Worlds last wild horse returns from the brink
Tuesday 10 January 2006
An international working group coordinated by ZSL’s Institute of Zoology (IoZ) has made the recommendation to reclassify the Przewalski’s horses from ‘extinct’ to ‘endangered’ on the IUCN red list of threatened species.
The Mongolian Przewalski’s horse has been part of a breeding and reintroduction programme that aims to re-establish wild communities of endangered animals. 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.
The working group of over 60 mammal specialists, managed by IoZ scientist Jonathan Bailie, was established to assess Mongolian biodiversity and specifically, for the first time, examine the population of the Przewalski’s horses since their reintroduction programme began in the 1990's.
The move to reduce the Przewalski’s category on the IUCN red list highlights the success of recent captive breeding and reintroduction programmes.
’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.’
’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 Whipsnade Zoo, which was reintroduced to Mongolia in 2001.
If the recommendation is accepted by IUCN this reclassification will be a milestone for large mammal conservation.