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