Przewalski’s Horse Article and Photos Copyrighted - see credits below
Przewalski’s horse, known also as the Asiatic wild horse, or Mongolian wild horse became extinct in the wild, but has been reintroduced successfully.
Przewalski’s horse used to live in Central Asia, mainly Mongolia and parts of China, with the Gobi Desert having been a last retreat. The peoples of its homeland had a number of names for this horse: “take, ”surtake“, ”kertak“, ”statur“, and others.
Przewalski’s horse was scientifically described in 1881 by Russian scientist Ivan Semjonovitch Poljakov of the Zoological Museum in Petersburg, based on a skull and a hide of this horse that the Russian explorer Nikolaj M. Przewalski had brought home in 1877 and given to the museum. Poljakov named the animal in honor of N. M. Przewalski.
The German zoologist Friedrich von Falz-Fein was the first to capture Przewalski’s horses in Mongolia and to breed them on his zoological park on his vast estate in what used to be southern Russia. All of today’s Przewalski’s horses stem from only 13 individuals that were kept in zoos (according to some sources, even less). There were over 50 captured and placed in zoos, but only 13 reproduced.
Whenever a wild form becomes extinct that is surrounded by domestic animals of the same species, the last surviving individuals won’t be pure anymore, as there will be some interbreeding. Just as Tarpan stallions were known to steal domestic mares, the last Przewalski’s horses were not pure anymore either, which accounts for some atypical characteristics found sometimes in today’s population.
Among those captured in the wild for zoos were already some that showed such influence of outside blood, like white markings, blue eyes, or atypical color. In some rare instances, outside blood was introduced by zoological gardens in their effort to help build up a viable population.
Przewalski’s horse is best adapted to a dry, sometimes cold, climate and lived mostly in steppe and desert areas. Today there are several projects in its homeland where these horses can live wild again.
Przewalski’s horse is of dun color, which can vary somewhat between lighter and darker phases. It has a mealy muzzle - the same pattern of lighter colored areas as is found in the Exmoor pony. This distinguishes Przewalski’s horse from the Tarpan (and possibly other prehistoric horses), which had a dark muzzle and face and lack the other lighter-colored areas around the eyes and on body and legs.
Przewalski’s horse also differs in regard to its mane and tail, which are black and lack the whitish fringe of hairs seen in the Tarpan and his descendants, and the forelock is completely missing. The mane is erect and the tail is in its upper portion parted, relatively thin and short. The Przewalski’s eel stripe, or dorsal stripe, is typically rather thin, leg stripes are usually absent or only weakly expressed. The head is large, and the body is short and muscular.
Conformation-wise, Przewalski’s horse is usually lower at the withers than at the croup, with the withers not well defined. It weighs in at about 700 pounds and stands about 13 hands tall or a little more.
Although this wild horse is on the Red List of Threatened Animals, and was listed as extinct in the wild, there are several projects dedicated to their reintroduction, and a considerable number have been released back into the wild in their homeland. Zoos and institutions all over the world are working together for the preservation of this ancient subspecies, and all Przewalski’s horses are registered in a world-wide studbook that is maintained in Cologne, Germany. This also allows for intelligent mating plans to keep inbreeding as low as possible.
The social structure is much like that of other horses. They live in family groups - a mare or two and their foals and the dominant stallion. Bachelor groups are reportedly founded by stallions without a harem.
However, Przewalski’s horses are more aggressive than others, not just the stallions, but mares as well. It’s not rare for their social activities to lead to injuries and even death. They can be tamed to a degree, but prove to be too headstrong and aggressive to make useful beasts of burden. Their conformation is unsuitable for riding purposes anyway.
NOT THE ANCESTOR OF OUR DOMESTIC HORSES
It has been propagated by scientists for decades that the Prezwalski is the sole ancestor of all domestic horses, and sometimes it still is declared as such. This in spite of the fact that as early as 1995, molecular geneticists proved that Przewalski’s horse must be excluded as an ancestor of our domestic breeds. Przewalski’s horse has 66 chromosomes, two more than domestic horses.
This also indicates that the habitat of Przewalski’s horse did not reach all the way from Asia to western Europe, like some scientists claim, who mainly go by prehistoric cave paintings - if it had lived all over Eurasia, then it would have played a role in the domestication of the horse and the development of domestic breeds, which its DNA then would show. But DNA analyses show that there is no trace of Przewalski’s horse blood in our domestic breeds.
Some zoologists, think that Przewalski’s horse represents an independent species, separate from all others, including domestic horses (Equus ferus caballus). The name Equus ferus przewalskii implies that it belongs to the same species, that it is a subspecies of Equus ferus - the fact that Przewalski’s horse will voluntarily and readily mate with all other horses and produce fertile offspring proves that Przewalski’s horse is not a separate species, but a subspecies of Equus ferus.
Photos showing characteristic head and tail of Przewalski’s Horse. The picture on the right shows semi-wild Przewalski’s horse in a preserve in northern Germany, in fat condition due to the native grasses, and sporting a winter coat to cope with the wet and cold climate.