FROM ZOO TO YOU Celebrating the zoo’s Asian wild horses

Emily Sexson
Lee Richardson Zoo

July 15 is “I Love Horses Day”, a day dedicated to the magnificent animals that are loved for their beauty as well their ability to provide transportation, clear fields, move cattle, and of course, companionship. Horses have been domesticated since 4000 BC, and there are more than 300 different breeds of horses today.

There are some feral populations of domesticated horses that live in the wild, such as mustangs. Mustangs are free-roaming horses that have descended from domestic horses brought to the Americas by the Spanish. The only true wild horses are those that have never been domesticated. 

Lee Richardson Zoo is home to two Asian wild horses, also known as Przewalski’s horse, considered the only remaining non-domesticated wild horse. These endangered horses were once extinct in the wild due to overhunting and competition for space with livestock and humans. Thanks to the partnership of zoos and other conservation organizations, they have been reintroduced to their native habitat in Mongolia, as well as other locations in Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

All Asian wild horses alive today descended from 13 – 14 horses that were in captivity when the species became extinct in the wild. Starting in 1990, the offspring of these horses were released back into the wild. As of 2014, there are nearly 500 Asian wild horses in the wild.

Compared to domesticated horses, Asian wild horses are much stockier in frame. Their legs are shorter, giving them an average height of around 48 to 56 inches. Their coat is mostly brown, with dark brown to black erect manes. They have yellowish-white color on their bellies and muzzles, and their legs are often faintly striped. Unlike domestic horses, Asian wild horses shed their mane and tail once a year. In addition to their outward differences, Asian wild horses have an extra pair of chromosomes, giving them 33 instead of the 32 pairs found in domesticated horses. These additional chromosomes show the genetic diversity between domesticated and wild horses. Asian wild horses have successfully interbred with domestic horses to produce young with 65 chromosomes.

Asian wild horses live in small herds known as harems, with one stallion (adult male), several mares (females), and their young. The harem will travel together as they roam their habitat searching for food. Stallion and their mares will stay together for years. Bachelor males unable to develop relationships with mares will form their own herds. Horses can see almost 360 degrees around them, making it difficult for predators to sneak up on them. Herd members always keep visual contact with each other and use vocalizations and scent marking to communicate with one another.

To view these amazing animals in person, trot on over to the Lee Richardson Zoo! Ibaqa and Berezhnei are the names of the Asian wild horses in our care. Their habitat is in the northwest corner of the zoo, across from the Bactrian camel habitat. Guests are encouraged to visit these horses not only on July 15 for national “I Love Horses Day” but any day of the week. The zoo is currently open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., with drive-through access closing at 6 p.m. 

For more information about Lee Richardson Zoo, visit our website at www.leerichardsonzoo.org or find us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram @LeeRichardsonZoo.

Emily Sexson is a communication specialist at Lee Richardson Zoo.