Zookeepers have captured on camera a first glimpse of a rare and Endangered Przewalski's foal, the world’s last “truly wild” species of horse, born at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.
The female foal was born on 17 July at the UK’s largest Zoo, as part of the European Endangered Species Programme, and is just starting to explore her surroundings with her mum.
Unlike other species of horse that are sometimes described as ‘wild’, the Przewalski's horse (Equus przewalskii) is the only species considered by conservationists to be truly wild, rather than simply “feral”, as it is not descended from domesticated horses.
Keepers at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo had been monitoring the foal’s pregnant mum, Charlotte, and were delighted when she gave birth to a healthy, female foal in a secluded area of the 600-acre Zoo.
The keepers sent their photos of the foal to ZSL conservationists working in Mongolia and asked them to name her. Their colleagues named the pointy-eared foal “Sooton” which means “sassy and vigilant” in Mongolian.
Przewalski's horses bred at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo were successfully reintroduced to Mongolia as part of a conservation project by Mongolian and UK ZSL scientists to save the then Extinct-in-the-Wild species. There are now hundreds of wild Przewalski's horses living in the grasslands and deserts of Mongolia, Ukraine and China, and their population is increasing. As a result of reintroduction projects, the IUCN Red List reclassified the Przewalski's horse as Critically Endangered in 2008, and then again as Endangered as 2011.
Team leader Mark Holden said: “We are delighted to welcome another Przewalski's foal to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, boosting the number of these incredible, Endangered animals – the last remaining species of truly wild horse left in the world.
“While we monitored the situation carefully, we also knew that, as an experienced mum, Charlotte would know just what to do, and that she would care wonderfully for her newborn foal. She’s been very protective, so we’ve kept our distance, happy to see that Sooton’s suckling and developing well.
“Sooton has mostly stayed close to her mum and her big sister Shargahan, but is just starting to stretch her legs and try to gallop.”