Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark
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A Przewalski's horse photographed at Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas
Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

Przewalski's Horse

Przewalski's horses are the last surviving subspecies of wild horse.


First described scientifically in the late 19th century by Russian explorer N. M. Przewalski, for whom the horse is named, the horse once freely roamed the steppe along the Mongolia-China border. Never again seen in the wild, Przewalski’s horses have since been kept and bred in captivity and have recently been reintroduced in Mongolia.

Size and Appearance

With a short, muscular body, Przewalski’s horses are smaller than most domesticated horses. They have a pale belly and beige to reddish-brown coat that is short during summer and thicker and longer in winter. Their muzzle is white, and they don an erect and dark mane that lines their large head and neck. They stand about 12 to 14 hands tall at the shoulder, or about 48 to 56 inches, and weigh about 440 to 750 pounds.


While extant in the wild, these horses ate grasses and other vegetation on the steppe, shrublands, and plains of western Mongolia and northern China. Herds observed at reintroduction sites appear to be affectionate. Females, or mares, and foals live in family groups with a dominant stallion, while younger males live in bachelor groups. Mares give birth to a single foal after an 11- to 12-month pregnancy.

Reintroduction to the Wild

Considered a wild subspecies because its ancestors were never domesticated, Przewalski’s horse was driven to extinction in the wild since the 1960's primarily through interbreeding with other domesticated horses. Reintroduction efforts during the turn of the century have successfully grown and sustained wild populations at several sites in Mongolia, prompting the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to reclassify the subspecies as Critically Endangered in 2008.

While their greatest threats today include a loss of genetic diversity, their extinction in the wild was also brought on by hunting, loss of habitat, and loss of water sources to domestic animals.

WATCH: Endangered Horse Birth Breakthrough

The successful birth of a rare Przewalski's horse through an artificial insemination that took nearly seven years to complete has become an encouraging sign to increase the number of the endangered species.