It has been reported that the once nearly lost Przewalski’s horse, the only remaining true wild horse species, is gradually returning to the Steppes of Mongolia. This is because of aggressive breeding programs that have been carried out over the years. Just a few years ago, the Chinese and Mongolian governments confined the species to the reserves and zoos with the fear of it becoming extinct. Though there are other wild horse species such as the Australian Brumby and the American Mustang, research shows that the two species have descended from the domesticated horses. It is for this reason that Przewalski’s horse is regarded as the only true wild horse species. It is reported that there are currently 2,000 Przewalski’s horse worldwide with about 350 of them living in Mongolian reserves bred from only 12 horses that survived.
Horse Like No Other
Przewalski’s horses are much smaller in size compared to the domesticated horse, and they stand at around shoulder’s height of average person. They are more muscular and have a mane that is short and stands straight up. This distinctive “haircut” and small size make them look quite unique and a horse like no other. It comes at no surprise that they are considered symbolic and sacred to the Mongolian people, and were once honored as the spiritual couriers.
Causes of Near Extinction
The near extinction is dates back to the 1960's, triggered by such factors as:
- The harsh weather of the Mongolian Steppes, especially during winter
- Encroachment of human settlements, which led to clearing of the vegetation for farming and settlement slowly diminishing the habitats for the wild Przewalski’s horses and leading to their near disappearance.
These factors led to only 12 of the true wild horses surviving. It was then that the IUCN listed the species as extinct.
While the species has started returning to the wild, the Przewalski’s horse still faces big threats to their long-term survival. One very real issue is that the descendants who recently returned to the wilderness are currently susceptible to inbreeding diseases. There is a risk that the horses can breed themselves out upon mating with the feral horses that draw origins from domesticated stock. Studies have revealed that Przewalski’s horses are a different species from the domesticated horses, and it is for this reason that the two animals shouldn’t interbreed. The two just branched off 45,000 years ago, which is considered recent on evolutionary scale.
The other problem these horses will face is having to survive on the Mongolian Steppes. They have to withstand the harsh winters of Mongolia, which is even worse for those of them who got used to living in the controlled environments of zoos and reserves.
Despite the current potential risks, is argued that the Przewalski’s horse might have a fighting chance to return to the wild.
The Lessons Learned
It is important that governments, conservancies, research institutions, and everyone else learns from Przewalski’s horses scenario so that we do not give up on any species. No species deserves to be abandoned to extinction if there is at least one breeding pair present. The 2,000 wild horses came to this world out of 12 horses that survived the extinction. We should help them fight for their place under the sun so we can all enjoy beautiful diversity on our planet.
Image Credit: Smithsonian's National Zoo via Flickr Creative Commons