Przewalski's horse, Equus ferus przewalskii, a small horse whose close cousins adorned prehistoric walls in Europe between 30,000 and 9,000 BC, share a common ancestor with our domesticated horses.
Mammilia, Perissodactyla, Equidae
1.40 m at the shoulder; 350 kg at the most
11 months, one baby
Way of life
Przewalski's horses live in small family clans made up of an adult stallion, one to three mares and their offspring; young males who have not been able to form a harem group together and must respect the rules set by their hierarchy: the alpha has priority access to water sources and grasses with high nutritional value.
From an early age, the horses learn to respect this hierarchy by way of games that simulate fighting (kicking, biting, chasing, etc.). Although they are gregarious creatures, the horses respect each other’s personal space: crossing this space is perceived as an aggression and can lead to somewhat violent clashes. Nevertheless, the group always remains in contact as moving too far apart from each other could put the horses in danger when it comes to possible predators.
The Przewalski's horse is recognisable by its small size, its isabelline coat colour, its stripe, its relatively large head, its thick neck and a short and erect mane, with no toupee between its ears!
It also has 66 chromosomes while domesticated horses have 64!
Man has never been able to domesticate this fiery horse.
The horse was thought to have disappeared, until it was “rediscovered” by a Russian explorer, Colonel Przewalski, in 1879. Competition with domesticated species and hunting led to its extinction in the wild at the end of the 1960s. At the beginning of the 20th century, following an epic capture in their natural environment, several dozen horses arrived in zoos. Three of them came to the Ménagerie, the zoo of the Jardin des Plantes, one in 1902 and two in 1906. Despite the demographic collapse experienced by the Przewalski's horses in the wild and inbreeding of current individuals, their genome is still astonishingly diverse.
Thanks to international breeding programmes being established, there are now more than 1,500 horses in zoos and a large number of reserves. Since the early 1990s, reintroductions in a number of sites have seen more than 300 horses able to return to roam the Mongolian steppes once again. Many breeding farms raise them in only partial captivity, such as in Lozère or Hungary, in order to prepare groups for the conditions that they will encounter in their native environment. Two of the Museum’s institutions, the Ménagerie, the zoo of the Jardin des Plantes in Paris and the Réserve Zoologique de la Haute-Touche (Haute-Touche Animal Reserve), play an active part in the protection of this iconic species.
After being declared extinct in the wild in 1996, it was reclassified as Critically Endangered in 2008 and then as only Endangered in 2011 after having been successfully reintroduced.
Threats include competition with livestock, habitat degradation and hybridisation with domesticated horses.