The Przewalski horse: being wild in the wild (Part 10)

Reintroducing Takhis in East Asia is a long term process with a threefold objective: establish viable populations in parts of the horse’s historic range, restore degraded steppe ecosystems and foster socio-economic development, which in turn would guarantee the long term success of reintroduction.

When the first reintroduction program was launched in the late 1970’s, the Przewalski horses had been living in captivity for almost a century. To return to their native steppe, they first had to learn to be wild again. In addition to reducing genetic diversity, captivity had made the horses entirely dependent on men for their survival and inhibited their most basic instincts. In this context, reintroduction would be a marathon and a complex learning process for the horses.
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The Przewalski horse: the lethal transformations of the East-Asian steppe (part 7)

Concurrently to being hunted and otherwise severed from the wild, Przewalski horses were indirectly impacted by the progressive transformations of East Asian drylands throughout the Holocene period under the combined influence of various natural and anthropogenic factors[1], some of which are briefly discussed below.

East-Asian drylands

Map of East Asian drylands established based on data from the map “Land cover map of Dryland East Asia (DEA)” available here / Blank source map available here

Agricultural development and regional population growth

Domestication of most animals and plants took place between 10,000 to 5,000 years ago[2]. Animal husbandry and cultivation were broadly adopted in Eurasia[3] although greatly varied in time, space and intensity. On East Asian drylands (see above map), particularly grasslands where the horses lived, animal husbandry dominated agriculture over the past 5,000 years; the harsh climate and low soil fertility of such regions[4] generally made cultivation difficult.

As population grew, so did agriculture, but contrasting trends in population growth resulted in different levels of agricultural intensification on the vast drylands. Continue reading