Nikolai Michailowicz Przewalski (1839–1888) was an important geographer and explorer in central areas of Asia at various times from 1867 to 1886 and was immortalized by discovering a Sedum and a wild horse, both named in his honor.
Born in Kimborovo, Smolensk, Russia on 12 April 1839, Nikolai Przewalski joined the Russian army attaining the rank of general and specialized in geography. He preferred the wilderness, far from civilization. After an assignment to Siberia he began expeditions to explore Central Asia and nearby areas for the czar. Various expeditions took him
a) to the Usúriuska area in southern Russia in 1867,
b) to the Amursk area in eastern Russia in 1868,
c) to Central Asia (the five former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan & Tajikistan) in 1871,
d) to the western area of Kansu province in northwestern China in 1872 where he discovered Sedum przewalskii, named in his honor by Carl Johann Maximowicz (1827-1891) in 1883,
e) to Mongolia (bordered by Russia to north and China to south) in 1873–76,
f) to mountains of Tian Shan (mountain range in Central Asia area on border between China and Kyrgyzstan) in 1877–78,
g) when almost reaching the Lhasa area of Tibet in 1879–81 discovering an unknown type of horse that was named in his honor—Equus przewalskii (Przewalski’s Horse)—a true link to the prehistoric past, and
h) the area around western Yangtze River in western China in 1883–1886.
Przewalski’s Horse is the only true wild horse about four feet tall, stockily built with short legs (resembling an ass), declining over the 20th century to none by the late 1960s. Prior to declining they were found in areas of northwestern China into Mongolia and around areas in or near Nepal and Tibet. After the decline the only wild horses left were captive ones in Munich and Prague zoos. Due to the efforts of Jan and Inge Bouman of The Netherlands the Przewalski’s Horse has been repopulated in Mongolia in the Khustain Nuruu National Park in the 1990s. The status has been changed from ‘extinct in the wild’ to ‘endangered’ in the 21st century. Much information about this wild horse can be found on the Internet.
Most of ‘wild’ horses we think of today—the American Mustang or the Australian Brumby—are actually feral horses descended from domesticated animals that escaped, adapting to life in the wild.
Nikolai’s contribution to geography, botany and zoology around the Central Asia areas was immense. He was a member of the Russian Geographical Society and was also an honorary member of the Academy of Sciences.
Nikolai Michailowicz Przewalski died on 1 November 1888.