Modern Przewalski’s Horses Eat Different Diet Than Ancestors

Today wild Przewalski’s horses eat high-quality grass year-round. Previously, they ate less-nutritious bushes, as well.
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By and large, horses’ preferred fodder is grass. This is true for domestic horses as well as for wild horses residing in Asia’s Gobi Desert. But, a team of researchers from the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology recently determined via tail hair analysis that, before their extinction in the wild, Przewalski’s horses had been on a different diet than today.

While the horses have now access to richer pastures, they were previously hunted and chased away into less productive habitats. Przewalski’s horses were officially declared extinct in the wild in 1969. However, a few animals survived in captivity and, in 1992, the first captive-bred Przewalski’s horses were returned to the wild.

Petra Kaczensky, Dr. Rer. Silv., and Martina Burnik Šturm, PhD, have learned that, before their extinction in the wild, Przewalski’s horses had a more mixed diet: In summer, they only ate grass, while they also consumed less-nutritious bushes during the winter. Today, after their reintroduction, the animals only eat high-quality grass throughout the year.

“We explain this dietary shift by an improved human attitude,” said Burnik Šturm. “In the past, humans considered Przewalski’s horses as pasture competitors and hunted them as a food source. The nutritious pastures were reserved for domestic sheep and cattle. Thus, access to pastures in winter was difficult for wild horses. Shrubs and bushes were the only alternative

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