WILD HORSE SAVED FROM EXTINCTION

An Endangered Species Success Story: Przewalski’s Horse Saved From Going Extinct

Most of the equines in the American West, Australia, and elsewhere that we think of as “wild” horses actually are not wild but feral—domesticated animals that have escaped or been released back into a natural environment that can sustain them, at least for a while. In fact, while the world still contains wild equines such as zebras, there is only one wild species of true horse remaining at large on the earth—a stocky, rugged creature of the Central Asian and Eastern European steppes called Przewalski’s horse, and also known as the Asian, or Mongolian, wild horse. This animal, although not an ancestor of our domestic horse—that wild “parent” went extinct thousands of years ago—is the saddle-, draft-, and race-horse’s closest living relative.

Horses that look very much like the Przewalski’s appear in 20,000-year-old paintings on the walls of European caves, so we know that humans probably hunted them—or at least admired them from afar—for a long time. By the 1960s, however, the last wild populations had died out in Mongolia, victims of human persecution and environmental changes that included competition with livestock for prime grazing ranges.

Fortunately, a small population remained in zoos, and nine of those captive animals were used to rebuild a population that was then sent out to recolonize former Przewalski-horse habitat. Small wild populations currently live in Mongolia, China and in Ukraine, near the site of the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Photo Credit: Egwolf
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