Endangered Przewalski’s horses have made a return to the steppes of Russia as part of the global effort to return the species to the wild.
The six horses, born and raised at a reserve in southern France, are now settling into part of the 16,500-hectare protected area known as the Orenburg Reserves, near the Kazakhstan border.
It is hoped the reserve will ultimately be home to 100 Przewalski’s horses
It is winter in the area of virgin steppe, but the resilient horses have no issues coping with the snow and cold.
The area occupied by the horses, one of six formal reserves which make up the Orenburg cluster, is fenced to help monitor and protect them. The fencing eliminates the risk of the young Przewalski’s mares mating with horses kept by herders in nearby villages.
There are long-term hopes that this reintroduction project might eventually expand to involve parts of Kazakhstan, providing a bigger range for the horses.
The Przewalski’s horse is the only surviving horse subspecies never to have been domesticated.
It was once common in Eurasia but hunting and habitat destruction led to their extinction in the wild. This was officially declared in 1969.
China started a breeding program in 1986 using horses brought back from Britain and Germany to repopulate the subspecies. Scores of horses bred through the program have since been released to the wild.
Today, about 2000 Przewalski’s horses survive – making them even rarer than pandas. They are the descendents of only a dozen or so Przewalski’s horses.
Most live in Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan.
The Przewalski’s horse was named after a Russian colonel who led an expedition into their rangelands in 1881.