Range:

Traditionally from Manchuria to Spain. Reintroduced populations have been started in China, Mongolia, and Kazakstan

Habitat:

Steppe, grassy deserts, and plains

Wild things!

How do you say Przewalski's horse? It's quite a tongue twister for most Americans! It is pronounced either "sheh-VAHL-skee" or "per-zhuh-VAHL-skee" or even "PREZ-VAHL-skee," depending on the speaker. It is also known as the Asiatic wild horse, or Mongolian wild horse. No matter what you call it, the Przewalski's horse is the closest living relative of the domestic horse. Like its cousins the zebra and the wild ass, all horses are in the family Equidae.

A horse, of course!

Regardless of their classification, Przewalski's horses are very definitely horses. They are stocky, short, and pot-bellied in comparison with their domestic and wild cousins, with a spiky mane like a zebra and striped legs like the Somali wild ass. Coats vary in coloration, but all Przewalski's horses have a light belly and darker back, with a long, dark, stripe on the back from the withers to the base of the tail.

Unlike their horsey cousins, though, Przewalski's horses don't have the lock of hair on the forehead, called forelocks. The pony-like head is rectangular and large in comparison with the rest of the body, and the ears are darkly rimmed.

Przewalski’s horses weren't scientifically described until 1881 when army officer Nikolai Przewalski obtained a skull and hide of this rarely seen animal and shared them with scientists at a museum in St. Petersburg.
Przewalski's horses have 66 chromosomes, whereas domestic horses carry only 64. The two can breed and produce offspring that have 65 chromosomes.
According to folk tales, Mongolians consider Przewalski’s horses to be the riding mounts of the gods and therefore call them “takhi,” which means "spirit" or "holy."
Horses are a central part of Mongolian culture, where Przewalski's horses are a symbol of the national heritage and culture.
Cave paintings 30,000 years old found in Spain and France depict a stocky wild horse with Przewalski's horse features.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park has a herd of Przewalski's horses.

Galloping ghosts
Wild horses roamed throughout Asia and Europe 20,000 to 30,000 years ago until late into the 19th century! Human populations were small until only a few hundred years ago and didn't have much of an impact on the horses. Przewalski's horses are native to a habitat called the steppe. Until 15,000 years ago, this immense and hardscrabble, sparse grassland habitat stretched from the east coast of Asia to present-day Spain and Portugal.

After the last Ice Age, however, the steppe gave way to woods and forests to which the Przewalski's horses weren't well adapted. By the 19th century the few animals that remained were confined to Mongolia, southern Russia, and Poland.
In the early 20th century, farmers and livestock took over good grazing lands, forcing the wild horses into areas that weren't suitable for human use.

Wealthy aristocrats and westerners were also fascinated by the unusual wild horses and captured foals to keep as pets. Wild horses were spotted in Mongolia into the 1980s. They became extinct in the wild about that same time.
Luckily, a small number of Przewalski's horses remained, scattered about in various zoos around the world. All Przewalski's horses alive today are descendants of 14 horses captured at the beginning of the 20th century.

Reintroduction efforts
In 1977, the Foundation for the Preservation and Protection of the Przewalski's Horse was founded, and an exchange of animals between zoos throughout the world was started. In 1992, 16 horses were released into the wild in Mongolia, in an area that was later designated as Hustai National Park. As of 2005, the world's population of Przewalski's horses was about 1,500 animals, with 250 of those being free-ranging.

New zoo-bred horses continue to be introduced to the wild population, now located in four reserves in Mongolia and Kazahkstan, as well as the Kalameili Reserve in northern China.

Join us!
You can help us bring Przewalski's horses and other species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.