Wild horse species ‘in peril’
Daily Times Monitor
Immortalised in ancient cave paintings, the horse has fascinated humans for thousands of years, reports BBC.
Predictably, though, it is principally human activities that are placing the few remaining wild horses under increasing pressure.
Conservationists, alarmed at the prospects for the seven species of horse, ass and zebra that survive in the wild, are launching an action plan designed to safeguard their future. It summarises current knowledge on their biology, ecology and conservation status.
The plan is entitled Equids: Zebras, Asses and Horses - Status Survey And Conservation Action Plan. It is the work of the equid specialist group of the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
Dr Patricia Moehlman, who chairs the group, said: “Most of the endangered equids live in desert and savanna ecosystems. These habitats are not rich in biodiversity, but do contain unique and endemic animals and plants.
Hanging in there: “Zebras, asses and horses can serve as ‘flagship’ species for the conservation of these ecosystems.
“The arid homes of many equids are also home to human populations that face the same extreme environmental pressures. The benefit to wildlife of involving local pastoralists in conservation management is likely to be significant.” The seven equid species are the African and Asiatic wild asses, the kiang (a wild ass from Tibet), Przewalski’s horse, and three zebra species - Grevy’s, mountain and plains zebras. Most are threatened, and are classified as endangered or vulnerable on IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species.
One species, Przewalski s horse, is classified as extinct in the wild on the Red List.
It can breed with domestic horses and produce fertile offspring, but its possession of certain distinct chromosomes means it differs more from its domestic relatives than any two domestic horses do from each other. There are also differences in appearance: for example, Przewalski’s horses shed their tail and mane hair annually, unlike domestic horses. The first visual records of this species are more than 20,000 years old - cave paintings, engravings, and decorated tools from Italy, western France, and northern Spain. Numbers of Przewalski’s horse declined dramatically after 1945, and only small groups were reported in the next few years.