Scientific name: Equus ferus przewalskii
Habitat: Steppe, shrublands
Current range: reintroduced into Mongolia –Takhin Ral Nature
Reserve, Hustail National Park, Khomin Tal
Conservation status: endangered
Threats: habitat loss/fragmentation and human encroachment
Related research: C2S2’s Wild Equid Conservation Program
Known as the takhi or ‘spirit’ in Mongolia, the story of the Przewalski’s horse is a global conservation success in progress. The Przewalski’s horse once roamed in large herds across the plains and steppes of Europe and Asia, but due to habitat degradation and human conflict, this species became extinct in the wild by the 1970s and only persisted in small numbers in captivity. The last wild Przewalski’s horse was seen in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia in 1969. Perhaps no more than 15 animals remained. However, today there are more than 400 Przewalski’s horses in the wild and about 1,500 individuals in captivity. This species is overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to rebound from near-extinction.
Conservation in action
Progress in the survival of the Przewalski’s horse is linked to intensive captive management led by zoos throughout the USA and Europe. Cooperative breeding has increased horse numbers to allow the first reintroductions into suitable habitats of Mongolia in the 1990s. Currently, there are three reintroduction sites in Mongolia (Gobi Desert, Takhin Tal and Hustai National Park) and one each in Kazakhstan (Altyn Emel National Park) and China (Kalamaili Nature Reserve in Xinjiang region), all being monitored by scientists from the Conservation Centers for Species Survival. In China, C2S2 researchers are involved in satellite tracking of released harem groups. Our scientists also are working with local nomad families to integrate pastoral land use and livestock grazing with reintroduction efforts.
C2S2 believes that more research and management attention needs to be directed to all equid species. In this context, the Przewalski’s horse has become the C2S2 ‘model’ for more action directed at wild horses. Due to its facility space and interest, C2S2 manages significant numbers of Przewalski’s horses for breeding and research. This includes state-of-the art chute systems that allow data to be collected by handling the animals safely. Because there were relatively few founders in the captive population, keeping the population healthy by maintaining all gene diversity is a conservation priority.
Research has focused on understanding male and female reproductive physiology and endocrinology, which will eventually allow for improved propagation by both natural and assisted breeding, especially artificial insemination. C2S2 institutions share both scientists and horses in these research projects, thereby increasing the quality of the investigations and the statistical significance of findings. An applied goal is to eventually contribute animals to a Przewalski’s horse reintroduction program emerging in China. Learn more about C2S2’s Wild Equid Conservation Program.