EQUUS - - Medical Front -

One of the greatest comeback sto­ries in the equine world be­longs to the Prze­wal­ski’s horse (Equus ferus prze­wal­skii), which went ex­tinct in the wild dur­ing the 1960s. The species was saved in cap­tiv­ity and re­turned to the wild start­ing in 1992. Now liv­ing pri­mar­ily in steppe and desert steppe re­gions of Mon­go­lia, Prze­wal­ski’s horses are con­sid­ered the only re­main­ing wild horses in the world.

How­ever, con­cerns have been grow­ing that, due to cap­tive breed­ing, the be­hav­ioral traits of the mod­ern Prze­wal­ski’s horse have changed to an ex­tent that may com­pro­mise prospects for the long-term sur­vival of the species in its orig­i­nal habi­tat.

To com­pare the diet of to­day’s Prze­wal­ski’s horses to that of their ex­tinct an­ces­tors, re­searchers from the Re­search In­sti­tute of Wildlife Ecol­ogy from the Uni­ver­sity of Vet­eri­nary Medicine, Vi­enna, con­ducted sta­ble iso­tope anal­y­sis of tail hairs taken from his­toric (pre­ex­tinc­tion) mu­seum spec­i­mens of Prze­wal­ski’s horses and mod­ern (rein­tro­duced) horses now liv­ing in the Dzun­gar­ian Gobi. Be­cause equine tail hairs grow con­tin­u­ously but are metabol­i­cally and iso­topi­cally in­ert once formed, they pro­vide a record of an in­di­vid­ual’s nu­tri­tional in­take over a pe­riod of time.

The iso­tope anal­y­sis yielded ev­i­dence that a sig­nif­i­cant shift oc­curred in the diet of Prze­wal­ski’s horses. Prior to ex­tinc­tion, the species fed on nu­tri­tious grasses in the sum­mer but were forced to also browse bushes in the win­ter. In con­trast, mod­ern Prze­wal­ski’s horses are year­round grass graz­ers.

The re­searchers posit that this change re­flects the ces­sa­tion of hunt­ing of Prze­wal­ski’s horses by peo­ple liv­ing in the Gobi. Where once the species fled to ar­eas where food was scarce to avoid hun­ters, the Prze­wal­ski’s horses now re­main on grass­dom­i­nated pas­tures of the Gobi along­side lo­cal peo­ple and their live­stock.

Ref­er­ence: “Sta­ble iso­topes re­veal diet shift from pre­ex­tinc­tion to rein­tro­duced Prze­wal­ski’s horses,” Sci­en­tific Re­ports, July 2017

The anal­y­sis yielded ev­i­dence that a sig­nif­i­cant shift oc­curred in the diet of Prze­wal­ski’s horses.

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