Przewalski’s Horse

Przewalski’s horse once roamed throughout Europe and Asia, but today they are only found on reserves in Mongolia and China and in zoos around the world.

Przewalski’s horse is found in the Altai Mountains of western Mongolia. The horse once roamed throughout Europe and Asia, but today they are only found on reserves in Mongolia and China and in zoos around the world.

The first visual account of Przewalski’s-type wild horses date from more than 20,000 years ago. Rock engravings, paintings, and decorated tools dating from the late Gravetian to the late Magdalenian (20,000-9,000 BC), were discovered in caves in Italy, southern France, and northern Spain; 610 of these were horse figures. Many cave drawings in France show horses that look like Przewalski’s horse. In prehistoric times, the species probably roamed widely over the steppes of Central Asia, China, and Europe, although wild horses in Europe could have been tarpans (Equus ferus gmelini).

Until the late 18th century, Przewalski’s horse ranged from the Russian Steppes east to Kazakhstan, Mongolia and northern China. After this time, the species went into catastrophic decline. The last wild population of Przewalski’s horse survived until the mid-20th century in southwestern Mongolia and adjacent Gansu, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia, China. Wild horses were last seen in 1969, north of the Tachiin Shaar Nuruu in Dzungarian Gobi Desert in Mongolia.

Because the Przewalski’s horse’s historic range is not precisely known, there has been much debate about the areas in which the horses were last seen. Was it merely a refuge or was it representative of the typical/preferred habitat? The Mongolia Takhi Strategy and Plan Work Group of 1993 concluded that the historic range may have been wider but that the Dzungarian Gobi, where they were last seen, was not a marginal site to which the species retreated as they had access to the rich habitats of mountain valleys and more oases than in the present time, due to these areas being occupied by herders and their livestock. Although grass and water are more available in other parts of Mongolia, these areas often have harsher winters. Subsequently, others provided evidence that the Gobi is an edge habitat, rather than an optimal habitat for Przewalski’s horses, and certainly also subject to severe winters with devastating consequences for the population.

Image | © Josh More, Some Rights Reserved, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Sources | Denver Zoological Foundation, 1996; Kaczensky, et al., 2011; Kaczensky, Ganbaatar, von Wehrden, & Walzer, 2008; King, Boyd, Zimmermann, & Kendall, 2015; Luu, 2002; Mohr, 1971; Ryder, 1988


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