Przewalski’s Wild Horse (Critically Endangered)
El Paso Zoo, Texas using a Canon Powershot SX40HS
The coat of the Przewalski’s horse ranges from brown to dun, with a pale underbelly and muzzle, a dark tail, a dorsal stripe, striped legs, and a dark, short mohawk–like mane. The head is large, and the body is short and muscular.
The Przewalski’s horse stands about 13 hands high at the shoulder (a little more than four feet) and has a head and body length of less than seven feet, with a tail close to three feet long. Adults can weigh between 550 and 750 pounds.
Before their population dwindled, these horses spanned regions in Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Russia, Mongolia, and China.
The World Conservation Union’s Red List of Threatened Species listed the Przewalski’s horse as extinct in the wild until 2008. Causes of extinction were hunting, harsh climate, loss of habitat, and loss of water sources to farm animals. However, successful reintroductuions qualified this species for reassessment in 2008, and they are now classified as critically endangered. Currently, there are around 1,500 animals remaining in zoos and breeding facilities, carrying genes from 14 founders. Because loss of genetic diversity threatens their continued survival, the National Zoo’s Conservation and Research Center and other institutions around the world maintain breeding populations that serve as a source of animals for reintroduction in Mongolia, China, and Kazakhstan. Thanks to their effort nearly 400 horses now roam in re-introduction sites in Mongolia and China.
Steppe vegetation, shrubland, and plains
Przewalski’s horses eat grasses and other vegetation.
Females reach sexual maturity at about two years of age but usually do not breed until they are three years old. Young males do not reach sexual maturity until after three years of age. Similar to the domestic horse, Przewalski’s mares cycle during the spring and summer months but some can cycle throughout the year. Stallions are able to breed year round. Foals are born 11 to 12 months after conception (330-350 days), which is often in the early summer months (May to July).
Przewalski’s horses live in harems that consist of a dominant stallion and several mares. Young stallions form bachelor bands, which is where they remain until they are able to form harems. Males are territorial and compete with other males to acquire females for their harem.
Przewalski’s horses have never been tamed for riding, which means that they are the last truly wild horse in existence today.
Przewalski’s horses have 66 chromosomes, two more than domestic horses.
The Mongolian name for these horses is “takhi,” which means “spirit”. Horses are central to Mongolian culture, and takhi are a symbol of their national heritage.
The Chinese call the Przewalski’s horse “yehmah.”
These horses were scientifically described in the late 19th century after Polish naturalist Colonel Nikolai Przewalski obtained a skull and hide of this seldom-seen animal and shared them with scientists at a museum in St. Petersburg.
Learn more about A second chance: Przewalski’s wild horse conservation