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

Przewalski's Horse (Equus ferus przewalskii)


Shelter behavior

  • Observed at night during winter and dawn/dusk during summer (Schlichting et al. 2020)
    • May also provide some refuge from biting flies

Fly avoidance

  • Observed to shift habitat use and increase comforting behaviors when flies are abundant (King and Gurnell 2010)
    • Reduced horses' feeding time

Research studies

  • 24-hours study at National Zoo harem at Front Royal in 1988
    • Activity budget
      • <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)
  • Kaleta et al. (2017) observed behavior of a small herd at Warsaw Zoo
    • Most common behaviors
      • Feeding
      • Locomotory
      • Resting
      • Comfort-seeking behaviors

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).

Social Behavior


  • Snapping, champing, tooth-clapping – usually employed by young animals
  • When threatening or being threatened, ears are flattened against the skull with teeth exposed
  • Bite with ears back, neck extended
  • Kick with hind legs
  • Chase
  • 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 when reach approximately 2 years of age
    • Young males then leave their natal harem group
  • May compete for valued resources, such as saltlicks (Gashchak and Paskevych 2019) or valued foods in managed care (Zharkikh and Andersen 2009)
  • Left eye/side agonistic and vigilance behavior bias observed by Austin and Rogers (2014) in a reserve-living herd in France
    • More pronounced in males and immature individuals


  • Collective movements
    • Start and stop movements together (Bourjade et al. 2009)
      • No one, consistent leader
        • Respond to behavior of departing individual(s)
      • Conflicts in group decision making tend to arise when changing activities or habitat areas
  • Dispersal
    • Females observed to disperse from natal group to new group formed by unfamiliar male (Tatin et al. 2009)

Herd dynamics

  • Bachelor male groups in managed care (findings from Zharkikh and Andersen 2009)
    • Spend time in close proximity to one another
      • Rarely observed singly
    • Larger herds form subgroups
      • Friendly behaviors indicate social bonding
      • Tolerant of juveniles of other subgroups


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
    • Then circles mares or another stallion
  • When threatening or being threatened, ears are flattened against the skull, teeth exposed
  • 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.


  • Neigh
    • Indicates expectancy of food, water, another horse, etc.
  • Snort
    • Frustration, fear, 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
    • Given when seeking social interaction (Maigrot et al. 2017)
    • Less commonly given when expecting food (Maigrot et al. 2017)
  • Squeal
    • Given during agonistic interactions (Maigrot et al. 2017)
    • Also given if in pain and during sexual behavior (Maigrot et al. 2017)
  • Whinny
    • Given in a variety of situations (Maigrot et al. 2017)
    • Most commonly given during social separation (Maigrot et al. 2017)
    • Given when expecting food (Maigrot et al. 2017)
    • Sometimes given during agonistic interactions (Maigrot et al. 2017)

Olfactory signals

  • Stallions smell urine and feces of mares in their harem groups to determine whether in estrus (flehmen)
  • Stallions exhibit marking behaviors (e.g., Zharkikh and Andersen 2009)
    • Create stud piles to indicate territorial possession and harem possession to other stallions in the area
    • Mark with urine

One of the Herd

Przewalski's Horse: two adults and two foals

Przewalski's horses at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

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 Wildlife Alliance. 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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