Saturday, May 29, 2010

Przewalski's Horse

The Przewalski's Horse was extinct in the wild for over 30 years. Also known as the Asian Wild Horse and Mongolian Wild Horse, it is a true wild horse, the only one left after the complete extinction of the Tarpan over 100 years ago. Other seemingly "wild" horses, like the North American mustangs and Australian brumby, are feral populations. This means they descend from domesticated individuals. The Przewalski's horse is completely untouched by human domestication, and even posess two more chromosomes in their genetic makeup than domesticated horses.

Przewalski horses have short, stocky bodies and large heads. They stand about 13 hands (hand = 4 inches) at the shoulder and weigh between 550 and 750lbs. They are characterized by their brownish dun bodies and white underbellies, with dark muzzles and tails and a short, upright mane with no forlock (forehead hair). Visually they appear similar to the horses depicted on the walls of the Lascaux Caves which are around 17,000 years old.

Images from the Smithsonian
The horses went extinct in the wild due to interbreeding, hunting, and loss of habitat. There are now roughly 1,500 captive Przewalski Horses in the world, with cooperative breeding programs that work to manage the most genetic diversity possible, as all of the current living horses actually descend from about 15-20 individuals.They are one of 115 species that have ongoing Species Survival Plans under the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Reintroduction efforts have been ongoing for the past 20 years, with successful herds now appearing in Mongolia and China. Captive herds are also thriving, with one of the largest interestingly being kept in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, where wildlife reintroduction has been doing exceptionally well. Another captive herd, kept at the Calgary Zoo's Devonian Wildlife Conservation Center, recently welcomed three new foals to the group. (And they are currently running a contest to name them)

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