups of domesticated horses, called Botai horses, found in Northern Kazakhstan 5,500 years ago.

The name "Przewalski's horse" refers to Russian explorer Nikolai Przewalski, who first discovered the horse in the 1870s. With a short, muscular body, Przewalski’s horses are smaller than most domesticated horses.

After the last ice age, the habitat of the wild horse began to shrink due to climate change. As their semi-arid, treeless habitat gave way to forests, the horses were pushed into smaller ranges.

Przewalski's horses once ranged throughout Europe and Asia. Competition with man and livestock, as well as changes in the environment, led to the horse moving east to Asia. In the early 20th century, the horses’ range shrank even further, as farmers and their livestock began to monopolize good grazing lands.

In 1945, there were just 31 remaining P-horses in the world located in just two zoos - in Munich and in Prague. By the end of the 1950s, only 12 individuals remained. By 1969, they were declared extinct in the wild.

Called “takhi” by the Mongolian people since it means "spirit" in Mongolian, the Przewalski’s horse seen today in zoos in North America and Europe is descended from those 12 founders. The Asian Wild Horse Species Survival Plan is a nationwide effort in America to study and revitalize this species, working among zoos to maximize genetic diversity of the horse’s population and minimize inbreeding.

A successful captive management program is just one part of the story. Reintroduction efforts are also underway in China, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia. The population was estimated to consist of about 2,000 horses in 2020.

These horses are very social animals and can be affectionate with one another. One example is their grooming ritual. Two mares will stand side by side and head to tail.

One mare begins by working her way down the back of her partner, nibbling along the back and then to the hind legs. They may pair with a regular grooming partner or any available nibbler. This activity not only keeps the horses clean, but reinforces the social bond.

In the wild, Przewalski's horses graze on grass and leaves from shrubby trees. Like zebras and donkeys, they are hindgut fermenters, meaning that they need to consume large amounts of water and are better off eating 3-4 small meals per day instead of fewer, larger meals.

The Przewalski’s horse has 66 chromosomes rather than the domestic horse’s 64. When interbred, the offspring of a domestic horse and a P-horse has 65 chromosomes and is fertile. When the offspring is bred, however, the resulting new offspring has the domestic horse’s original 64 chromosomes.

While their greatest threats today include a loss of genetic diversity, their extinction in the wild was also brought on by hunting, loss of habitat, and loss of water sources to domestic animals.

At Fossil Rim, the P-horses live in a private pasture near the vet clinic.

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As a private nonprofit corporation, Fossil Rim does not receive national or state government support. Every cent spent or donated here goes in some way, directly or indirectly, toward the care of our animals.