July 10, 2007

A Przewalski's horse filly has been born at Toronto Zoo, the first such birth in 15 years. Solstice was born on June 22. She is by Phoenix, and is the first foal out of Alexandra, who is 14.

Solstice and her mum, Alexandra.
Picture: © Ken Ardill, Toronto Zoo

A Przewalski's horse at Toronto Zoo.
Picture: Toronto Zoo

Przewalski facts

Name: Przewalski's horse

Status: Considered extinct in the wild; zoo breeding programmes continue around the world.

Numbers: A 2005 census put the world population at about 1,500, all descended from 31 horses in captivity in 1945. Population reintroduced into the wild is about 300.

Significance: Mongolian name for the horse is "takhi," which means spirit. It's central to Mongolian culture.

Looks: Mule-like in appearance, they vary in colour from cream to ochre brown and have short black manes. Stocky with shorter legs compared to domestic horses, they are about 1.3m tall and 350kg.

Source: Smithsonian National Zoological Park

Przewalski's horses were once declared extinct in the wild, although re-introduction efforts have taken place. At present, the Zoo's herd consists of seven animals, with a total of 150 of these horses in captivity in North America.

"We're very excited by the birth of this foal, which is a great contribution to the conservation of this critically endangered species," said Zoo Curator of Mammals, Maria Franke.

Phoenix, a new breeding stallion, was brought to the Toronto Zoo from Parc Safari in Hemmingford, Quebec (on loan from the Calgary Zoo). Solstice and Alexandra have been integrated into the general herd.

"We have been working with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (AZA) Species Survival Plan for Przewalski's horses to match up the best breeding pairs of these animals and to ensure new genetic input into the North American captive population. Our ultimate aim is to supply horses that could be reintroduced to Mongolia and China," Maria Franke said.

Species Survival Plans are programmes designed to conserve animals at risk for future generations. Already breeding programs in Asia have reintroduced Przewalski's horses into Mongolia, Kazakhstan and the Kalameili Reserve in Northern China.

Named after the Russian general who was the first to scientifically describe the species, Przewalski's horses originate in the steppes of Central Asia. They are the only true wild horse left in the world. Timid in temperament, these horses were driven to extinction when domestic herds took over their grazing areas and sources of water.

Varying in colour from cream to ochre brown, this species have short black manes and a somewhat mule-like appearance. After a gestation period of 11 to 12 months, a single foal is born.