Xinjiang center brings Przewalski’s horse back from brink of extinction

Global Times

08:36, February 15, 2019(GTM +8)

Four Przewalski's horses, bred in the Wild Horse Breeding Center in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, wait for their release into the wild. (Photo: Global Times)

A wild horse protection center in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has seen success in its efforts to breed and release the Przewalski's horse, which was once near extinction, into the wild.

Located in Jimsar county in the Changji Hui Autonomous Prefecture, the Wild Horse Breeding Center in Xinjiang has successfully bred six generations of the Przewalski's horse and achieved an 85 percent survival rate, the highest in this field in the world.

There are about 2,000 Przewalski's horses in the world, making its population smaller than that of the panda. They previously lived in the Junggar Basin and the desert grassland of the Mongolian Plateau.

Przewalski's horse is the only surviving wild horse in the world, and possesses the animal's original genes. The protection of the Przewalski's horse is key to preserving the genetic diversity of the species. 

The main responsibility of the Wild Horse Breeding Center in Xinjiang is to breed Przewalski's horses and to conduct experiments on releasing them into the wild, according to the center. 

Releasing them into the wild is key to optimizing the population of wild horses, Chu Hongjun, director of the Cara Hill Natural Conservation center, was quoted by as saying. 

However, it is not easy to release the Przewalski's horse into the wild, since they have mostly been raised by humans after birth.

Once released, these horses have to learn to adapt to the food, water and weather in the wild. They also need to fight with their natural enemies and compete for limited resources, and breed their offspring in harsh conditions, Chu said.

In August 2001, the Wild Horse Breeding Center released 27 Przewalski's horses into the Cara Hill natural preservation zone for the first time, marking a successful first step in the release plan. 

After a Przewalski's horse successfully reproduced in the wild in 2003, the center has released 94 horses in 15 batches.

"These horses stay in a transitional zone for more than a month before going into the wild. Then we monitor their conditions in the wild," Chu said.

According to data on these released horses, they have managed to overcome various difficulties involved in finding food and water, dealing with their natural enemies, breeding cubs and living through the chilly winter. In 2014, they began forming natural groups and the rate of reproductive survival in the wild has reached 100 percent.

To maintain the genetic diversity of the horse, the center began bringing 24 Przewalski's horses from Britain, the US and Germany since 1985. It also held international seminars and cooperated with different countries, including Mongolia, to exchange experiences on breeding and releasing the horse into the wild.

The center also launched a program to build a 10,000 mu forestation area with the objective of preventing possible floods.

"We planted many shrubs and arbor trees and renovated the stables… which helped improve ventilation," Wang Chen, deputy director of the center, was quoted in a release from the website of the Changji government as saying.

Ente Mark, a Kazakh vet who is responsible for disease prevention at the center, chose animal medicine as his major in college and began working at the center after graduation. In his first few years there, Ente Mark and his colleagues lived and worked at the center with no contact with other people, electricity or internet.

Thanks to the efforts made by the researchers there, the center now has 413 Przewalski's horses and 200 of them are living in the wild, making it the largest Przewalski's horse breeding and research center in Asia.