Wild Horses at the National Zoo

untitledThe so-called wild mustangs who roam the American West are actually descended from domestic animals, and are thus technically feral mustangs. In fact, most of the world’s free-ranging horses are feral, though there is one famous exception. The horses who roam the Mongolian highlands, known to science and history as Przewalski horses, have never consented to domestication, and, as a result, they are often called the last truly “wild” horses. Their population was already teetering on the brink of extinction in the late nineteenth century when famed German trapper Carl Hagenbeck ventured to Mongolia and procured several live specimens for exhibition in the United States. These animals and their progeny were displayed in zoos from Philadelphia to the Bronx throughout the early twentieth century. The photograph of a Przewalski horse in the overhead banner was taken at the National Zoo in 1910. Przewalski horses remain on display at the National Zoo to this day, more than a century later, and their numbers remain perilously low. The Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute has taken steps to reverse this trend, announcing the first Przewalski horse born by artificial insemination in the summer of 2013. Whether these horses still qualify as “wild” is another debate entirely. To learn more about the Przewalski horses at the National Zoo, check the links here and here. You can also learn more by clicking on the image below, which was taken by Jessie Cohen in the summer of 1984.

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