Thursday, March 24, 2016 - Extinct in the wild only two decades ago, 6 Przewalski’s horses, born in a reserve in the south of France, have been reintroduced into the Russian steppes. Eventually scientists hope to have 100 of the endangered animals on the site in the Orenburg Reserves, a cluster of six nature areas along the border with Kazakhstan. Spanning more than 40,770 acres, the reserve is the largest unbroken, strictly protected plot of virgin steppe in Russia.
According to Tatjana Zharkikh, who heads the reintroduction project, the animals are quite happy, despite the harsh climate in the region. The animals actually enjoy rolling around in the snow, scratching their backs on the crusty surface. They are not afraid of wind, snow, and cold. If the Przewalski's horse has enough food, it is practically invincible.
Native to China, the stocky, tan-coloured horse with a spiky mane once inhabited the Eurasian steppe extending through Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The species was discovered by Russian explorer Nikolai Przhevalsky who described it in the 19th century, leading to a surge of interest in Europe, followed by a brutal campaign to capture these animals.
All 2,000 animals existing today are descendants of just 12 wild-caught horses, including a mare from Mongolia called Orlitsa, gifted to Soviet chairman Kliment Voroshilov during a visit in 1957. Breeding a viable population from such a limited gene pool has been a headache. Adding to that headache is the fact that the Przewalski's horse can breed with domestic horses to produce fertile hybrids, threatening to dilute the species decades down the line.
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