August 1, 2008

Rare Asian Horse Born at Minnesota Zoo

By Paul Walsh, Star Tribune, Minneapolis

Aug. 1--The Minnesota Zoo is celebrating a significant conservation accomplishment with the birth of its first Asian wild horse since 1988.

Once extinct in the wild, these horses -- also known as a Przewalski's or Mongolian wild horse -- are making a comeback with help from the zoo.

Born July 5, the horse is a descendant of an imported stallion from the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and a female from Germany. The zoo says he is "very important genetically to the Species Survival Plan (SSP) population."

The Minnesota Zoo sent a stallion to the Netherlands in 1990, which produced six offspring for release in Hustai Nuruu National Park in Mongolia. These offspring continue to produce offspring of their own. At last count, there were two harems directly descended from the Minnesota Zoo's stallion that were still living in the wild.

In 2004, the zoo supported the park financially so it could buy motor bikes, allowing the rangers to patrol the park and protect the horses. In 2006, the Zoo supported a radio-collar tracking project coordinated by the National Zoo in Kalameili Reserve, China. The next move is to have the Asian wild horses released into this park.

Asian wild horses are are about the size of a large pony: adults reach a

height of 13-14 hands and are between 8-9 feet long. Sporting a white muzzle, they are light brown, cream, or yellow-gray in color with black tails, manes, nostrils and lower legs.

Originally found throughout the steppes of Eurasia, this species was determined to be entirely extinct in the wild around the late 1960s. With the help of zoos, they were bred in captivity and eventually released in several parks throughout central Asia. In the wild, they eat coarse, shrubby vegetation and tall grasses. In captivity, their basic element is hay, mixed grains, and vitamin/mineral supplements when necessary.

Records of this species from at least 20,000 B.C. are present in the cave paintings of Lascaux, France.

Paul Walsh --612-673-4482


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