A horse is a horse, of course, of course… Unless it is an endangered Grevy’s zebra. More than probably any other animal, the horse has made the greatest impact on humans. Within human history the horse has been transportation, provided companionship, worked as a beast of burden, tilled the soil, waged war and given opportunities for recreation. Although there is a proliferation of domestic horses, their wild counterparts are in serious trouble, if not already extinct.
The equine family includes horses, donkeys and zebras. Today’s truly wild equines are found only in Asia and Africa. There are wild donkey species (also known as kulans, onagers or kiangs) in Asia and Africa, zebras in Africa and re-introduced wild Prezwalski’s horses in Asia. The “wild” horses in our country are actually domesticated horses that are now feral – living free. In the past, there were three subspecies of wild horses: the forest horse of central Europe which disappeared in the Middle Ages as agriculture took over, the extinct plains tarpan from the steepes of Russia which is thought to be the ancestor of our domesticated horse, and Prezwalski’s horse, which is housed in some zoos but became extinct in the wild about 40 years ago.
Caldwell Zoo is very fortunate to have one of the very endangered species of zebra – Grevy’s zebra. The Grevy's zebra differs from other zebras because of its unique behavior and more primitive characteristics. The Grevy's zebra is the most horse-like of the striped equines. It is also the largest zebra. One can easily distinguish a Grevy's from other zebra species by the narrow stripes and white, unstriped belly. Like most equines, the zebra has a great sense of smell and eyes located on the sides of the head to allow for a very wide field of vision, enabling it to detect predators.
Not long ago there were huge herds of Grevy’s, but today it is thought that fewer than 2,000 remain in the wild. These beautiful equines are currently listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Several factors have led to the reduction in Grevy’s zebra numbers, such as excessive hunting, overgrazing by local cattle and lack of water sources. In addition, a mare only has one foal every two years. Caldwell Zoo is proud to be a part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Grevy’s zebra Species Survival Program (SSP). The SSP is a cooperative breeding program among AZA accredited institutions created for the purpose of ensuring survival of a species in need of conservation efforts. Hopefully, with conservation programs such as the Grevy’s zebra SSP, we will always be able to see the magnificent equines.