A few Przewalski horses (Equus ferus przewalskii) live at the Haus zur Wildnis, a small nature park located in the town of Ludwigsthal, Germany, at the edge of the Bavarian Forest National Park (BFNP). The horses arrived in 2005 as part of an exchange program between the Münchener Tierpark Hellabrunn and the BFNP. Originally, five horses, including one stallion, were sent to the site: Borodin, Holly, Fiuma, Nadia, and Calgary C23. Since then, the herd has grown and during my visit in October 2013, I had the chance to see a foal (possibly a yearling).
The site’s configuration allows one to get a close look at the horses and appreciate their distinctive features. The friendly horses came to me as I approached the enclosure and called them out. Borodin and a couple of mares eagerly passed their neck through the wire fence, seemingly pleased to be petted. Still shy and spooky, the foal nevertheless joined in, keeping at close distance from his mother and resolutely out of my reach despite obvious curiosity.
As an equine enthusiast and equestrian, my encounter with the Przewalski horse left me with a stack of unanswered questions. My mistake had been not to inform myself about the “last wild horse”―as zoos’ taglines advertise it―before sighting living specimens. As I subsequently researched and read extensively about the equid, its story stroke me as one worthy of interest even to those unacquainted with horses because underlying is a tale about men and human-nature interactions, synergies and dependencies. In this case, the nature side of the equation corresponds to the vast East-Asian steppe, a typical dryland ecosystem well represented by a species native to the region since prehistory like the Przewalski horse, while pastoral communities, age-old dwellers of these barren landscapes, make up its human side. Following the horses’ steps therefore opens a window on regional anthropogenic evolutions during historic times; conversely, these evolutions significantly shaped the equid’s fate on the East Asian grasslands until its extirpation in the wild in 1969.
Nowadays, the Przewalski horse is a popular topic common to read about on the Internet. Being one of the rare species to have been successfully reintroduced in the wild from a captive stock, the equid is recurrently used by zoos to illustrate and legitimate their conservation role. However, this glossy image is oblivious to nearly a century of a somewhat different reality during which the horse’s interest was dramatically neglected. This darker side of the story is essential to fully understand the importance of the current reintroduction programs.
This series of articles is merely an expression of my curiosity about the Przewalski horse following our encounter at the Haus zur Wildnis. It strives to give an overview of the main issues, past and present, concerning the wild equid in a way that, I am hoping, will be interesting and pleasant to the reader. It is also meant as a tribute to the last wild horse roaming our planet.
Important notice (!) This work is almost entirely based on online available resources (please refer to the references at the end of each blog for details). As a neophyte on the topics discussed in the following articles titled “The Przewalski horse” (Parts 2-12), I tried my best to remain objective and accurate with respect to my sources, which I used to the full extent of my understanding. Please contact me if you believe that I have misinterpreted any of these sources. I, alone, endorse any form of subjectivity that may have slipped in the following developments and do not pertain to the quoted authors.
Please, also note that in no case this work exhausts the complex topic of the Przewalski horse.
REFERENCES – Stallion born in 1998 in Munich (Hellabrun), Germany – Studbook No. 3196. Mare born in 1992 in Calgary, Canada – Studbook No. 2373. Mother of Fiuma.  Mare born in 2005 in Munich (Hellabrun), Germany – Studbook No. 4543. Daughter of Holly.  Mare born in 1988 in Calgary, Canada – Studbook No. 1691.  Mare born in 1993 in Calgary, Canada – Studbook No. 2471.