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Przewalski's Horse (Equus ferus) Fact Sheet: Population & Conservation Status

Przewalski's Horse (Equus ferus)

Population Status

Current Population Size

  • As of 2014, about 180 individuals (King et al. 2015)
    • Following reintroduction efforts
  • In 2011, the species reassessed as Critically Endangered Category D (Population size estimated to number fewer than 250 mature individuals). (Boyd & King 2011)
    • One surviving mature individual remained in the wild
    • Reintroduction eventually yeilded more than 50 mature individuals living in the wild since 2006
  • IUCN classified as extinct in 1996
  • 2004 Studbook lists more than 1500 animals in managed care (94 participating institutions)
  • 60% of unique genes of the studbook population have been lost
  • Main threats to managed care populations and reintroduction efforts are loss of founder genes & inbreeding depression.

Conservation Status

IUCN Status

  • Endangered (2014 assessment) (King et al. 2015)
    • 2011: Endangered
    • 2008: Critically Endangered
      • Status changed due to one surviving mature individual in the wild
    • 1996: Extinct in the Wild
      • Previously listed as Extinct in the Wild (EW) from the 1960s up to the assessment in 1996

CITES Status


Threats to Survival

Causes That Lead to Extinction in the Wild (Boyd & Houpt 2004) (Boyd & King 2011)

  • Extensive hunting by Mongolians & Europeans in the 19th & 20th centuries.
  • Early inter-breeding with Mongolian domestic horses and inbreeding resulted in impure bloodlines in managed care populations.
  • Cultural & political changes after WW II: 
    • Hunting
    • Military activities
    • Climate change, harsh winters of 1945, 1948,and 1956
    • Rarity of water holes in last remaining habitat
    • Competition with livestock
    • Land use pressure from humans
    • Collecting trips by westerners
  • Last recorded sightings in Dzungarian Gobi Desert, Mongolia 1969
  • Causes of mortality among horses reintroduced in Mongolia
    • Primary threat is hybridization with domestic horses plus competition with horses and other livestock for resources
    • Infectious disease transmission from domestic horses
      • Equine piroplasmosis (a tick-transmitted disease endemic in the region
      • Infection by Streptococcus equi which causes strangles, a highly contagious infection of lymph nodes and upper respiratory tract
    • Wolf predation
    • Illegal mining
    • Other causes of mortality:
      • Trauma
      • Exhaustion
      • Urolithiasis, pneumonia,
      • Abortion and stillbirth.

Management Actions


  • First International Symposium on the Preservation of the Przewalski’s Horse organized by Prague Zoo in 1959.
    •   More symposia in 1965, 1976, 1980, & 1990, 1999
  • By 1979, there were 385 horses in 75 institutions in Europe North America and Cuba
  • In 1979, North American breeders formed the first Species Survival Plan
  • Cooperative breeding programs have now been adopted in Europe, Australasia and Russia,
    • They manage about half of the global population and almost all of the surviving founder genes.
  • Worthy of conservation efforts: genetically different from domestic horses and viable as a species
    • Genetic sequences quite different from domestic horses (Goto et al. 2011; Orlando et al. 2013)
    • No recent interbreeding between Przewalski's and domestic horses, according to comparison of complete genomic sequences (Orlando et al. 2013)
      • Note: earlier study did suggest some interbreeding in ancient times (Goto et al. 2011)
    • High level of genetic variation, similar to domestic horses, despite genetic "bottleneck" that caused severe reduction in numbers during the Ice Ages (Orlando et al. 2013)

Reintroduction Projects

  • Definition: program to re-establish a self-sustaining free-ranging population in an area that is part of an animal's historic range (Zimmerman 2005, 2011)
  • Approximately 306 free-ranging reintroduced and native-born Przewalski’s horses in Mongolia as of 2011 (Zimmerman 2011)
    • Mongolia – Hustain Nuruu (50,000 ha) Begun by Netherlands Govt. in Mongolia. Populated by takhis from the Dutch Foundation for the Preservation and Protection of the Przewalski Horse 
    • Mongolia – Gobi B (881,000 ha National Park) Begun by Mongolian Govt & Christian Oswald Foundation of Germany.  Populated by takhis from Askania Nova, and Australia.  Now supported by WAZA with takhi’s coming from 24 different institutions in 8 countries. 
    • Mongolia – Khomiin tal (25,000 ha National Park in Western Gobi) Station Biologique du Tour du Valat WWF
    • China – Kalameili (1,700,000 ha) Begun with 18 horses from European and American Zoos – Cologne Zoo, EEP, Smithsonian Institution


  • Definition: fenced area with natural vegetation, in which a small number of animals can be kept without supplemental feeding (Zimmerman 2005)
  • U.K. – Eelmoor Marsh ( 66 ha - Marwell Zoo)
  • Germany – Sprakel (68 ha – Cologne Zoo)
  • Austria – Neusiedeler See (300 ha National Park – Tierpark, Schonbrunn, Wien)
  • Hungary – Hortobagy:  Named “Pentezug – (2,400 ha National Park – Cologne Zoo)
  • France – Le Villaret: Swiss-born, behavioral ecologist, Claudia Feh acquired 11 horses from European zoos and established TAKH. Partners with WWF-France ( 55 horses)
  • Ukraine – Askania Nova (2000 ha) and Chernobyl (207,000 ha) Ukraine Government
  • Usbekistan – Bukhara (5,126 ha – Zoo Moscow)
  • Kazakhstan - Altyn Emel (520,000 ha National Park – Munich and Nurnberg Zoos
  • China – Gansu (6,700 ha) Munich Zoo

Still Recovering

Two Przewalski's horse standing on a hill

Only 50 or so mature Przewalski's horses live in the wild.

Managed care breeding and reintroduction efforts have helped the recovery of this species.

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

Page Citations

Boyd & Houpt (2004)
Boyd & King (2011)
Breining (2006)
Gato et al. (2011)
King et al. (2015)
Moehlman (2005)
Robert (2005)
Ryder (1993)
Wakefield (2006)
Zimmerman (2005)

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