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Creation  Volume 26Issue 2 Cover

Creation 26(2):46–51
March 2004

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Resurrecting a ‘prehistoric’ horse

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Previous articles in Creation have dealt with depictions of so-called ‘prehistoric’ animals in cave paintings around the world.1 While we recognize many of these creatures because they are still alive today, others are apparently extinct. The ‘prehistoric’ label reinforces the idea that many types of creatures lived and died before mankind came on the scene. But starting with the real history in Genesis, we can be sure that the beginning of earth history was also the beginning of human history,2 so there has never been an era of prehistory in that sense!

Breeding a Tarpan

What would it be like to see a ‘prehistoric animal’ from a cave painting alive? Well a couple from central Oregon, USA, do that every day! Back in 1990, Lenette and Gordon Stroebel bought a herd of 20 Tarpan-style horses with a view to breeding horses that we typically associate with cave paintings. Other cave paintings of horses resemble Przewalski’s horses (see Przewalski’s horses below). The Stroebels call their ranch Genesis Equines and their herd of horses consists of genuine ‘look-alikes’ of wild Tarpans, which became extinct in the late 1800s.3

They carry on a breeding project begun in the 1960s by horse lover Harry Hegardt. His efforts to recreate a ‘prehistoric’ horse from wild American mustangs eventually resulted in something closely resembling the original Tarpan. The Stroebels have continued where he left off. Others have attempted to revive Tarpans, but their approach is rather different, and not without its critics.4 Believing that Tarpan genes were in American wild mustangs,5 they captured mustangs that exhibited true Tarpan characteristics—including a more upright mane (see Tarpans and Tarpan-style horses below)—to breed from. So the Stroebels (like Hegardt before them) succeeded in ‘recreating’ Tarpan look-alikes without resorting to crossbreeding with Przewalski’s horses, as had been done previously.6

Artificial selection has limits

The Stroebels are careful to point out that their Tarpan-style horses are very unlikely to be true genetic re-creations of the extinct Tarpan.7 They may have a very similar phenotype (physical appearance), but the information present in the original Tarpan genotype (genetic makeup) was lost due to extinction. By recombining genetic information that exists in other species of the horse kind, the breeders have apparently restored information for an upright mane, among other character traits. But, there are limits to our ability to ‘resurrect’ the genetic code of now extinct creatures. Notice that the Stroebels had to carefully select breeding mares and stallions that they judged were likely to possess the genetic information for desirable (Tarpan) characteristics. This selection process was nonrandom (obviously requiring the application of their knowledge of horse traits) and goal-orientated (offspring with the best mix of Tarpan traits were chosen for breeding the next generation).

Although this has resulted in significant changes in features, it is quite unlike evolution. Evolution on the grand scale depends on the generation of totally new genetic information. However, no examples of this are known in living things, so it is a bankrupt theory.8 Not only that, evolution is meant to be a blind, purposeless process. This is quite unlike the intelligent, purposeful Tarpan-breeding program of the Stroebels! Artificial selection results in recombination of genetic information already present in various horses. Evolution must account for where all this information came from in the first place, but cannot do so. Rather, the biological and fossil evidence is fatal to all such theories.9

Confirming the Bible

All of this serves to underline the truth of the biblical statement that ‘… God made the beasts of the earth according to their kind, cattle according to their kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind ’ (Genesis 1:25). We see considerable variation in the horse kind, but it occurs within the limits fixed by our Creator at the beginning. Interestingly, some of the hybrids that result from cross-breeding various members (‘species’) of the horse kind (as reported in Creation10,11) are not in fact sterile.12 This is especially noteworthy when one considers that the chromosome numbers of various species of Equus13 differ. For example, domestic horses (64 chromosomes) form fertile offspring with Przewalski’s horses (66 chromosomes).14,15

The Bible also clearly teaches that pairs of all land-based creatures that breathe through nostrils boarded the Ark (Genesis 6:19; 7:2; 7:8–9; 7:15) before the global catastrophic Flood of Noah’s day. Therefore, all species of living horses, as well as those that have become extinct since the Flood, are descendants of the two members of the horse kind that God brought to the Ark (Genesis 7:15). Many fossils of horses probably formed in local catastrophes after the Flood.16

Cave art—more recent than you might think!

Cave paintings of horses and other animals would have been created after the Babel dispersion recorded in Genesis 11. As small populations of human beings migrated from Babel across the continents, some sheltered/lived in caves and daubed the cave walls with images of horses and other animals they saw. Many of these creatures (including the classic ‘prehistoric’-looking horse) subsequently became extinct. In one way, the work of people like the Stroebels has served to bring this ‘cave painting era’ psychologically closer to the present.17 It also raises the question of whether these creatures and the paintings really date to many tens of thousands of years ago, as is popularly claimed.18

Przewalski’s horses

The Russian explorer and naturalist Nikolai Przewalski (pronounced ‘shuh-vahl-skee1’) discovered these horses on the China/Mongolia border in 1879, although recent reports suggest other explorers had seen them many years earlier.2,3 These are thought to be the only truly wild horses—that have not come from feral domestic horses. Now an endangered species, they are smaller than most domestic horses, with a stocky body, short legs, large head and a stiff, upright mane. They are dun-coloured (golden red) with a dark stripe along their backs but pale white undersides and muzzles—the coat grows lighter in winter.4

Przewalski’s horse has 66 chromosomes, compared to 64 for the domestic horse, Equus caballus, seemingly supporting its separate species name, Equus przewalski.5 Nevertheless, recent DNA sequencing studies show that they are very similar to both modern horses and ancient ones (i.e. horses preserved in permafrost).6

Once thought to have covered the steppe (plains) regions of Europe and Asia, their numbers plummeted in the decades following their discovery. So a captive breeding program began at the turn of the last century. Thirteen of the horses from that conservation effort are the ancestors of about 1,200 Przewalski’s horses alive today, in zoos, private reserves and protected areas of Mongolia.3 Return to top.

References

  1. The ‘pr’ is pronounced but very softly and fleetingly.
  2. Salvadori, F.B. and Florio, P.L., Wildlife in Peril, Book Club Associates, London, p. 90, 1978 (English translation).
  3. Creature Feature, National Geographic, <www.nationalgeographic.com/kids/creature_feature/0204/horses2.html>, 4 December 2002.
  4. Pickeral, T., The Encyclopedia of Horses and Ponies, Parragon Books, Bath, England, p. 229, 2001.
  5. Boyd, L. and Houpt, K.A. (Eds.), Przewalski’s Horse: The history and biology of an endangered species, University of New York Press, New York, 1994. This was reviewed at <www.equinevetnet.com/library/bookpages/pzhlbvd.html>, 4 December 2002.
  6. Vilá , C. et al., Widespread origins of domestic horse lineages, Science 291(1):474–477, 2001.

Tarpans and Tarpan-style horses

True Tarpans are extinct wild horses that seem to have lived principally in Eastern Europe, some on the steppes, some in scrubland and forested areas. Based on cave paintings, their range extended as far as Spain.1 S.G. Gmelin, an 18th century explorer, first described the Tarpan. Its status as a distinct wild species was controversial until a University of Vienna paleontologist (O. Antonius) argued that it was a separate type and gave it the name Equus gmelini (sometimes called Equus przewalskii gmelini, that is, a subspecies of Przewalski’s horse).2

As expanding agriculture destroyed their habitat, they began to die out, the last wild Tarpan dying in the Ukraine in 1879.3,4 In the early 1900s, zoologist brothers Heinz and Lutz Heck, at the Munich Zoo (Tierpak Hellabrunn) in Germany, began a conservation effort to ‘re-create’ Tarpans. The Hecks selected representatives of several European pony breeds believed to be descendants of the original Tarpans for breeding. They bred mares from these breeds with Przewalski’s stallions and established a new ‘Tarpan’ breed at Munich in 1933.1

Modern Tarpan-type horses are small, with a short back, thick neck, large head and a semi-erect mane. The coat is a mousy-grey colour (called ‘grulla’) with a dark stripe along the back.5 With the exception of the few dozen Tarpan-style horses bred at Genesis Equines, Oregon (see main article), there are about one hundred modern Tarpans worldwide, descended from a handful of horses from the Hecks’ breeding stock.1 Return to top.

References

  1. Tarpan, <www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds/horses/TARPAN/>, 29 January 2003.
  2. Equus gmelini—Tarpan (Oriental group), <www.horsecare.stablemade.com/_articles/tarpan.htm>, 4 December 2002.
  3. Salvadori, F.B. and Florio, P.L., Wildlife in Peril, Book Club Associates, London, p. 92, 1978 (English translation).
  4. Pickeral, T., The Encyclopedia of Horses and Ponies, Parragon Books, Bath, England, p. 235, 2001.
  5. Anon, Breeders rebuilding an ancient horse, <www.moggies.co.uk/wybi/tarpans.html>, 29 January 2003; see also: Flaccus, G., Breeders resurrect ancient horses: Extinct line’s diluted genes culled from wild mustangs, Associated Press, 23 June 2002, <www.reddingclassifieds.com/newsarchive/20020623nat260.shtml>, 14 December 2002.

References and notes

  1. See for example: Wieland, C., ‘Lost world’ animals—found! Creation 19(1):10–13, 1996. This shows how cave drawings were brought to life by exciting new discoveries.
  2. The New Testament writers testify to this fact. E.g. the Lord Jesus, when asked about divorce (see Mark 10:6–9), referred His listeners back to Genesis and taught that Adam and Eve had been made ‘at the beginning of creation’.
  3. Anon, Breeders rebuilding an ancient horse, <www.moggies.co.uk/wybi/tarpans.html>, 14 December 2002; see also: Flaccus, G., Breeders resurrect ancient horses: Extinct line’s diluted genes culled from wild mustangs, Associated Press, 23 June 2002, <www.reddingclassifieds.com/newsarchive/20020623nat260.shtml>, 14 December 2002.
  4. For instance, the American Tarpan Studbook Association (formed in Wisconsin in 1972) thinks mustangs are too far removed from the ancestor, and considers that the horses from the Heck brothers’ breeding program are truer Tarpans.
  5. Mustangs are descended from domesticated horses that belonged to the Spanish Conquistadors of the 16th century.
  6. Przewalski’s horses are an endangered species that are not descended from domestic horses and, unlike them, possess a fully erect mane, without a forelock.
  7. See ref. 3.
  8. This idea is called neo-Darwinism. Unfortunately for the evolutionists, the facts of biology contradict the basic mechanism which they place their faith in; i.e. that rare, beneficial mutations occur which specifically code for some new feature or other and are passed on to succeeding generations by natural selection. No mutation has yet been shown to add this sort of new information (i.e. that specifies greater complexity) to a creature’s DNA.
  9. Sarfati, J., The non-evolution of the horse, Creation 21(3):28–31, 1999.
  10. Batten, D., Ligers and wholphins? What next? Creation 22(3):28–33, 2000.
  11. Shetland-Zebra hybrid, Creation 24(1):9, 2002.
  12. While usually not fertile, the mule, a hybrid of the horse and domestic ass (donkey), is occasionally fertile. See Mule gives birth, Creation 25(2):9, 2003.
  13. Equus is the (Latin name) genus for members of the horse kind.
  14. Salvadori, F.B. and Florio, P.L., Wildlife in Peril, Book Club Associates, London, p. 90, 1978 (English translation).
  15. Boyd, L. and Houpt, K.A. (Eds.), Przewalski’s Horse: The history and biology of an endangered species, University of New York Press, New York, 1994.
  16. This is suggested by the occurrence of many horse fossils in sedimentary rocks of only localized extent, not in sedimentary rocks of continental extent. All living horse species are survivors of a ‘genetic bottleneck’. Obviously, there was still tremendous genetic potential within the Ark’s inhabitants. Since God brought the animals to Noah (Genesis 6:20; 7:15), it’s reasonable to assume that He selected those with the greatest genetic potential—allowing rapid diversification/adaptation (even ‘speciation’ because this is still change within kinds) into the numerous ecological niches that became available in the post-Flood world.
  17. The ‘prehistoric’ horses which feature in a recent novel, The Shelters of Stone (by evolutionist Jean M. Auel), were inspired by the Tarpans from the Stroebels’ Genesis Equines ranch.
  18. One author writes about cave paintings at Lascaux and Avignon, France, as follows: ‘That these paintings have survived at all is unbelievable, but when you consider their date of approximately 20,000 BC, and compare this to the condition they are in, it is quite astonishing.’ See: Pickeral, T., The Encyclopedia of Horses and Ponies, Parragon Books, Bath, England, p. 156, 2001.

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