Thursday, December 10, 2009

Last Wild Horse Back from Edge of Extinction

In the November 13 issue of Science journal, a researcher from the University of Vienna School of Veterinary Medicine, says the world's last wild horse*, Przewalski's (Equus ferus prezewalskii) which has survived for millennia almost unchanged in the Gobi desert, has reached a population level necessary to insure its long term survival. The distinctive ancestral horse was confronting near extinction due to habitat loss and competition from domestic animals, mostly goats and sheep, which are notorious for eating every green thing in their path. The last wild herd was sighted in 1967. Efforts to breed the horse in captivity began in zoos and reserves. China started a breeding program in 1985 and after two decades of effort began breeding large numbers of horses. Two reintroduction projects in Mongolian national parks have brought the species back from the brink. Hustai (Khustain Nuruu) National Park has 171 horses living in the wild and Takhin Tal has about 115 horses. The report in Science concluded that 140 individuals would be enough to constitute a robust starting population to insure long term survival. One conservation measure that seems to be working is paying livestock herders to keep their herds off the reserve ranges. The horse is still critically endangered but has been upgraded from "extinct in the wild" by the Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

*America's mustang or Australia's brumby are considered feral animals.