The endangered Przewalski’s horse is still considered extinct in the wild in China, despite the reintroduction of three populations, because they still need artificial supplementary feed and water, scientists report.
Zhigang Jiang and Hao Zong have reviewed the reintroduction of the Przewalski’s horse to China in a report in the journal Nature Conservation Research. They have examined the current situation and examined the outlook for the species.
The Przewalski’s horse, Equus ferus przewalskii, was declared extinct in the wild in the middle of the 20th century. Its survival was due only to the handful of horses held in zoos.
Since 1985, the Chinese government has formulated a three-step plan for the introduction of captive breeding horses, and in doing so has established a semi-free population.
The first three batches of wild horses were introduced to the Xinjiang Wild Horse Breeding Centre, the Wuwei Endangered Species Breeding Centre and the Beijing Nanhaizi Milu Park.
Years later, after acclimation and captive breeding, those Przewalski’s horses were softly released into nature reserves in their original habitat in the Mt Kalamaili Nature Reserve, the Anxi Extreme-arid Desert Nature Reserve and the Dunhuang West Lake Nature Reserve.
The released horses are allowed to range within large fenced areas at the release sites, with supplementary feed and water provided.
Thus, the Przewalski’s horses in China formed the Xinjiang population, the Wuwei-Dunhuang population and the Beijing-Anxi population.
All 23 wild horses that survived in the Anxi Extreme-arid Desert Nature Reserve in 2017 were born after being moved from the Beijing Nanhaizi Milu Park, the authors noted.
The number of wild horses in the Beijing Nanhaizi Milu Park increased from two in 1998 to five by the end of 2018.
By the end of 2018, there were 413 wild horse descendants from the reintroduced herd in the Xinjiang population. Among them, 89 wild horses were kept in the breeding paddocks of the Xinjiang Wild Horse Breeding Centre, 102 were semi-free ranging in the fenced area of the centre, and 221 re-wild horses lived in the Mt Kalamaili Nature Reserve.
Meanwhile, the Przewalski’s horse population in the Dunhuang West Lake Nature Reserve increased to 60.
The Wuwei Endangered Animal Breeding Centre released seven wild horses in its Minqin Qinghu Base near the Badanjilin desert.
The researchers said habitat deterioration, inbreeding, parasitic diseases, wolf predation, infanticide and crossbreeding with domestic horses are the major problems in all Przewalski’s horse populations in China. There is also a need to add new breeding individuals, they said.
They noted that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species Working Group downgraded the Przewalski’s horse in 2011 to the status of Endangered from Critically Endangered based mainly on the status of wild horses in Mongolia.
“Nevertheless, the Red List category of the Przewalski’s horse in China was still Extinct in Wild because the wild horses in these populations still need artificial supplementary feed and water,” they said.
“Thus, a real wild population has not yet been established in China.”
Indeed, it was the authors who conducted the China Red List of Vertebrates assessment from 2013 to 2015.
In Mongolia, there are more than 500 wild Przewalski’s horses.
While numbers are increasing in their original habitats, in both China and Mongolia, the authors urge caution. “China and the rest of the world still have a long way to go for restoring the Przewalski’s horse in the wild.”
Zhigang Jiang is with the Institute of Zoology, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences; and Hao Zong is with the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Jiang Z., Zong H. 2019. Reintroduction of the Przewalski’s horse in China: status quo and outlook. Nature Conservation Research 4(Suppl.2): 15–22. https://dx.doi.org/10.24189/ncr.2019.045