Piroplasmosis Presents Problems for Przewalski Horses

Researchers say the disease kills one out of five Przewalski horses in one major refuge area.

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Piroplasmosis Presents Problems for Przewalski Horses
Japanese researchers say the disease affects many Przewalski populations in Mongolia and leads to death in one out of five h | Photo: iStock
Conservation efforts have made great strides in bringing Przewalski horse herds back to their original lands in Mongolia. Unfortunately, though, these animals are faced with a problem: piroplasmosis. Japanese researchers say the disease affects many Przewalski populations in Mongolia and leads to death in one out of five horses in a major refuge area.

Domesticated riding horses dwelling in the same regions of the Hustai National Park appear to resist the disease. These free-roaming horses belonging to nomadic populations have similar infection rates—but no deaths, said Katsuro Hagiwara, PhD, of the Rakuno Gakuen University School of Veterinary Medicine, in Hokkaido.

“Susceptibility to pathogens (like piroplasmosis) depends on the horse species,” Hagiwara said. “The wild horses (which we call locally ‘takhi’) in particular are highly susceptible to the responsible protozoa (Theileria equi). Nomadic horses do not progress to deadly diseases after infection as wild horses do.”

The reason for this difference is unclear, he said. But it does highlight the need for better surveillance of the takhi, which appear to be infected by local ticks after arriving in Mongolia

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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