This is the story of a wild horse (1.30 to 1.45 m at the withers), which was thought to have fallen extinct. Then, in 1879, a Russian general named Nikolai Przewalski rediscovered several specimens of this species (hence the name "Przewalski's horse"). The poor animal was however actually extinct in its natural habitat, desert steppes extending from Mongolia to China. The reasons for this gradual extinction? Human activity (gradually reducing animals' range), the breeding of domestic horses and the hybridisation of the two species to the benefit of the individuals trained. In addition, hunting and capture played a part in the disappearance of the final Przewalski's horse in 1968. Fortunately, the interest of certain naturalists, veterinarians and researchers in these small wild horses enabled it to be rescued. From the late 19th century, 53 individuals were therefore placed in captivity in European zoos.Thus, the Menagerie du Jardin des Plantes in Paris welcomed its first Przewalski's horses in 1902. Kept in captivity, the small group reproduced (the first birth was recorded in 1909), as did other groups in European zoos.
While man is the cause of extinction of this species in its natural habitat, it is also its savior, thanks notably to the work of zoos.
Among these captive horses, 13 then become founders of future generations. As it happened, in order to preserve this specie’s future, conservation actions were quickly implemented in Europe. In 1959, a stud book was set up to monitor reproduction in captivity and oversee the horse conservation process. Thus, a European program was initiated in 1968 (official date of extinction of the species in its natural habitat) to save the horse and attempt to gradually reintroduce it in its natural environment: the European Endangered Species Protection Programme for the Przewalski's horse (EEPP). Today, the world population of Przewalski's horse numbers some 2,000 individuals, including 1,600 in captivity and 350 on the Mongolian steppe. While man is the cause of extinction of this species in its natural habitat, it is also its savoir, thanks notably to the work of zoos.