Scientific name: Equus ferus przewalskii
Conservation status: Critically Endangered
The przewalski’s horse is more stockily built than domesticated horses with its short muscular body. They have a beige to reddish-brown coat that is short in the summer and longer in the winter with a paler belly. They have a long dark stripe on their back. They are more pot bellied than domestic horses and have a short spiky mane. Przewalski’s horses have faintly striped legs and a long tail. The average length of the przewalski horse is 2.1 metres (6.9 ft) with the tail measuring about 90 cms (3 ft). They stand about 1.2 to 1.5 metres (4 to 4.8 ft) at shoulder height and weigh around 350 kgs (770 pounds).
The lifespan of the przewalski’s horse is 20 – 25 years.
Przewalski’s horses are herbivores and they eat grasses and other vegetation. They are grazers and will spend a lot of the day moving around eating grass.
Traditionally these horses were found from Manchuria to Spain. However their population dwindled and they were classified as extinct in the wild until 2008. Reintroductions were made into the wild from captive populations into China, Mongolia and Kazakstan in Asia, and they have now been reclassified as critically endangered. Their habitats include steppe (grassland habitats that undergo greater changes in season and temperature), grassy deserts and plains.
Females reach sexual maturity at around three years of age while the males will usually start to breed at about five years of age. Foals are born after an eleven month gestation period. The female will give birth to one foal and the foal must be up and moving with the group about 30 minutes after birth. The foal will stay with the group they were born into until they are sexually mature.
They are considered to be a wild horse because it is thought that they have never been successfully domesticated and able to be ridden. They live in two types of groups, harem and bachelor groups. Harem groups have up to 10 mares (females) and their offspring who are up to 3 years in age, led by one dominant stallion. When males become sexually mature they leave the harem group and join another one. When they are old enough to compete with the dominant stallion they get driven out of the group and join a small group of bachelors until they are mature enough to successfully compete for a harem group of their own. The groups stay in a range of 3 to 32 square kilometres (1 to 12 square miles) where they graze and rest together. They spend a lot of time grooming each other by nibbling at each others backs and sides. This serves two purposes, one is that they get a good scratch out of it and the other is that it helps to reinforce the social bonds within the group. Stallions practice a form of scent marking and will leave piles of dung along the routes that they travel so that they can warn other males of their presence. Also when a female urinates, the stallion will often urinate in the same place to signal her membership in the herd to other males. The stallions will often sniff the dung piles to confirm scent markings.
Przewalski’s horses have 66 chromosomes while domestic horses only have 64, the two can breed and produce offspring that have 65 chromosomes.
They have never been tamed for riding, which means that they are the last truly wild horse that is still in existence.
The Mongolian name for these horses is “takhi”, which means “spirit”. Takhi are a symbol of their national heritage.