On October 3rd, 2016, as the construction of a 52 km fence around the entire Pre-Ural Steppe site of the Orenburg State Nature Reserve was completed, the six Przewalski’s horses were ready to be released from their temporary home to the new spacious protected habitat.
And Russian President Vladimir Putin was there to support the horses’ first steps in their new natural domain.
Measuring more than 165km2, the area for the horses is found near the city of Orenburg, in the southern part of the Ural Mountains about 1300 kilometers southeast of Moscow, Russia.
President Putin observed, “This is a unique event, it is not just one of the horse varieties, this is something which was almost lost, almost disappeared from the planet …Let us congratulate the specialists.”
Last year six Przewalski’s horses arrived at their ancestral home in the Russian steppe from the Cevennes National Park in France. The horses were donated by the Przewalski’s Horse Association ТАKH (Association pour le Cheval de Przewalski). The reintroduction programme started as part of the UNDP-supported, Global Environment Facility-financed project “Improving the coverage and management efficiency of protected areas in the steppe biome of Russia”
Implemented by the Ministry of Natural Resources, the programme for the Przewalski horse at the Orenburg Reserve and the centre for the reintroduction is a triumph of international co-operation and scientific expertise. Almost entirely extinct in the wild for nearly 50 years, the Przewalski’s horse disappeared from the Russian steppe by the late 19th century. The reintroduction programme for establishing the Przewalski horse at the Orenburg Reserve has been successful to date and by 2030, it is planned that a semi-free population of 100 to 150 horses will inhabit the Pre-Ural Steppe site.
Releasing the horses to the wild nature of Orenburg State Nature reserve, “The horses came surprisingly quickly and quietly. Perhaps we could call it a success - the first release of horses after their delivery.” Rafilia Bakirova, Director of the Orenburg Reserve.
On October 23rd, 2016, as the second phase of the reintroduction programme, 15 more horses will be delivered to the Pre-Ural Steppe. These horses are now gathered in the National Park “Hortobagy’” in Hungary.
As part of the framework program on the reintroduction of wild horses in the Central Asian Steppe, the program results in restoring a critically endangered, and formerly extinct in the wild, species are doubly exciting and encouraging.
The first to venture out of the acclimation area was a mare named Lavender, the most daring and curious of the herd; behind her came the other mares, but they looked closely at how the stallion was behaving. The stallion remained the longest in the paddock. He was very careful and alert to danger. The herd consists of an adult stallion-leader, four mares and one young colt, the son of one of the mares.
The Przewalski‘s horses are well-fed, cheerful and happy, and have begun to form stable relationships within the herd, suggesting that they are fully adapted to the conditions of the Orenburg steppe, and have been safely discharged to the larger, wild area of the reserve.
The project ‘Improving the Coverage and Management Efficiency of Protected Areas in the Steppe Biome of Russia’
works to expand Russia’s steppe protected area system, fight fires, save species on the brink of extinction, and reintroduce a species that had gone extinct.
The project supported the expansion of the Orenburg nature reserve with 16.5 thousand ha of valuable grassland, thus creating an essential prerequisite for the launch of the Przewalski’s horse reintroduction programme. In addition, the project invested into the improved management effectiveness and capacities of the Reserve that also led to an increase in federal financing. The project created the infrastructure necessary for the delivery of the first six horses in 2015.
To date, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) project invested over US$ 650,000 into the reintroduction programme, with equal co-financing from the federal government. The GEF project will continue supporting the second phase of the reintroduction programme in 2016 while government funds will significantly increase and become a sole source of funding for sustaining the Przewalski horse reintroduction programme in future.
For more information on the Programme establishing a population of the Przewalski horse at the Orenburg Reserve, visit: orenzap.ru/en
. For more information on the overall Steppe project, and conservation efforts in the three additional reserves, visit: savesteppe.org.
The GEF is a financial mechanism for 5 major international environmental conventions. The GEF supports projects in 183 countries to address the world’s most challenging environmental issues.
In Russia since 1998, the UNDP/GEF portfolio has supported 30 projects on biodiversity conservation, climate change and international waters with a combined GEF budget exceeding US$ 80 million - drawing in considerable parallel co-financing from Russia.