A species that was near extinction is now recovering in the wild because of active management by conservation biologists.


In 1880, Russian explorer Nikolai Przewalski encountered a small population of wild horses while traversing central Asia. The horses were compact, with heavy limbs and strong necks. They had dun coats with a white stain around the nose and a thin, dark stripe that ran from the mane to the tail. These were unlike the so-called “wild” horses that abound in Australia and North America, which are actually feral, meaning they descended from domesticated horses. These Asian horses were a distinct species of Equus that had never been domesticated. Scientifically described for the first time, the species was given the name Equus przewalskii, Przewalski’s horse.

European breeders and zoo directors rushed to collect specimens of the “newly discovered” wild horse, which was actually well known to people in Mongolia and other parts of central Asia. A few dozen foals reached zoos and privately owned parks in Europe and North America, but many perished during the trans-Siberian journey.

Meanwhile the wild populations of Przewalski’s horse, or takhi (meaning “spirit”), as they are known in Mongolia, declined as animals were killed and collected by Europeans, displaced by domesticated grazing animals, and hunted for food. Over time, their numbers and habitat shrank until the takhi became extinct in the wild in the late 1960s.


Since 1997, takhi have been successfully breeding in the wild, though captive animals have deliberately been introduced to supplement the wild herds at Takhin Tal. As of winter 2007, 115 takhi were roaming free in the Dzungarian Gobi, including 76 animals born in the wild. These numbers are especially significant since computer models suggest that a group of 100 free-ranging horses is considered a viable population—one that is biologically resilient and less prone to natural catastrophes that could wipe out large numbers of takhi.

(American Museum of Natural History , no date)