Friday, July 12, 2013

Przewalski Horse

  Over the centuries and millennia, hundreds of horse breeds have resulted from mankind's influence. Some of these horses have escaped and are the ancestors of so-called "wild" horses. However, an animal is only truly wild if it has never been domesticated, or never has had any domesticated ancestors, unlike todays "wild" mustangs. Far away in Mongolia lies the only horse that fits the criteria: the Przewalski(sheh-VAL-skee).

 Scientists believe that it may even be another species of equine since it resembles the prehistoric eohippus than any other horse today. In fact, since it has remained untainted by human influence for millennia, or longer, they think it may even be a direct descendant of the ancient multi-toed equine.

  Around the year 1900, an animal trader gathered lots of Przewalski foals, shipping them to Europe. Many died along the way, leaving only 53 alive. After that, they were sent to zoos all over the continent. It was actually very fortunate that the breed was taken to Europe. About sixty years later, with the increase of agriculture, the horses were forced to retreat to the desert, where they became extinct due to inhospitable weather.

 In the seventies, Przewalski breed advocate became outrage at the breeding practices in zoos. Facilities rarely exchanged horses, so they began inbreeding the horses, which caused genetic diseases and a high foal mortality rate.

 Three people from the Netherlands made a huge effort to save the breed, establishing the Foundation for Preservation and Protection of the Przewalski Horse, hoping that someday they could reintroduce the breed into the wild. They started a studbook before strategically crossbreeding horses from different zoos prevent inbreeding.

 With the help from the WWF-Netherlands, they purchased several horses and released them into reserves in Germany and the Netherlands. Every year mares would foal and raise their own offspring, and the mortality rate decreased significantly.

 In 1992, the Przewalskis from different preservations were released into a 50,000 acre nature reserve in Mongolia, called Hustain Nuruu, where they have been ever since. Twenty years have passed, yet there are only 300 horses in the reserve, which is now a national park, and efforts to save the breed continue in other preserves in Mongolia and China.
Notice the markings on the legs and the
black hair on the ears. These are both
signs that Przewalski horses are much more like
their ancestor, the Eohippus, than other horses,
like Thoroughbreds, Paints, and Quarter Horses
are. They also have low-set tails, like donkeys.

 The Przewalski has fox colored coat with a light belly a mealy colored hair around the eyes and on the muzzle. It also has several primitive markings, such as black rimmed ears, a dorsal stripe, and zebra stripes on the legs. They stand 13 to 14 hands high. Przewalskis differ from today's horse by having 66 chromosomes, rather than 64. When mated with a horse, a Przewalski produces fertile offspring with 65 chromosomes, while a horse mated with a donkey(62 chromosomes) produces sterile offspring with 63 chromosomes.

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