|Scientific Name:||Equus ferus ssp. przewalskii|
|Species Authority:||Poliakov, 1881|
See Equus ferus
Equus przewalskii Poliakov, 1881
Current scientific review of the taxonomy of wild equids (Groves 1986) places Przewalski's Horse as a subspecies of the extinct Equus ferus. Although Przewalski's Horse (Equus ferus przewalskii) can hybridize with domestic horses (Equus ferus caballus) to produce fertile offspring (Ryder et al. 1978, Trommerhausen-Smith et al. 1979), the existence of 2n = 66 chromosomes in Przewalski's Horse identifies it as being more different from its domestic relatives (2n = 64) than are any two breeds of domestic horse (Ryder 1994). Furthermore, mitochondrial DNA research has shown that the Przewalski's Horse is not the ancestor of modern domestic horses (Vilà et al. 2001). Przewalski's Horse also show a number of consistent differences in their appearance as compared to domestic horse breeds: the mane is short and erect when in good body condition; forelocks are nearly nonexistent; the upper part of the tail has short guard hairs; a dark dorsal stripe runs from the mane down the spine to the tail; several dark stripes can be present on the carpus and generally the tarsus (Groves 1994). Przewalski's Horses grow a thick mane in winter, which contrary to domestic horses they shed each spring with the rest of their winter coat.
|Red List Category & Criteria:||Endangered D ver 3.1|
|Assessor(s):||King, S.R.B., Boyd, L., Zimmerman, W. & Kendall, B.E.|
|Reviewer(s):||Moehlman, P.D. & Kaczensky, P.|
Previously listed as Extinct in the Wild (EW) from the 1960s up to the assessment in 1996. The species was then reassessed as Critically Endangered (CR) due to at least one surviving mature individual in the wild. Successful reintroductions have qualified this species for reassessment. The population is currently estimated to consist of more than 50 mature individuals free-living in the wild for the past seven years. This taxon is threatened by small population size and restricted range, potential hybridization with domestic horses, loss of genetic diversity, and disease. As the population size is small, it is vulnerable to stochastic events such as severe weather. Equus ferus przewalskii qualifies as Endangered (EN) under Criterion D.
|Range Description:||Until the late 18th century, this species ranged from the Russian Steppes east to Kazakhstan, Mongolia and northern China. After this time, the species went into catastrophic decline. The last wild population of Przewalski’s Horse (Equus ferus przewalskii) survived until the mid-20th century in southwestern Mongolia and adjacent Gansu, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia (China). Wild horses were last seen in 1969, north of the Tachiin Shaar Nuruu in Dzungarian Gobi Desert in Mongolia (Paklina and Pozdnyakova 1989).
All extant wild horses belong to the subspecies Equus ferus przewalskii. The first visual account of Przewalski's-type wild horses date from more than 20,000 years ago. Rock engravings, paintings, and decorated tools dating from the late Gravetian to the late Magdalenian (20,000-9,000 BC), were discovered in caves in Italy, southern France, and northern Spain; 610 of these were horse figures (Leroi-Gourhan 1971). Many cave drawings in France show horses that look like Przewalski’s Horse (Mohr 1971). In prehistoric times, the species probably roamed widely over the steppes of Central Asia, China, and Europe (Ryder 1990), although wild horses in Europe could have been Tarpans (Equus ferus gmelini).
The first written accounts of Przewalski's Horse originate from Tibet, recorded by the monk Bodowa, who lived around 900 AD. In the "Secret History of the Mongols", there is also a reference to wild horses that crossed the path of Chinggis Khaan during his campaign against Tangut in 1226, causing his horse to rear and throw him to the ground (Bokonyi 1974). That the wild horse was a prestigious gift, denoting its rarity or that it was difficult to catch, is shown by the presentation of a Przewalski’s Horse to the emperor of Manchuria by Chechen-Khansoloj-Chalkaskyden, an important Mongolian, circa 1630 (Zevegmid and Dawaa 1973). In a Manchurian dictionary of 1771, Przewalski’s Horse is mentioned as "a wild horse from the steppe" (Dovchin 1961).
Przewalski's Horse was not described in Linnaeus's "Systema Naturae" (1758) and remained largely unknown in the West until first mentioned by John Bell, a Scottish doctor who travelled in the service of Tsar Peter the Great in 1719-1722 (Mohr 1971). His account of the expedition, "A Journey from St Petersburg to Peking", was published in 1763. Bell and subsequent observers all located horses known at that time within the area of 85-97°E and 43-50°N (Chinese-Mongolian border). Wild horses were reported again from what is now China by Colonel Nikolai Mikailovich Przewalski, an eminent explorer, at the end of the 19th century. He made several expeditions by order of Tsar Alexander the Second of Russia to Central Asia, aiming to reach Tibet. While returning from his second expedition in Central Asia, he was presented with the skull and hide of a horse shot about 80 km north of Gutschen (in present-day China, around 40°N, 90°E). The remains were examined at the Zoological Museum of the Academy of Science in St Petersburg by I.S. Poliakov, who concluded that they were a wild horse, which he gave the official name Equus przewalskii (Poliakov 1881). Further reports came from the brothers Grigory and Michael Grum-Grzhimailo, who travelled through western China from 1889-1890. In 1889, they discovered a group in the Gashun area and shot four horses: three stallions and a mare. The four hides and the skulls of the three stallions, together with an incomplete skeleton, were sent back to the Zoological Museum in St. Petersburg. They were able to observe the horses from a short distance and gave the following account: "Wild horses keep in bands of no more than ten, each herd having a dominant stallion. There are other males, too, but they are young and, judging by the hide of the two-year old colt that we killed, the dominant male treats them very cruelly. In fact, the hide showed traces of numerous bites" (Grum-Grzhimailo 1982).
After the 'rediscovery' of the Przewalski's Horse for western science, western zoos and wild animal parks became interested in this species for their collections. Several long expeditions were mounted to catch animals. Some expeditions came back empty-handed and some had only seen a glimpse of wild Przewalski's Horses. It proved difficult to catch adult horses, because they were too shy and fast. Capture of foals was considered the best option as when chased they would become exhausted and lag behind their group (Hagenbeck 1909), although this may have involved killing adult harem members in the process (Bouman and Bouman 1994). Four expeditions that managed to catch live foals took place between 1897 and 1902. Fifty-three of these foals reached the west alive. Between the 1930s and the 1940s only a few Przewalski's Horses were caught and most died. One mare (Orlitza III) was caught as a foal in 1947 and was the last wild mare to contribute to the Przewalski's Horse gene pool in Europe. In Mongolia several Przewalski's Horses were captured and crossbred with domestic horses by the Mongolian War Ministry (Bouman and Bouman 1994).
In subsequent years the captive population increased, and since the 1990s reintroduction efforts have started in Mongolia and China; Mongolia was the first country where truly wild reintroduced populations existed within the historic range. Reintroductions in Mongolia began in the Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area in the Dzungarian Basin (9,000 km2) and Hustai National Park in Mongol Daguur Steppe (570 km2) in 1994 (King and Gurnell 2005). A third reintroduction site, Khomintal, (2,500 km2), in the Great Lakes Depression, was established in 2004, as a buffer zone to the Khar Us Nuur National Park in Valley of the Lakes (C. Feh pers. comm.). Releases began in the Kalamaili Nature Reserve (17,330 km2), Xinjiang Province, China in 2001 and in the Dunhuang Xihu National Nature Reserve (6,600 km2), Gansu Province, China in 2010 (Liu et al. 2014), although almost all of these animals are corralled and fed in winter (Qing Cao pers. comm.). Further reintroduction sites are planned in Kazakhstan and Russia (W. Zimmerman pers. comm.).
Regionally extinct:Kazakhstan; Russian Federation; Ukraine
|Range Map:||Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.|
The history of population estimates and trends in the Przewalski's Horse has been described by Wakefield et al. (2002). Small groups of horses were reported through the 1940s and 1950s in an area between the Baitag-Bogdo ridge and the ridge of the Takhin-Shaar Nuruu (which translated from Mongolian, means 'Yellow Mountain of the Wild Horse'), but numbers appeared to decline dramatically after World War II. The last confirmed sighting in the wild was made in 1969 by the Mongolian scientist N. Dovchin. He saw a stallion near a spring called Gun Tamga, north of the Takhin-Shaar Nuruu, in the Dzungarian Gobi (Paklina and Pozdnyakova 1989). Subsequent annual investigations by the Joint Mongolian-Soviet Expedition failed to find conclusive evidence for their survival in the wild (Ryder 1990). Chinese biologists conducted a survey in northeastern Xinjiang from 1980 to 1982 (covering the area of 88-90°E and 41°31'-47°10'N) without finding any horses (Gao and Gu 1989). The last native wild populations had disappeared.
|Habitat and Ecology:||
Przewalski’s Horses exhibit a harem defense polygyny (Van Dierendonck et al. 1996). After dispersing from their natal band at approximately 2 years of age, males enter bachelor groups consisting of other young males and unsuccessful older stallions. When they are five years of age or older, stallions attempt to form harems of semi-permanent membership that are held year-round. They take over already-established harems, steal mares from rivals, or are joined by females dispersing from their natal harem at approximately two to three years of age (L. Boyd pers. comm.; Zimmermann et al. 2009).
|Use and Trade:||There is currently no use or trade in Przewalski's Horses. Hunting is not currently a threat to the species, though this needs to be monitored. It is believed that capture of animals for cross-breeding as racehorses is a potential future use, and threat.|
A number of causes have been cited for the final extinction of Przewalski's Horses in Mongolia and China. Among these are significant cultural and political changes (Bouman and Bouman 1994), hunting (Zhao and Liang 1992, Bouman and Bouman 1994), military activities (Ryder 1993), climatic change (Sokolov et al. 1992), and competition with livestock and increasing land use pressure (Sokolov et al. 1992, Ryder 1993, Bouman and Bouman 1994). Capture expeditions probably diminished the remaining Przewalski's Horse populations by killing and dispersing the adults (Van Dierendonck and de Vries 1996). The harsh winters of 1945, 1948, and 1956 probably had an additional impact on the small population (Bouman and Bouman 1994). Increased pressure on, and rarity of waterholes in their last refuge should also be considered as a significant factor contributing to their extinction (Van Dierendonck and de Vries 1996).
For the reintroduced populations, small population size and limited spatial distribution is the primary threat, followed by potential hybridization with domestic horses and competition for resources with domestic horses and other livestock. Wherever Przewalski's Horses come into contact with domestic horses, there is the risk of hybridization and transmission of diseases. Recently, illegal mining in the protected areas is an additional threat to their viability. In Hustai NP it has been noted that overgrazing of the buffer-zone and continued pressure on the reserve are possible consequences of the enhanced economic activity in this area (Bouman 1998); however, the second phase of the project (1998-2003) paid much more attention to sustainable development of the buffer-zone. In the western section of the Great Gobi B SPA livestock grazing by nomads and military personnel continues, particularly in fall, winter and spring; however, the core zone is largely free from human influence all year round. Infectious diseases transmitted from domestic horses and their parasites, notably Babesia equi, B. caballi and strangles (infection by Streptococcus equi), are a major threat to small reintroduced populations originating from zoos (Roberts et al. 2005, King and Gurnell 2005). As was observed during 2009/2010, severe winters can result in significant mortality. While predation occurs naturally as for any wild ungulate, if excessive there could be impacts on this small population.
There is concern over loss of genetic diversity after being reduced to a very small population and maintained in captivity for several generations. Sixty per cent of the unique genes of the studbook population have been lost (Ryder 1994). Loss of founder genes is irretrievable and further losses must be minimized through close genetic management. Furthermore, inbreeding depression could become a population-wide concern as the population inevitably becomes increasingly inbred (Ballou 1994). However, correct management of the population can slow these losses significantly, as has been achieved since the organization of the regional captive-breeding programs. Fortunately, Przewalski's Horses have been shown to have both higher nuclear and mitochondrial nucleotide diversity than many domestic horse breeds in spite of the population bottlenecks they have experienced (Goto et al. 2011).
At the ‘Endangered Wild Equid Workshop’ held in Ulaanbataar in 2010 the following threats were identified:Loss of population due to stochastic events (i.e. severe winter);
Specific actions needed for each threat category were identified and described.
Przewalski's Horse is legally protected in Mongolia. It is protected as Very Rare under part 7.1 of the Law of the Mongolian Animal Kingdom (2000). Hunting has been prohibited since 1930, and the species is listed as Very Rare under the 1995 Mongolian Hunting Law (MNE 1996). It is listed as Critically Endangered in both the 1987 and 1997 Mongolian Red Books (Shagdarsuren et al. 1987, MNE 1997), and in the Regional Red List for Mongolia (Clark et al. 2006). The taxon's re-introduced range in Mongolia is almost entirely within protected areas. It is listed on CITES Appendix I (as Equus przewalskii).
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|Citation:||King, S.R.B., Boyd, L., Zimmerman, W. & Kendall, B.E. 2015. Equus ferus ssp. przewalskii. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 01 July 2015.|