Tarpan

tarpan
The Tarpan (public domain).

Name:

Tarpan; also known as Equus ferus ferus

Habitat:

Plains of Eurasia

Historical Period:

Pleistocene-Modern (2 million-100 years ago)

Size and Weight:

About five feet tall and 1,000 pounds

Diet:

Grass

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Moderate size; long, shaggy coat

 

About the Tarpan

The genus Equus--which comprises modern horses, zebras and donkeys--evolved from its prehistoric horse forebears a few million years ago, and flourished in both North and South America and (after some populations crossed the Bering land bridge) Eurasia.

During the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago, the North and South American Equus species went extinct, leaving their Eurasian cousins to propagate the breed. That's where the Tarpan, also known as Equus ferus ferus, comes in: it was this shaggy, ill-tempered horse that was domesticated by the early human settlers of Eurasia, leading directly to the modern horse. (See a slideshow of 10 Recently Extinct Horses.)

Somewhat surprisingly, the Tarpan managed to survive well into historical times; even after millennia of interbreeding with modern horses, a few pure-bred individuals roamed the plains of Eurasia as late as the early 20th century, the last one dying in captivity (in Russia) in 1909. In the early 1930's--perhaps inspired by other, less ethical eugenics experiments--German scientists attempted to re-breed the Tarpan, producing what is now known as the Heck Horse. A few years earlier, authorities in Poland also tried to resurrect the Tarpan by breeding horses with noticeably Tarpan-like traits; that early effort in de-extinction ended in failure.