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Naturally skittish and shy, Przewalski's Horses were on the brink of extinction last century. A visit to Werribee Open Range Zoo provides a rare opportunity to see this species, which has never been tamed by humans.
Przewalski's Horses, also known as the Mongolian Wild Horse and Asian Wild Horse, once ranged across parts of Europe and central Asia. However wild numbers were dramatically reduced over the 19th century and in the 1960s the species was classed as extinct in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (on the IUCN ‘red list’).
In 2008 the status of the Przewalski’s Horse was reassessed due to the survival and discovery of a mature individual in the wild, and subsequently listed as Critically Endangered. There have since been dedicated efforts to breed and reintroduce these animals into the wild The Przewalski's Horse is now classed as Endangered with its population still increasing. While they are no longer hunted, they are still under threat from extreme winters, loss of genetic diversity, and loss of habitat and natural resources to domestic livestock.
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. Werribee Open Range Zoo is an important member of the international breeding program for the species, helping to continue its fighting extinction mission. There are now thought to be approximately 1,500 Przewalski's Horses in the world.
Typically Przewalski's Horses inhabited grassy deserts and plains in Western Mongolia, but the horses have been reported to have lived at elevations of up to 8,000 feet. Przewalski's Horses eat grass, plants and fruit and sometimes bark, leaves and buds.
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 four hours a night. Przewalski's Horses are social horses. They will graze, rest and play together. They have individual friendships and live in groups from six to 16 animals.
There are two types of herds: family herds and bachelor herds. The family herd structure is highly developed and has a stallion with several mares and their colt and fillies. Bachelor herds consist of males that are either too old or too young to physically challenge a dominant male for their family herd.
Next time you’re visiting the Zoo, come and say hello to our stunning Przewalski's Horses while enjoying your safari tour.
- The Przewalski's 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
- Przewalski's 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's 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