Wild horse

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Wild horse
Przewalski's horse (Equus ferus przewalskii)

Przewalski's horse ( Equus ferus przewalskii )

Subclass : Higher mammals (Eutheria)
Superordinate : Laurasiatheria
Order : Unpaired ungulate (Perissodactyla)
Family : Horses (Equidae)
Genre : Horses ( equus )
Type : Wild horse
Scientific name
Equus ferus
Boddaert , 1785

The wild horse ( Equus ferus ) is a species of the horse genus from the Equidae family . It was domesticated by humans and represents the wild form of the domestic horse . The previous view was that the only subspecies that has survived in its pure form to this day is the Przewalski horse ( Equus ferus przewalskii ), which however is not the ancestral form of the Domestic horse is. A publication in the journal Science in 2018 states that Przewalski horses are feral Botai horses. The tarpan , which was involved in the formation of the domestic horse and locally survived until the 19th century, was exterminated by humans.

Some horse breeds are also known colloquially as "wild horses". From a scientific-zoological point of view, however, they are not wild horses, but feral domestic horses (e.g. the American mustang ) or semi-wild breeds (e.g. the Dülmen horse in Germany).


Prehistoric wild horse drawing in the Lascaux cave
Replica of a representation of tiger piebalds in Pech Merle
One of the oldest works of art of mankind : The 40,000 ( Aurignacien ) year old wild horse from the Vogelherd cave (near Niederstotzingen , Swabian Alb ) is made of mammoth ivory . Museum of the University of Tübingen MUT (Collection of Ancient Cultures in the Hohentübingen Castle Museum )

Outwardly, the wild horse differs from the half donkey and donkey mainly through its shorter ears and from the zebra through its monochromatic fur, which, however, has a clear eel line as well as fetlock stripes and a shoulder cross.

The Przewalski horse is relatively small and stocky compared to most domestic horses. The head-torso length is about 220 to 280 cm, the shoulder height about 120 to 146 cm and the weight is about 240-300 kg. The tail is about three feet long. The fawn-colored fur varies between yellowish and reddish and turns into lighter shades on the flanks, the underside and the inside of the legs are almost white. Characteristic of the Przewalski horse are the eel line, the dark mane and the dark legs. The winter fur is much thicker and longer than the summer fur.

For the European wild horse, the tarpan, the basic colors brown (brown with black long hair) and black (black) have been proven. Genetic analyzes show that both color types were present in the wild horse populations of early Holocene Europe. They do not seem to have represented themselves strictly geographically. The fallow is not yet genetically identifiable, which is why the actual color of the tarpans cannot yet be determined directly. There are therefore the following possibilities: brown and black animals, which more closely resembled Exmoor ponies , or black-fallow and brown-fallow animals, the coloring of which is more likely to have resembled the Konik (black fallow) and the Przewalski horse (brown fallow). Genetic analyzes have not yet clarified whether the animals had light undersides and a flour mouth (pangare gene), such as the Przewalski horse and the Exmoor pony, or had dark snouts, such as the Konik.

Cave drawings show both brown animals with a pangare color as well as monochrome gray animals. In addition, the tiger spotting, which also occurs in prehistoric rock carvings, has been genetically proven in European wild horse populations.

Distribution and subspecies

Distribution area
Przewalski horses

The original range of the wild horses extended over the steppes and grasslands of Eurasia, from Mongolia to Central Europe. Since the steppe belt shifted during the Ice Ages, wild horses also found their way into regions that do not belong to the steppe today, where they were included as residual populations, e.g. B. in Western Europe (Camargue).

Two subspecies of the wild horse survived until modern times:

The latter is the only one that survived in its wild form. The separation between forest tarpan and steppent tarpan is mostly doubted today. The Przewalski horse was only discovered for science in 1879 by Nikolai Michailowitsch Prschewalski in the steppes of Mongolia and at that time still inhabited large areas of its original range, which extended over Kazakhstan, Xinjiang , Mongolia and southern Siberia. However, in the decades that followed, its populations fell sharply, and it became extinct in the wild in the 1960s. However, some animals had previously been brought to zoological gardens, where they successfully reproduced. Descendants of these animals have already been released back into the wild in the steppes of Mongolia.

In addition to the two listed subspecies, some distinguish the following morphological subspecies of the wild horse, which became extinct at the end of the Pleistocene or the Holocene.

  • Equus ferus mosbachensis - Central Europe ; large, straight or convex nose profile
  • Equus ferus pumpelli - North Africa, Western Asia; rather small, slender, relatively long-legged with a concave snout
  • Equus ferus alaskae - Northern Siberia and Beringia; similar to Przewalski's horse
  • Equus ferus mexicanus - North America south of the ice sheets; probably similar to Przewalski's horse

The domestic horse has a different set of chromosomes than the Przewalski horse (it has only 64 instead of 66 chromosomes). In some cases, both forms are viewed as separate species, the naming is then regulated by Opinion 2027 of the ICZN ( Equus caballus for the domestic horse and Equus ferus for the wild horse). Provided that both representatives belong to a single species, which, among other things, advocate studies of mitochondrial DNA, the priority rule of the ICZN applies (for horses Opinion 271 ), the wild horse then bears the scientific name Equus caballus ferus . The development of the domestic horse separated from the Przewalski horse as early as 120,000 to 240,000 years ago.

Live reconstruction of the manifestations of the wild horse that occurred in Europe, based on genetic and historical information
Live reconstruction of the head of Equus ferus lambei , a Pleistocene wild horse form

Domestic horses or Przewalski horses mate without restriction as members of the same zoological species and give birth to offspring capable of reproduction. This is sometimes a danger for the purity of the Przewalski horse.

Some breeds of domestic horses are repeatedly claimed to be surviving or “backbred” tarpans or wild horses. These include Koniks , Exmoor ponies and Dülmen horses . However, genetic studies do not assign any of these breeds a special position among domestic horses, but no domestic horses have so far been directly compared genetically with the Tarpan.


Przewalski horse in summer fur

In the wild, horses lived in herds. The herd has a so-called lead stallion (in very rare cases two - mostly brother animals ), who defends the herd of mares and young animals from enemies and is allowed to cover the mares who are ready to receive. The lead stallion has to defend his position time and again against younger stallions. This sometimes leads to bitter fighting, often with minor, rarely with severe wounds. Otherwise the herd is led to feeding and resting places by a lead mare. This mare is usually the oldest and most experienced of the herd. The young stallions are expelled from the herd association after a certain age and form so-called bachelor communities.

Wild horses communicate mainly with the help of body language as well as snorting and humming noises. They rarely neigh as this would draw the attention of predators to them.

Pregnant mares usually separate themselves from the herd in order to give birth to their foals (usually one, rarely two). However, they remain within sight or hearing range of the family association. The birth takes about half an hour. The foal is licked immediately after birth in order to expose the airways and stimulate blood circulation. Another effect is that the foal takes on the mother's odor and is thus recognized by the herd. The foals can already stand and run after a short time, mother and foal join the herd again.

Habitat and food

The wild horse was above all an animal found in the open countryside. Steppes, grasslands and parklands were typical habitats, but semi-deserts, scrubland and forests were apparently also settled. Przewalski's horses climbed up to at least 2500 meters in the mountains. Constant access to water is absolutely essential for wild horses. The wild horse feeds mainly on grasses, but also consumes all kinds of herbs and occasionally leaves. Today, nature conservation associations such as NABU advocate that the wild horse-like animals bred by zoologists become part of nature in Germany again. Several herds of Koniks in the floodplains of the Ems as well as herds of Exmoor ponies , and occasionally also fjord horses, are used for landscape maintenance.

Hazardous situation

The wild horse is rated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature IUCN in the Red List of Endangered Species via the only surviving subspecies, the Przewalski horses. The status is (with "high risk" endangered ) specified.

Pleistocene wild horses

The genus Equus originated in North America and reached Eurasia about 1.5 million years ago via the Bering Land Bridge. With many Equus forms of the middle and late Pleistocene it is unclear whether they were already subspecies of today's wild horse ( Equus ferus ) or whether they were still separate species. Usually the different shapes are only differentiated based on body size. The particularly large form of the late Pleistocene ( Equus ferus germanicus ) is often viewed as an independent species. Some horses that were common in North America until the late Pleistocene may have belonged to the same species as the wild horse ( Equus ferus ). However, all horse species on the American continent died out around 10,000 years ago.

Feral horses

Often feral horses, which are descended from domestic horses, are colloquially referred to as "wild horses". However, such feral horses are not true wild horses. This applies to the following horse breeds:

  • Brumby : Descendants of the horses of convicts who came to Australia in the 18th century. The runaway horses multiplied quickly and were limited in number by shooting them until the 2000s. In 2018, they will be considered for evacuation - instead of shooting down to 90% - in order to protect endangered wetlands.
  • Mustang : North American horse that was created in the 16th century by feral Arab and Berber domestic horses that had escaped the Spanish and other European conquerors.
  • Sable Island Ponies : A population of 250–300 animals on the small dune island of Sable Island off the Canadian coast in the Atlantic. It goes back to the wilding of domestic horses in 1738.
  • Namibian wild horse : Warm-blooded animals, probably Trakehner , who were brought to the colony of German South West Africa , today's Namibia , at the beginning of the 20th century . During the First World War, the Germans were expelled and the horses ran away into the desert. There they migrated to a watering hole where their offspring were found in the 1980s. Today (as of May 2018) after years of drought, the population is only around 80 animals.
  • Wild horses on Kefalonia : With the earthquake on Kefalonia and Zakynthos in 1953 , many domestic horses fled into the mountains, from which a population formed that has since made its home in the nature reserve on Mount Aenos.

Semi-wild horses

In addition to feral horses like the mustangs, there are semi-wild horses where the breeding animals live freely but have an owner (see Wildes Gestüt ). The most famous of these include the Dülmen wild horses in the Merfelder Bruch (North Rhine-Westphalia), the Exmoor ponies (Cornwall), the wild horses of the Giara di Gesturi ( Sardinia ) or the Camargue horses (France).


  • Simon Wakefield et al .: Status and Action Plan for the Przewalski's Horse (Equus ferus przewalskii). ( PDF file ).
  • Ronald M. Nowak: Walker's Mammals of the World . 6th edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 1999, ISBN 0-8018-5789-9 (English).
  • Michael Schäfer: Handbook horse assessment. Kosmos, ISBN 3-440-07237-1 .
  • W. v. Koenigswald: Living Ice Age. Theiss-Verlag, 2002. ISBN 3-8062-1734-3 .
  • Michael Kings: Investigations on endoparasite infestation in wild equidae taking into account the pasture infestation in the Serengeti-Park Hodenhagen and in the bison enclosure Springe. Hanover, University of Veterinary Medicine 1999. Dissertation 1999.

See also

Web links

Commons : Dun horses  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. csr / dpa: Przewalski horse but not a wild horse. February 23, 2018, accessed February 23, 2018 .
  2. Gaunitz, C .; Fages, A .; Hanghøj, K .; Albrechtsen, A .; Khan, N .; Schubert, M .; Seguin-Orlando, A .; Owens, IJ; Felkel, S .; Bignon-Lau, O .; de Barros Damgaard, P .; Mittnik, A .; Mohaseb, AF; Davoudi, H .; Alquraishi, S .; Alfarhan, AH; Al-Rasheid, KAS; Crubézy, E .; Benecke, N .; Olsen, S .; Brown, D .; Anthony, D .; Massy, ​​K .; Pitulko, V .; Kasparov, A .; Brem, G .; Hofreiter, M .; Mukhtarova, G .; Baimukhanov, N .; Lõugas, L .; Onar, V .; Stockhammer, PW; Krause, J .; Boldgiv, B .; Undrakhbold, S .; Erdenebaatar, D .; Lepetz, S .; Mashkour, M .; Ludwig, A .; Wallner, B .; Merz, V .; Merz, I .; Zaibert, V .; Willerslev, E .; Librado, P .; Outram, AK; Orlando, L .: Ancient genomes revisit the ancestry of domestic and Przewalski's horses . In: Science . Online, February 22, 2018, doi : 10.1126 / science.aao3297 .
  3. a b Melanie Pruvost et al .: Genotypes of predomestic horses match phenotypes painted in Paleolithic works of cave art . Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , 2011.
  4. a b Bunzel-Drüke, Finck, Kämmer, Luick, Reisinger, Riecken, Riedl, Scharf & Zimball: "Wilde Weiden: Practical guidelines for year-round grazing in nature conservation and landscape development
  5. Bennett, D., Hoffmann, R., S. (1999). Mammalian species , Equus caballus. Published by the American Society of Mammalogists.
  6. Hiroki Goto et al .: A Massively Parallel Sequencing Approach Uncovers Ancient Origins and High Genetic Variability of Endangered Przewalski's Horses . Genome Biology and Evolution 2011, Vol. 3, pp. 1096-1106
  7. Anthea Gentry, Juliet Clutton-Brock and Colin P. Groves: The naming of wild animal species and their domestic derivatives. Journal of Archaeological Science 31, 2004, pp. 645-651 ( [1] )
  8. ^ B. Wallner, G. Brem, M. Müller, R. Achmann: Fixed nucleotide differences on the Y chromosome indicate clear divergence between Equus przewalskii and Equus caballus . Animal Genetics 2003; 34 (6): 453-456
  9. Jansen et al. 2002: Mitochondrial DNA and the origins of the domestic horse
  10. Cieslak et al. 2010: Origin and History of Mitochondrial DNA lineages in domestic horses
  11. Jordana & Sanchez, 1995: Analysis of genetic relationships in horse breeds
  12. ^ Pasture landscapes: Emsaue Pöhlen, Telgte nature conservation station Münsterland
  13. Equus ferus in the endangered Red List species the IUCN 2012. Posted by: L. Boyd, SRB King, 2011. Accessed February 24, 2013.
  14. Guns cocked as brumbies run wild , Malcolm Holland, Herald Sun, March 15, 2010
  15. Australia Overturns Plan to Kill Thousands of Wild Horses orf.at, May 20, 2018, accessed May 20, 2018.