Mongolia is a nation that's readily associated with the name Genghis Khan, a historic Mongol emperor who formed the largest contiguous empire in the world. It is also home to Przewalski's horses, the last remaining species of true wild horses. Named after the Russian explorer who first described the breed back in the 19th century, N. M. Przewalski, these horses used to inhabit the steppe, plains and shrublands along the border of China and Mongolia where they fed on grasses and other types of vegetation.
Przewalski's horses are known to be the last true wild horses because unlike other breeds of wild horses like the famous American Mustangs which are descendants of domesticated horses that have escaped and then adapted to living and surviving in the wild, they've never been domesticated and trained for riding. It's safe to say that these horses were probably not the same ones that Genghis Khan and his men rode into battle.
Przewalski's horses have a short, stocky body and are somewhat smaller compared to other domesticated horses. Their coat color ranges from a reddish-brown to a dun hue with a paler underbelly, and the coat is shorter during summertime and grows longer and thicker during winter. They have a white muzzle, dark tail, a stripe on their dorsal side, stripes on the legs, and a mane that looks like a mohawk.
In addition, Przewalski's horses have thicker sole horns compared to other horses which translates to better performance of the hooves. It stands at around 122 to 142 centimeters or 48 to 56 inches with a body length of about 6 feet 11 inches.
These horses usually live in small groups composed of an alpha male, a few mares, and their offspring. Offspring will eventually leave the group when they are no longer dependent. Sometimes family groups combine to form a larger herd.
Conservation and Rescue Efforts
At the moment, Przewalski's horses are listed as critically endangered. But that's a considerable improvement given the fact that they are listed as extinct in the wild up to 2008 by the World Conservation Union's Red List of Threatened Species. There are a number of factors that led to their near-extinction including climate and habitat changes, loss of access to viable water supply and hunting.
Amazingly, all Przewalski's horses alive today descended from a few captive horses back in 1945. Since then, efforts to bring their numbers up have been quite successful as evidenced by the increase to more than 1,500 horses during the 1990's.
Several horses have already been returned to their native homeland of Mongolia. A mission known as the Return of Wild Horses project transported a group of four horses this July thanks to a collaboration between the Czech Army and the Prague Zoo. The four mares all came from different places, namely the Czech Republic, France, Germany and Hungary, and this has been the mission's fourth transport since its launch back in 2011.
The horses now run wild and free on Takhin Tal Nature Reserve, Nuruu National Park, Khomiin Tal Reserve, and Khar Us Nuur National Park. With the continued success of the Return of Wild Horses project and the dedication of the men and women behind Przewalski's horses' breeding program, many more individuals will finally be able to return home to Mongolia and flourish.