Jul 09, 2024

How Prague Zoo Saved Earth’s Last Wild Horses from Extinction

There are nearly 1.2 million species of plants and animals known to science. Sadly, over 45,000 of these are currently threatened with extinction.

Each time a species goes extinct, it creates a void in the food web and adversely affects an entire ecosystem. Moreover, these negative effects are not just limited to the wild, they influence human lives as well.

This is why it becomes crucial to prevent species from going extinct, but the question is — how do we do it? One great answer to this question lies in an approach that conservationists at the Prague Zoo used to save Przewalski’s horse, the only remaining wild horse species on Earth. And it almost went extinct in the 1960s.

Recently, a total of seven Przewalski horses were reintroduced in Kazakhstan’s vast grassy plains known as the Golden Steppe, one of the natural habitats of these animals where they were last seen 200 years ago.

The trick is to take timely action and respect genetic diversity

Prezwalksi horses were native to central Asia. Thousands of these wild horses once roamed the grassy plains of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia. They were discovered in 1879 by a Russian geographer and explorer Nikolay Przhevalsky (the horse species is named after him). However, human activities like agriculture and deforestation caused a serious decline in their population.

By the late 1950s, only 30 to 40 Przewalski’s horses remained in the world. Fortunately, many conservationists across the world noticed this decline. As a result, a conference was organized in 1959 to save the species. In this conference, the Prague Zoo in the Czech Republic was given the responsibility of conserving and restoring the population of Przewalski’s horses.

The Prague Zoo team soon realized that, if nothing was done, the horse species would go extinct within a year. So, most of the remaining horses were brought to the zoo where they were cared for and bred in a safe environment for over a decade. However, this wasn’t enough to restore the horse population.

So, in 1988, the zoo reintroduced some descendants of the Przewalski horse in China. And, four years later, Mongolia received two horses. Over the years, they kept transporting the animals to safe and well-monitored habitats in these countries whenever the zoo and its partners (other European zoos) had more than enough horses.

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These efforts not only increased the genetic diversity among the wild horses but also boosted their population in climatic conditions that are most suitable for them. In fact, in the last 10 years, a total of 34 animals were transported to Mongolia. Today, the country has over 850 Przewalksi horses, proving the program’s huge success in the country.

The return of Przewalski’s horses to Kazakhstan

Prague Zoo officials want to repeat Mongolia’s success in Kazakhstan, a place that lost its wild horses hundreds of years ago. This is why when the horses were brought to Kazakhstan for the first time, it was an emotional moment for the team.

The horses will spend their first year in two large fields spanning 80 hectares in total. There, a team of researchers will monitor them while they acclimatize to the new environment. Once they become accustomed to their new habitat, food, and native microorganisms, they will be released into the wild.

It may sound unbelievable but from nearly 40 horses in the 1960s, the total population of Przewalski horses today has reached over 2,500. The credit for this incredible success goes to the Prague Zoo team.

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