Przewalski's horse (Equus ferus przewalskii)

Also known as: Takh, Takhi
GenusEquus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 210 cm (2)
Tail length: 90 cm (2)
Weight350 kg (2)
Top facts

Przewalski's horse is classified as Endangered (EN) by the IUCN Red List (1), and is listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

Przewalski's horse (Equus ferus przewalskii) is the last true wild horse, and the only ancestor of the domestic horse that has survived to the present day (2). The common name refers to the Russian explorer Nikolai Przewalski who first discovered the subspecies in the 1870s (2). This wild horse has a stocky body with robust, short legs (2), a short neck and a powerful jaw (4). The back and sides are dun to greyish-brown in colour, the head has a mealy nose and there is a dark stripe along the back (5). These horses have erect manes with no forelock and only the lower part of the tail is covered with long black hair; the upper part of the dock having shorter, light coloured hairs (5).

Wild horses (Equus ferus) lived in Europe and Asia 10 to 15 thousand years ago before being pushed back to the furthest limits of their range (6). Przewalski's horse ended up in Asia and the final abode of the subspecies was in southwest Mongolia where the last wild specimen was recorded in 1968 (2). Subsequently, captive-bred individuals have been released in Mongolia (7), causing the IUCN to reassess the status of this species from Extinct in the Wild to Critically Endangered, and subsequently to Endangered (1).

Przewalski's horse occupies steppe vegetation and shrubland (6).

Przewalski's horse feeds on grasses and other plants, while in captivity it also takes hay and grain (4). Most of the day is spent foraging, as it feeds on food with a low nutritional content. In the wild, Przewalski's horse occurs in family groups led by a dominant stallion. Juveniles are ousted, and the males form their own bachelor groups before attempting to take over a band of females (6). In captivity, births occur in April or May but in the wild the season is later and more likely to be May or June (5). Gestation takes between 11 and 12 months and foals are able to stand as soon as one hour after birth (4). A week after giving birth, females come into heat and will mate again (5).

Habitat degradation, human activities including hunting and conflict, along with competition with domestic livestock for water and forage were all thought to be responsible for driving the extinction of Przewalski's horse in the wild in the 1960s (4). Thankfully, it has been possible to reintroduce this unique survivor into the wild. However, those reintroduced populations still face threats; primarily that of hybridisation with domestic horses, along with competition with domestic horses for resources (1).

After the subspecies became Extinct in the Wild, it clung on in a number of small populations in various zoos around the world. In 1977, the Foundation for the Preservation and Protection of the Przewalski's horse (FPPPH) was established in the Netherlands with the long-term aim of returning this ancient horse to the wild (6). At that time there were around 300 horses in zoos and parks and their breeding was managed in order to prevent inbreeding (6). In the 1990s, The Mongolian Association for Conservation of Nature and the Environment (MACNE) and the FPPPH collaborated to reintroduce a number of individuals in small herds into the Hustai National Park in central Mongolia (7). The national symbol was a welcome return to the area and part of an important drive to save the steppe biotope (6). Today, more than 120 Przewalski's horses live in Hustai and a further conservation programme run by the International Takhi Group (a consortium of European takhi breeding institutions) together with the Mongolian Commission for Endangered Species has introduced a further 50 horses to an area in the Dzungarian Gobi in Southwest Mongolia (5). The return of the Przewalski's horse to its natural environment is a success story for conservation and, despite ongoing problems, it is hoped that at least two large, self-sustained populations will soon be a reality (7).

For further information on the conservation of Przewalski's horse: 

Authenticated (07/05/02) by Inge Bouman. Chairman, FPPPH.

  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2012)
  2. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopaedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  3. CITES (July, 2009)
  4. Animal Diversity Web (April, 2002)$narrative.html
  5. Bouman, I. (2002) Pers. comm.
  6. Foundation for the Preservation and Protection of the Przewalski's Horse (September, 2009)
  7. The Takhi Story (April, 2002)