Very little is known about the family life and social behavior of the almost extinct Przewalski horses. Hungarian researchers have now used drones to create movement profiles of the animals and thus found out more about their family life and mating behavior. The group led by Katalin Ozogany from the University of Debrecen has published their results in the journal "Nature Communications".
Horses in the wild live together in family groups - so-called harems - which consist of a stallion and several mares as well as their offspring. Several harems can join together to form a herd. Young mares that reach sexual maturity each join a different harem. But adult mares can also do this. Until now, it was not clear what laws such changes follow.
Drones tracked movements of the herd
Researchers used drones to image the movements of a herd of 278 wild horses in Hortobagy National Park. They compared the data obtained from this with data on the genetic and social structure of the harems that had been collected over two decades. One result: If mares from different family groups often move close to each other, there is a high probability that they will join the same harem in the future.
The researchers write that the method can be used to reconstruct and predict group dynamics. Other animal species also live in similarly nested communities: primates, elephants and whales, for example, and also humans.
Przewalski's horse was thought to be almost extinct
The Przewalski's horse (Equus ferus przewalski) is actually native to Central Asia. The animals are named after their discoverer, the Russian researcher Nikolaj Przewalski. At times they were thought to be almost extinct. Today, through breeding, the stock again includes around 2400 in zoos and breeding stations worldwide. Przewalskis are about the size of ponies (about 1.40 meters) and very hardy. They can live in freezing cold, but also in extreme heat.
The Hortobagy National Park is part of the Hortobagy Puszta in eastern Hungary. This is a steppe landscape that was created by the drying out of the land as a result of the regulation of the Tisza River in the 19th century. Przewalski's horses have lived in the national park since 1997. They inhabit a 3,000-hectare, fenced-off, but otherwise natural settlement area.