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An extraordinary return from the brink of extinction for world’s last wild horse


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 endeavor to support conservation of this species with continued monitoring, captive breeding and reintroduction.

Clare Kingston | alfa
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