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

Przewalski's Horse (Equus ferus przewalskii)

Population Status

Population Size

  • Free-roaming and semi-wild populations
    • Approximately 1,200 individuals in Mongolia, China, and Russia (data as of 2019; Rademacher et al. 2020)
    • In 2011, IUCN lists as Critically Endangered (Boyd & King 2011)
      • One surviving mature individual remained in the wild at that time
  • Managed care populations
    • Approximately 640 individuals in zoo and other managed care populations (Rademacher et al. 2020)
    • Approximately 120 individuals in 21 AZA institutions (Rademacher et al. 2020)

Conservation Status

IUCN Status

  • Endangered (2014 assessment) (King et al. 2015)
  • Previous assessments
    • 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 from the 1960s up to the assessment in 1996

CITES Status

Threats to Survival

Extinction in the wild and reintroduction challenges (Boyd & Houpt 2004) (Boyd & King 2011)

  • History
    • Extensive hunting by Mongolians & Europeans in the 19th & 20th centuries
    • Early interbreeding with Mongolian domestic horses and inbreeding resulted in genetic mixing in managed care populations
    • Cultural & political changes after WWII
      • Hunting
      • Military activities
      • Climate change, harsh winters of 1945, 1948, and 1956
      • Rarity of water holes in remaining habitat
      • Competition with livestock
      • Land use pressure from humans
      • Collecting trips by westerners
    • Last recorded sightings in Dzungarian Gobi Desert, Mongolia 1969 (prior to reintroductions)
  • Causes of mortality among horses reintroduced in Mongolia and China
    • Hybridization with domestic horses; evolutionary genetics discussion in Der Sarkissian et al. (2015)
      • Also competition with horses and other livestock for resources (see Discussion in Kaczensky et al. (2017)
    • Conflict with herders over competition with domestic animals (Xia et al. 2014)
    • Infectious disease transmission from domestic horses
      • Equine piroplasmosis (Tarav et al. 2017)
        • A tick-transmitted disease endemic in Mongolia
          • Very high prevalence: > 80% of individuals (Tarav et al. 2017)
        • Young horses at risk of death due to infection (Tarav et al. 2017)
          • Important to consider in context of reintroductions
      • Granulocytic anaplasmosis (Sim et al. 2017)
        • Tick-transmitted disease resulting in lethargy, weakness, fever, reduced feeding
      • Infection by Streptococcus equi which causes strangles, a highly contagious infection of lymph nodes and upper respiratory tract
    • Habitat loss
      • Loss of high-quality winter pastures
      • Space area restrictions slow population growth (see Tatin et al. 2009)
      • Industrial development
        • Xia et al. (2014) report this as a significant cause of mortality in reintroduced herds to Kalamaili Nature Reserve, China
      • Illegal mining
    • Predation
      • Wolves
      • Hunting by humans
    • Other causes of mortality:
      • Trauma
      • Exhaustion
      • Urolithiasis, pneumonia
      • Birth complications
      • Attacks on foals by stallions

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, and 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
    • Manage about half of the global population
  • Genetic sequences quite different from domestic horses (Goto et al. 2011; Orlando et al. 2013; Der Sarkissian et al. 2015)
    • 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)
    • Little recent interbreeding between Przewalski's and domestic horses (Goto et al. 2011; Orlando et al. 2013)
  • Vegetation assessments used to inform where to reintroduce Przewalski's horses in the wild (e.g., Fedorov et al. 2018)

Reintroduction Projects

  • 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 
    • 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 20+ different institutions in 8+ countries
    • Khomiin tal (25,000 ha)
      • National Park in Western Gobi) Station Biologique du Tour du Valat WWF
  • China
    • Xinjiang — Kalameili Nature Reserve (1,700,000 ha)
      • Begun with 18 horses from European and American zoos
      • 2001: first reintroductions (Xia et al. 2014)
        • Managed during winter to increase access to food and prevent conflict with local herdsmen

Semi-reserves

  • 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

Reintroduction planning

  • Naundrup et al. (2015) examine climate and geographical factors for planning E. ferus (and E. ferus przewalskii) reintroductions

Still Recovering

Two Przewalski's horse standing on a hill

Few 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 Wildlife Alliance. 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)

SDZWA Library Links