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Przewalski's Horse (Equus ferus) Fact Sheet: Behavior & Ecology

Przewalski's Horse (Equus ferus)

Activity Cycle

(24-hour study of National Zoo harem at Front Royal in 1988)

  • <46% feeding
  • .5% drinking
  • 20.5% standing
  • 16% stand-resting
  • 2% self-grooming
  • 2% mutual grooming
  • 7% locomotion
  • 1% playing
  • 5% recumbency
  • Feeding peaked at night (68% between 2000-2400)
  • Recumbency peaked at night (most from 0000-0400)

Home Range

  • Few studies in the wild
  • Hustai National Park: 120-2,400 ha (King and Gurnell 2005)
  • Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area: 150-825 km² (Kaczensky et al. 2008).

Agonistic Behavior

Aggression

  • Snapping, champing, toothclapping – usually employed by young animals
  • When threatening or being threatened, ears are flattened against the skull, teeth exposed
  • Bite with ears back, neck extended
  • Kicking with hind legs
  • Chasing
  • Herding (snaking) – Usually by stallion to drive mares.
  • Head and neck may be moved in snake-like manner.
  • 2 stallions prance next to each other with necks arched
  • Dominant stallions within a herd will become aggressive with young males at approximately two years of age, at which point young males leave the harem group.
  • Rate of aggression increases when horses are confined in smaller areas.

 

Communication

Visual and tactile communication

  • Mutual grooming – partners stand in reverse parallel position.  Teeth are used to gently bite each others coat
  • Wild stallions subdue mares with ‘lightening’ bites to crest and occasionally legs.  May chase and then turn and kick with hind legs.  Can then control with a ‘glance’
  • When extremely angry (and prepared to fight), stallion lowers head until it almost touches the ground and circles mares or another stallion, looking up with a fierce expression
  • Dominant stallions within a herd will become aggressive with young males at approximately two years of age, at which point young males leave the harem group.
  • Rate of aggression increases when horses are confined in smaller areas.
  • In groups that have been part of reintroduction efforts, dominant stallions in harem groups take on leadership role, defending the herd against intruders and predators, and herding mares.
  • When threatening or being threatened, ears are flattened against the skull, teeth exposed

Vocalizations

  • Neighing
    • Indicates expectancy of food, water, another horse, etc.
  • Snorts
    • Frustration, fear, and nostril cleaning
    • Can be an ‘alarm call’
  • Grunting ‘laugh’
    • Given in encounters with aggression, by either the instigator or recipient.
    • Used by stallion in courtship. 
    • Sometimes punctuated with sharp squeal
  • Nicker
    • Given in care-seeking or care-offering situation

Olfactory Signals

  • Stallions smell urine and feces of mares in their harem groups to determine estrus. (flehmen)
  • Stallions exhibit marking behaviors and create stud piles to indicate territorial possession and harem possession to other stallions in the area.

One of the Herd

Przewalski's Horse: two adults and two foals

A herd of Pzrewalski's horses at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Dominant stallions protect herds from predators and intruders.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Note on behavior studies

  • Behavioral information comes mainly from populations in managed care settings.  Natural behavior of stallions has been compromised.
  • Projections of wild population behavior are made by studying feral horses and from limited information on reintroduction efforts.
  • Ethogram is published in Boyd & Houpt p. 196-208

Bouman (1986)
Boyd (1988)
Boyd & Houpt (1994)
Kaczensky et al. (2008)
King and Gurnell (2005)
Mohr (1971)

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