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No Wild Horses Left
 By Winniefield Park   •   4th Mar 2018   •   678 views   •   0 comments


Pretty much everything written about Przewalski's horses in the last few decades has claimed that they were the last true wild horses on the planet. We call many horse populations wild such as Mustangs, but they are feral, descending from domestic horses that were lost, stolen or escaped. It was thought that Przewalski's Horses and what we consider the modern horse populations diverged about 45,000 years ago. Since then, Przewalski's Horses are thought to have remained separate genetically, with differences in some of their major systems such as reproductive, neurological, cardiac, metabolic and muscular. And, that they were the only truly wild horses left.

These horses became technically extinct in the wild in 1969 and survived only through conservation efforts in captivity. Since the 1960s, the number of Przewalski’s horses has climbed slowly from the dozen remaining horses. There are now just over 2000 individuals. So while no longer on the brink of extinction, they are still endangered and living in managed herds.

In 2015 it was reported that the first gene sequencing comparison study between modern horses and Przewalski’s horses was complete. And it was found that there were genetic ties between them and modern horses. The study found that up to 25% of the remaining horses carried the genes of modern horses. This was explained by the introduction of domestic horses throughout their history.

But a new study suggests that those ‘modern genes’ might not just be due to a few domestic horses interbreeding with wild herds. The study proposes that Przewalski’s horse are not the last remaining wild horse type at all.

Like the ‘wild’ horses of the Americas, Brumbies of Australia, these hoses may actually be feral.

Researchers compared the DNA in the bones of ancient domestic horses and the Przewalski's horses. What they found went against several decades of research. The gene sequencing pointed towards the Przewalski's horse being feral, rather than wild. Przewalski's horses may be descended from ancient domestic horses. The horses may not be descendants of an ancient wild horse native to the steppes of Eurasia, but more likely the descendants of the Botai Horse. Researchers were looking to prove that the Botoi horse was the antecedent of all modern horses. But, they now believe that they are the ancestors of the Przewalski’s Horse. More research will be needed to find the actual ancestor of our modern domestic horses.

The Botai were a copper age (approximately 3700 BC) culture who lived in settlements in the area of Kazakhstan. It’s thought the Botai domesticated local wild horses, using them for meat and milk and possibly transport, and are considered, if not the first culture to have domesticated horses, then the earliest example of a horse culture. Their settlement sites contain immense caches of bone fragments, the major part of which is from horses. This makes the culture a rich trove for researchers examining the domestication of the horse. It’s from the horses of the Botai that the researchers think the Przewalski’s Horse has descended.
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