The pitter patter of little hooves has been welcomed at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, with the arrival of a rare Przewalski's Horse foal.
The filly was born on 1 January 2018 to first-time mother Zaria. The Zoo now has a breeding herd of 11 Przewalski's Horses, which are the last surviving subspecies of wild horse (Equus ferus), and are native to central Asia. Przewalski's Horses are also called ‘takhi’ which means ‘spirit’ in Mongolia.
“This foal has been named Dash, and she has certainly been living up to her name,” Keeper Pascale Benoit said.
“She is healthy and well, and has plenty of energy, especially in the mornings. She can be seen dashing around and even lets out a tiny, high-pitched whinny when her mother strays too far away.
“Dash is starting to become more independent, and while she generally stays close by her mother’s side, she is spending more and more time exploring and interacting with the herd,” she said.
Dash’s father, Nikolai, was born at Werribee Open Range Zoo in 2012 and came to Taronga Western Plains Zoo in October 2016. Nikolai’s genetics make him an important breeding individual for the region, and thus a valuable addition to the Zoo’s Przewalski’s Horse breeding program.
In 1995, five Przewalski’s Horses from Taronga Western Plains Zoo were flown to Mongolia and reintroduced to the wild in the Gobi Desert, as part of a herd assembled by world zoos. Through this collaboration, numbers have continued to steadily increase in Mongolia.
“There are now almost 2000 Przewalski’s Horses in human care and in the wild today, which is a huge step for this species, that was once extinct in the wild,” Pascale said.
The foal’s birth represents yet another success for the Zoo’s breeding program, which saw another female foal, Naruu, born in February 2017. Keepers are awaiting the arrival of a second Przewalski’s Horse foal for the 2018 season, to mare Genghis, also sired by Nikolai.
Prior to reintroduction programs, Przewalski's Horses were last seen in the wild in the 1960s in the Gobi Desert, in south Mongolia. Their number dwindled as a result of human interference such as poaching and capture. Today, their main threats include habitat loss and low genetic diversity.
Later this year, Taronga Western Plains Zoo will unveil a new exhibit for the Przewalski’s Horse to better tell the story of this incredible species.