Przewalski’s Horse is a Feral Domestic Horse
Przewalski's horses at the Kustai National Park, Mongolia | Copyright: Bazartseren Boldgiv
IZW – 23.02.2018:

Przewalski’s Horse is a Feral Domestic Horse

Przewalski’s horses were thought to be the last wild species of horse. A recent international study led by Professor Ludovic Orlando, involving the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), has upended that theory. The study, published in the journal “Science“, changes our point of view about domestic horse origins. Based on their archaeological and genetic investigations, the researchers were able to prove that Przewalski’s horse is descended from once-domesticated stock. Some of the horses from the domesticated herds escaped and became the ancestors of all present-day Przewalski’s horse populations. A second horse species existing at that time replaced Przewalski’s horses as domestic horses, establishing the lineage from which all modern domestic horses descend.

The history of people and horses has been closely intertwined for millennia. According to our current understanding, all today’s domestic horses descended from horses domesticated in the Copper Age (around 3500 BC). Archaeological excavations undertaken in recent decades have shown that horse hunting cultures from what is now Kazakhstan were the first known people to domesticate horses. There is evidence of horses having been milked and harnessed.

By conducting a genetic analysis of archaeological horse bones, researchers now want to find out exactly how horses were first domesticated. Until now, Przewalski’s horse, which roams the Mongolian steppe, was thought to be the only surviving wild species of horse. “By comparing genomes, we discovered that the ancestor of modern Przewalski’s horse was once domesticated,” explained Arne Ludwig, geneticist at Leibniz IZW. “But the ancestors of modern breeds of domestic horses were domesticated some 2,000 years later. This suggests that today’s Przewalski’s horses are not direct descendants of the original wild form of Przewalski’s horse, but originate from secondary feral domestic Przewalski’s horses. Consequently, as it is the case with the European mouflon, Przewalski’s horse is also a secondary feral animal. “These findings should be taken into account in current and future reintroduction projects,” Ludwig recommended.

Publication:

Gaunitz C, Fages A, Hanghøj K, Albrechtsen A, Khan N, Schubert M, Seguin-Orlando A, Owens IJ, Felkel S, Bignon O, de Barros Damgaard P, Mittnik A, Mohaseb A, Alquraishi S, Alfarhan AH, Al-Rasheid K, Crubézy E, Benecke N, Olsen S, Brown D, Anthony D, Massy K, Pitulko V, Brem G, Hofreiter M, Mukhtarova G, Baimukhanov N, Lõugas L, Onar V, Krause J, Bazartseren B, Lepetz S, Mashkour M, Ludwig A, Wallner B, Merz V, Zaibert V, Willerslev E, Librado Sanz P, Outram AK, Orlando L (2018): Ancient genomes revisit the ancestry of domestic and Przewalski’s. SCIENCE, 22 February 2018. DOI: 10.1126/science.aao3297, http://science.sciencemag.org/cgi/doi/10.1126/science.aao3297

Contact:

Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research
PD Dr. Arne Ludwig
Department of Evolutionary Genetics
Phone +49 (0) 30  51 68 312
Email ludwig@izw-berlin.de

Steven Seet
Phone +49 (0) 30 5168 125
Email seet@izw-berlin.de
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