Przewalski horse breed may soon thrive in the wild

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

The birth of a Przewalski foal at Toronto Zoo is another welcome step towards the ultimate dream: To have the primitive breed of horse restored to healthy numbers in the wilds of their native Mongolia and surrounding territories.

Przewalski’s horses were for a time extinct in the wild, but the first cautious steps have been taken to return numbers to their home.

New arrival: Solstice takes her first steps.
New arrival: Solstice takes her first steps.

The birth of Solstice was the first Przewalski foal born at the zoo in 15 years. It was the first foal for her mother, Alexandra, aged 14.

“We’re very excited by the birth of this foal, which is a great contribution to the conservation of this critically endangered species,” zoo curator of mammals Maria Franke said at the time.

Solstice’s father, Phoenix, a new breeding stallion, was brought to the zoo from Quebec in what may prove to be the right move to advance the breed.

Just 150 of the primitive horses are in captivity in North America.

Worldwide, efforts to restore the breed have brought results. Breeding programmes in Asia have reintroduced Przewalski’s horses released 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 has short black manes and a somewhat mule-like appearance. After a gestation period of 11 to 12 months, a single foal is born.

They stand about 13 hands high and have 66 chromosomes, two more than domestic horses. Mongolians called them takhi, which means spirit, and they are important to local culture.

The precise relationship of Przewalski horses’ to the modern domestic horse has been debated by scientists. Some consider it a separate species to domestic horses (Equus caballus), preferring the name Equus ferus przewalskii to describe it.

Others scientists consider Przewalski horses should be listed as a subspecies of the domestic horse, thus the name Equus caballus przewalskii.

The answer may lie in further testing to determine whether the domestic horse and Przewalski came from a common ancestor. The answer is likely to decide the debate either way.

More on Przewalski’s horse:

 

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One thought on “Przewalski horse breed may soon thrive in the wild

  • January 5, 2021 at 6:32 am
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    So glad these hardy horses are being restored to Nature. They are not, however, the “only true wild horses” because all horses who revert to living in the natural world are true wild horses!

    Reply

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