Werribee Open Range Zoo

Przewalski Horse

This, the last truly wild horse, is skittish, stubborn, naturally shy and sometimes very aggressive. The species came to the brink of extinction last century. A visit to Werribee Open Range Zoo’s small herd is a rare opportunity to see this species, which has never been tamed by humans.

Przewalski Horses once ranged across parts of Europe and central Asia. However wild numbers were dramatically reduced over the 19th century and the species was classed as ‘extinct in the wild’ in the 1960s. Then a mature adult was found in the wild and the species was reclassified as ‘critically endangered’. There have since been dedicated efforts to breed and reintroduce animals into the wild and in 2012 there were estimated to be more than 50 individuals in the wild. The Przewalski Horse is now classed as ‘endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (on the IUCN ‘red list’). While they are no longer hunted, threats remain and include loss of genetic diversity, hybridisation with domestic horses and extreme winters.

Efforts to bring this species back from the brink of extinction have resulted in numbers increasing steadily. Such is the success of captive breeding programs that from 1992 to 2004, 90 Mongolian wild horses bred by 24 different institutions in eight countries (including Australia) were returned to the Gobi desert. Currently, there are around 1500 animals in zoos and breeding facilities, carrying genes from 14 founders. As a participating member of the international Przewalski’s Horse breeding program, Werribee Open Range Zoo follows the Australasian Species Coordinator’s recommendations for breeding this species to manage captive numbers and the genetic diversity of the population.

Typically Przewalski Horses inhabited grassy deserts and plains in Western Mongolia, but the horses have been reported to have lived at elevations of up to 8000 feet.

Przewalski Horses are social horses and prefer to have company rather than to be alone. They will graze, rest and play all together. They have individual friendships and live in groups from six to 16 animals. 

There are two types of herds: bachelor herds and family herds. Bachelor herds consist of males that are either too old or too young to physically challenge a dominant male for their own family herd. The family herd structure is highly developed and has a stallion and six to eight mares and their colts and a few yearlings. 

Lead mares usually lead the grazing activities. In the wild during the summer they usually graze in the early morning or early evening when it is cooler. They rest during the heat of the day and they sleep together in a cluster for about 4 hours a night. 

They eat grass, plants and fruit and sometimes bark, leaves and buds. In zoos they typically eat about half a bale (about 12kg) of grass hay per day.

Meet the animals

Tia

Born 1994 

Tia, a female born at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, came to Werribee on 31 October 2000.

Mahan

Born 1999

Mahan was born at Monarto Zoo, and came to Werribee on 13 November 2000. She is mother to Nikolai, born 2012.

Godan

Born 1996 

Godan, a male born at Monarto Zoo, came to Werribee on 13 November 2000.

Nikolai

Born 2012

Son of Mahan and Kolya, Nikolai was born at Werribee Open Range Zoo.

News
Mongolian Wild Horse Foal

Mongolian Community Name Foal

Members of Victoria’s close-knit Mongolian community have named Werribee Open Range Zoo’s newest addition, a rare Przewalski’s horse foal.

6 June 2014
Mongolian Wild Horse Foal

New Przewalski’s horse foal

Werribee Open Range Zoo welcomed the arrival of a female Przewalski’s horse foal in the early hours of Mother's Day!

The foal was born to proud mum Mahan and stallion Kolya.

16 May 2014
Encounters
Slumber Safari Promo

Slumber Safari

Enjoy an overnight experience at the Zoo in our luxury safari camp. Your stay includes amazing close-up animal encounters, drinks and dips at sunset, a sumptuous dinner, unique night-time activities and breakfast alongside the meerkats.  

Open Vehicle Adventure video

Off Road Safari

Get even closer to our magnificent African wildlife on an off road safari. You will be completely immersed in the sights, smells and sounds of the savannah as you travel across the Zoo's open plains.

Did you know?
  • The Przewalski Horse (pronounced sha-val-ski) is also known as the Mongolian Wild Horse and Takhi (‘spirit’). Horses are central to Mongolian culture, and Takhi are a symbol of their national heritage
  • The Przewalski Horse is the only true wild horse left in the world. ‘Wild’ horses in other places (like the mustang and the brumby) are really domestic horses gone wild
  • Przewalski Horses are genetically distinct from domestic horses because they have 66 chromosomes and a domestic horse only has 64. If you crossed a Przewalski and a domestic horse you would have 65 chromosomes. Crossing the two produces infertile young
  • Przewalski Horses lack a forelock or fringe and their zebra-like mane stands erect, making them look very different from the domesticated horse
  • Their hooves are wide, black and hard and in captivity, they need be trimmed back once or twice a year
  • In winter they grow thick shaggy woollen coats and shed them in the spring. They also grow extra fur on their fetlocks, cheeks and throats in the winter