Caspian Horses Debut At Memphis Zoo

Ancient history caught up with modern times as the Memphis Zoo welcomed two new members into its Zoo family—Caspian horses.

The Memphis Zoo is the only zoo in the United States to exhibit these small horses and is one of only six breeders in the country. “This is such a great opportunity for us to continue the work conserving this breed,” said Farm Manager mark Ferguson. Since their introduction into the U.S. in 1995, only 114 Caspians live in the country, and there are fewer than 500 horses worldwide.

Hisan (HISS-AHN), a seven-year-old rose gray mare from the Australian blood line, and Darius (DA-RY-US), a two-year-old bay stallion from the European blood line, arrived at the Memphis Zoo April 12. According to Ferguson, the animals are adjusting just fine. “Caspians are just wonderful animals,” he said. “They also tend to be easier to train than other horses and are great for riding and jumping.

“What makes them so different from other horses, too, is that they get along very well together. The animals are accustomed to living together, male and female, because they lived in such small pockets early on. With other horses, we would have to separate the males and females from each other until breeding season. We don't have to do that with the Caspians because they are used to living so close together.”

According to Ferguson, the Zoo does plan to breed Hisan and Darius which will further develop the gene pool of these ancient animals.

Caspian horses were recorded in history around 550 B.C. on the seal of King Darius during the Persian Empire and depicted in many rock drawings. Then, after the Moslem conquest of Persia in 627 A.D., the horses disappeared from history. Thought to be extinct, the animals were rediscovered in the mountains of Iran 1,300 years later by Louise Firouz, an American riding school instructor living in Teheran. After extensive blood, bone, and DNA tested, archeozoologists and genetic specialists concluded Firouoz's discovery, now known as the Caspian horse after the nearby Caspian Sea, was indeed the same ancient horse species.

At just 11 hands high, Caspian horses have several traits that separate them from other breeds. These exceptional jumpers have a narrow build, making them perfect for the smaller rider. Caspians have a concave-shaped face, vaulted head, large almond-shaped eyes, and low-set nostrils in a small muzzle. Accompanied by a silky mane, coat, and tail which is parallels their gentle temperament.

“Everyone is thrilled and excited to have these animals at our Zoo,” Ferguson added. Hisan and Darius can be seen daily at the Memphis Zoo's Once Upon A Farm.

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