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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

Conservation

  • 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

Semi-Reserves

  • 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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