Today’s endangered animal looks hard to pronounce but it’s actually pretty simple. Przewalski is pronounced “shuh-VAL-skee”. Also known as the P-horse for short, or the Mongolian horse. Przewalski’s horse are the last true wild horses. All the “wild horses” you see in places like Australia and North American Great Plains are actually feral horses.The Mongolians refer to P-horses as “tahki” which means spirit. Spirits are generally worshiped so you don’t ride the P-horse, you don’t capture the P-horse and your certainly don’t kill the P-horse.
Przewalski’s horse looks like your average horse or even looks to be related to a donkey but their genetic makeup is quite a bit different. You see your average domestic horses have 64 chromosomes where the P-horse has 66 chromosomes. They are small and stocky compared to domestic horses ranging from 4.3 to 5 feet tall (1.3-1.5 meters) and weight about 550 to 800 pounds (250-360 kilograms). They are dun colored, which is a light gray tan with zebra like manes. Their bellies are paler than the rest of their body and they have dark lower legs.
Like zebra and donkeys, P-horse are monogastric herbivores. This means they have simple, single chambered stomachs. They digest through a process known as hind-gut fermentation and without going completely scientific on you, that basically means that their large intestine is where most of the fiber breakdown takes place where as humans, for example, the digestion takes place as soon as you put food in your mouth and by the time it reaches your intestines, it’s tiny particles. P-horses have a harem like social structure where you have the dominant, a harem of mares and and their offspring. Young stallions are not allowed to breed unless they can defeat the dominant so oftentimes you would see a group of young stallions together known as the “bachelor herd”. A P-horse life span is estimated to be about 36 years.
500,000 years ago, Przewalski’s horse roamed the continents of Europe and Asia. It is rumored that these horses have been around since the reign of Genghis Khan. The first recorded reference to this beautiful creature was in the year 900 by a Tibetan monk. After that, Genghis Khan recorded seeing them during his many conquests followed by a German writer in the 15th century who claimed to have seen one while he was in a Turkish prison. It wasn’t until 1878, when geographer and explorer Nikolai Przewalski was gifted a p-horse skull that they truly became discovered.
This was the beginning of an almost extinction. An animal exotic merchant got wind of this beastie and would hunt as man foals as possible. The problem became the hunters killing stallions while trying to take the foals which lead to the decrease in natural breeding. After World War II, the once thriving wild population was down to a staggering 32 individuals and by 1950 there were only 12 individuals left. Not only were hunters a problem but extremely harsh winters, agriculture and low genetic diversity was barreling this poor species straight into extinction.
Conservationists and zoologists, naturally, freaked. They began a studbook documenting the studs out of the 12 they were forced to capture who successfully brought offspring into the world. By 1965 the population rose to 134 individuals and by 1990 it was up to 1000 in captivity; a lot of it due to crossbreeding. It was decided that they would try to reintroduce the P-horse back into the wild.
Since the early 1990s, Przewalski’s horse has been upgraded from almost extinct to endangered. Population majority (the only wild herd) can be found in the steppes of Hustai National Park in Mongolia. Hunters are no longer a huge threat although there are still patrols of the protected areas. The largest threats to this species is animal hybridization. There are instances of the P-horse mating with domestic horses which dilutes the gene pool. There are also natural threats such as harsh winters, natural predation from wolf packs and disease. Conservationists are deeply researching reproduction habits and slowly keeping this animal from ever reaching almost extinction again.