An extraordinary return from the brink of extinction for worlds last wild horse
Monday 19 December 2005
An international working group coordinated by scientists at the Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) Institute of Zoology (IoZ) have made the remarkable recommendation to reclassify the Mongolian Przewalski’s horses, previously categorised as ‘extinct’ in the wild, to ‘endangered’ on the IUCN red list of threatened species; a move which highlights the success of recent captive breeding and reintroduction programmes.
The working group of over 60 mammal specialists was managed by IoZ scientist Jonathan Baillie to assess Mongolian biodiversity and specifically, for the first time, examine the population of Przewalski’s horses since their reintroduction programme began in the 1990's.
“This finding is significant as it shows reintroductions can work,” said Sarah King, ZSL project manager in Mongolia. “The status change is exciting because it illustrates that the horses have adjusted well to native conditions, they are surviving and reproducing well, indicating they haven’t been weakened by captivity - which was an initial worry.”
In 1945 there were only 31 horses in captivity but by the early 1990's there were over 1500 and reintroductions began into their harsh, native environment of Mongolia..
“There were concerns that having been bred for 13 generations in captivity the animals would not be able to survive in the wild”, said Nick Lindsay, Head of International Zoo Programmes at ZSL, “however, there are now 248 free ranging Przewalski’s horses in the wild, a factor among others which has resulted in their remarkable status reclassification.”
The workshop initiated by ZSL, assessed the success of reintroductions carried out by various organisations over the past 15 years, which included a horse from the successful breeding programme at ZSL’s Whipsnade Wild Animal Park, which was reintroduced to Mongolia in 2001.
If the recommendation is accepted by IUCN this reclassification will be a milestone for large mammal conservation.
To build on this achievement, ZSL and other international organisations will endeavour to support conservation of this species with continued monitoring, captive breeding and reintroduction.
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Notes to editors
- The species assessed for the IUCN Red List are those that possess important genetic diversity and are essential parts of ecosystems. Information on their conservation status and distribution provides vital information about preserving biodiversity from local to global levels.
- The IUCN Red List system is designed to determine the relative risk of extinction, and to catalogue and highlight species facing a higher risk of global extinction listed on the following scale; Extinct, Extinct in the Wild, Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable and species of least concern.
- Przewalski’s horses are the only true wild horse left in the world.
- Przewalski’s horses are genetically different from the domestic horse; they have a different number of chromosomes.
- It is thought that the Przewalski’s horse is closely related to the domestic horse Equus caballus, but is from a separate evolutionary line.
- The horses were first discovered by Russian Colonel Nikolai Przewalski in 1879.
- In the late 17th Century the Przewalski’s horse was already being hunted heavily by local people, and following World War Two, numbers declined further due to military activities and human land use.
- About the Zoological Society of London and the Institute of Zoology
Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity: focusing on the conservation of animals and their habitats. The Institute of Zoology (IoZ) is the research division of the ZSL. It is a government-funded research institute specialising in scientific issues relevant to the conservation of animal species and their habitats.
Clare Kingston - email@example.com - 020 74496361