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The last wild horse

For many year Przewalski's horses were seen as the last living wild horse. But new research from 2018 suggests otherwise.

Once wild horses lived on all the great plains across Europe and Asia. However, as these areas are also perfect for human livestock, the wild horses  slowly lost their habitat. At the same time, the horses were also useful animals to us humans, and wild horses have therefore been captured and bred to be the modern domestic horse. The horses have been hugely important to human success. They have given us the opportunity to travel faster, longer and with more stuff. They have been a source of food, clothing, tents and tools. And they have been fantastic migratory animals that have been very valuable to the development of agriculture. Finally, war horses have been important for the spread of various peoples over the millennia.

From wild horse to domestic horse

Scientists around the world are still debating when and how today’s domestic horse emerged. This is done by comparing DNA material from living horses and from horses found in excavations.

Until 2018, scientists were convinced that the modern horse emerged in Kazahkstan when the Botai people tamed wild horses more than 5000 years ago. They were also convinced that Przewalski horses were the last wild horse species in the world.

New research in 2018

Scientists have recently examined 5500-year-old DNA from Botai horses and compared it with DNA from horses from different parts of the world over the past 5000 years. In so doing, they have formed a family tree that has completely changed our perception of the horse’s origin.

First, the modern domestic horse and the Botai horses are on two different branches of the family tree, and the Botai horse cannot therefore be the progenitor of the domestic horse.

But most surprisingly, the family tree also showed that Przewalski’s horses were, in fact, domesticated and escaped Botai horses. That is, even though Przewalski’s horses have lived freely in the wild for thousands of years, they are not true wild horses, and the last real wild horses must have gone extinct many years ago.

However, Przewalski’s horses are still the closest we get to wild horses today.