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Przewalski's horse facts for kids

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Przewalski's horse
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Perissodactyla
Family: Equidae
Genus: Equus
Subgenus: Equus
Species: E. ferus
Subspecies: E. f. przewalskii
Trinomial name
Equus ferus przewalskii
(Poliakov, 1881)
Range map

Przewalski's horse (Equus przewalskii or E. ferus przewalskii), the Mongolian wild horse, is a close relative of the domestic horse. The two are the only equids that can cross-breed and produce fertile offspring. Przewalski's horse is a rare and endangered subspecies of the wild horse, Equus ferus. It is native to the steppes of central Asia, especially Mongolia.

At one time extinct in the wild, it has been reintroduced to its native habitat in Mongolia from stock in zoos. It is now in several nature reserves and national parks. As of 2002, the world population of these horses was about 1,000.

Characteristics

Przewalski horse skull 01
Skull, photographed at the Brno museum.

Przewalski's horse is stockily built in comparison to domesticated horses, with shorter legs. Typical height is about 12–14 hands (48–56 inches, 122–142 cm), length is about 2.1 m (6 ft 11 in). They weigh around 300 kilograms (660 lb). The coat is generally dun in color with pangaré features, varying from dark brown around the mane (which stands erect) to pale brown on the flanks and yellowish-white on the belly and around the muzzle. The legs of Przewalski's horse are often faintly striped, also typical of primitive markings. The tail is about 90 cm (35.43 in) long, with a longer dock and shorter hair than seen in domesticated horses.

The hooves of Przewalski's horse are longer in the back and have significantly thicker sole horns than feral horses. This is beneficial, as it improves the performance of the hooves.

The Przewalski's horse has 66 chromosomes, compared to 64 in all other horse species.

Ecology and behavior

Equus przewalskii Le Villaret 02 2006-07-20
Przewalski's horses

In the wild, Przewalski's horses live in small, permanent family groups consisting of one adult stallion, one to three mares, and their common offspring. Offspring stay in the family group until they are no longer dependent, usually at two or three years old. Bachelor stallions, and sometimes old stallions, join bachelor groups. Family groups can join together to form a herd that moves together.

The patterns of their daily lives exhibit horse behavior similar to that of feral horse herds. Stallions herd, drive, and defend all members of their family, while the mares often display leadership in the family. Stallions and mares stay with their preferred partners for years. While behavioral synchronization is high among mares, stallions other than the main harem stallion are generally less stable in this respect.

Home range in the wild is little studied, but estimated as 1.2-24 km2 in the Hustai National Park and 150-825 km2 in the Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area.

Horses maintain visual contact with their family and herd at all times, and have a host of ways to communicate with one another, including vocalizations, scent marking, and a wide range of visual and tactile signals. Each kick, groom, tilt of the ear, or other contact with another horse is a means of communicating. This constant communication leads to complex social behaviors among Przewalski's horses.

Diet

Przewalski horse's diet consists mostly of vegetation. Many plant species are in a typical Przewalski's horse environment, including: Elymus repens, Carex spp., Fabaceae, and Asteraceae. While the horses eat a variety of different plant species, they tend to favor one species during a specific time of the year. In other words, Przewalski's horses have seasonal food preferences. In the springtime, they favor Elymus repens, Corynephorus canescens, Festuca valesiaca, and Chenopodium album. In early summer, they favor Dactylis glomerata and Trifolium, and in late summer, they gravitate towards E. repens and Vicia cracca. In winter, for example, the horses eat Salix spp., Pyrus communis, Malus sylvatica, Pinus sylvestris, Rosa spp., and Alnus spp. Additionally, Przewalski's horses may dig for Festuca spp., Bromus inermis, and E. repens that grow beneath the ice and snow. Their winter diet is very similar to the diet of domestic horses. In the wintertime, Przewalski's horses experience hypodermis, a condition in which one's metabolic rate slows down. They eat their food more slowly than they do during other times of the year. Looking at the species diet overall, however, Przewalski's horses most often eat E. repens, Trifolium pratense, Vicia cracca, Poa trivialis, Dactylis glomerata, and Bromus inermis.

Relationships between horses

Most "wild" horses today, such as the American mustang or the Australian brumby, are feral horses descended from domesticated animals which escaped and adapted to life in the wild. In contrast, Przewalski's horse has never been successfully domesticated, and remains a truly wild animal today.

Przewalski's horse is one of three known subspecies of Equus ferus, the others being the domesticated horse, Equus ferus caballus and the extinct tarpan, Equus ferus ferus. Przewalski's horse is the only remaining truly wild "horse" in the world. There are still a number of other wild equines, including three species of zebra and various subspecies of the African wild ass, onager (including the Mongolian wild ass) and kiang.

Relation to domestic horse

Although Przewalski's horse can hybridize with domestic horses to produce fertile offspring, it has an extra pair of chromosomes.

"Mitochondrial DNA research has shown that Przewalski's horse is not the ancestor of modern domestic horses. [There are] a number of consistent differences in their appearance. Przewalski's horses, unlike domestic horses, shed their tail and mane hair once per year. Thus it is clear that Przewalski's and domestic horses are very closely related and have in the past interbred, but the fixed chromosomal number difference between them indicates that they are distinct populations".

In zoos

According to ISIS, about 480 Przewalski's were reported in captivity.

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