Przewalski’s Horses: Born to Be Wild

The Askaniya-Nova Biosphere Reserve in the Kherson Oblast of Ukraine is home to what is believed to be the world’s largest captive group of Przewalski’s horses. Also known as Asian wild horses and Mongolian wild horses, Przewalski’s horses (Equus ferus przewalskii) are the last true wild horses in the world*. Although the majority of the population of around 1500 live in reserves and zoos and can therefore be classed as captive, they have never been domesticated. Przewalski’s horses are listed as endangered by the IUCN – the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Przewalski’s horses have short, stocky bodies and are smaller than most breeds of domestic horses, standing at a height of between 122 and 142 centimeters at the shoulder. They weigh anything between 200 and 340 kilograms. Their coats are reddish-brown to beige and are thick and long in winter. In the summer months they shed their winter coats and have shorter hair for the warmer weather. They have pale colored bellies and white muzzles. Their manes are dark and stand upright from between their ears to between their shoulder blades.

Family groups of Pzrewalski’s horses consist of a dominant stallion and a number of females and foals. Young males live in bachelor groups until they reach maturity and start their own family group. Following a gestation period of eleven to twelve months, females give birth to a single foal. Among the threats facing these wild horses today are the loss of genetic diversity necessary for strong, healthy offspring. Problems that led to their numbers dwindling include hunting, loss of habitat and competing with domestic animals for resources.

Przewalski’s horses are named after the Russian explorer N.M. Przewalski who discovered and described them scientifically in the late 19th century. These beautiful horses once roamed freely along the steppes of the Mongolia-China border. Through various conservation and breeding programs, they are being reintroduced in areas they had disappeared from. However, visitors are very likely to see herds of Przewalski’s horses while exploring the Askaniya-Nova Biosphere Reserve in Ukraine.

* So-called, ‘wild’ horses in other parts of the world were not originally wild, but rather have become feral by adapting to the wild from being domesticated.

Picture attribution: Ludovic Hirlimann (Wikimedia Commons)