United Nations Development Programme

Russian Federation


18.10.2015 The first Przewalsky’s horses delivered from France to Russia’s Orenburg reserve

On 18 October 2015, six Przewalsky’s horses arrived on a charter flight from Montpellier, France, to the Orenburg airport. This arrival kicked off Russia’s only programme for restoration (reintroduction) of the Przewalsky’s horse in the Orenburg region, on the Preduralskaya Steppe cluster of the Orenburg reserve. The programme became possible owing to the support of the UNDP/GEF project “Improving the coverage and management efficiency of protected areas in the steppe biome of Russia”. A few more groups of Przewalsky’s horses will be brought here under the programme in the coming years.

The Przewalsky’s horse is on the Red Book of Russia as species “extinct in the wild”. In the Orenburg region the last wild horses were not seen since the end of the 19th century, and now, almost two centuries later, there is a chance they will return to the Orenburg steppes.
The UNDP/GEF Project together with the RF Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment financed all the preparations and infrastructure for the Przewalsky’s horse reintroduction and the delivery of the horses to Orenburg. The horses were donated by the Przewalsky’s Horse Association: ŇŔŐ (Association pour le Cheval de Przewalsky: TAKH), France, where multiple generations of the horse have been held on enclosed natural grassland in its biostation Tour du Vale. The animals were delivered from the airport to the Reintroduction Centre of the Orenburg Reserve free of charge by Gazprom Extraction Orenburg. National Geographic Russia, Living Planet TV and the web-portal Strana.ru provide information support for the Przewalsky’s Horse Reintroduction Programme.

In the evening of 17 October, the horses were put into individual transportation crates, and early in the morning 18 October, delivered to the Montpellier airport. After passing all the customs formalities, the horses and the Przewalsky’s horse Association personnel left for Orenburg at 9 a.m., Moscow time. The planes with the valuable cargo and experts arrived to Orenburg in the afternoon. The animals spent around six hours in the airplane. According to the experts, the animals have tolerated the flight well and are in satisfactory condition. After customs and veterinary checks, the crates with the horses were loaded on lorries which carried them to the Preduralskaya Steppe cluster of the Orenburg Reserve 120 km off Orenburg.

When the animals arrived to the reserve, they were released in previously built auxiliary enclosures for quarantine. The horses will spend one month in quarantine, and then released into acclimatization enclosures. During acclimatization the Przewalsky’s horses will be adapting to new climatic conditions under close supervision of the Orenburg reserve team.

Additional info:
Przewalsky’s horse (Order: Odd-toed ungulates (Perissodactyla), Family: Horse (Equidae), Genus: Equus Przewalsky’s horse) is the only surviving subspecies of true horses on our entire planet. The species is recorded on the RF Red Book and Annex 1 to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and on the IUCN Red List. Przewalsky’s horse was discovered by the Russian traveller Nikolai Przewalsky during his second expedition to Central Asia (Jungaria) in 1879. Local hunters gave him a present: the skull and skin of an unusual horse. After coming back to Russia, Przewalsky handed them over to the Zoology Museum of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Saint-Petersburg, and in 1881 Ivan Polyakov described a new, previously unknown horse species, and named it after Przewalsky (Equus przewalskii Polj, 1881).

The idea to restore the wild horse population in the Orenburg region was proposed by Dr.Sergei Levykin, researcher at the Steppe Institute of the Urals Department of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in the late 1990-s. Dr.Aleksander Chibilev, Head of the Institute, corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences, did a lot to promote this idea. It is owing to the efforts and active participation of experts from Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution and Zoology Museum the Przewalsky’s horse rehabilitation programme for the Orenburg region was developed and approved, with the aim to create a free population of the Przewalsky’s horse in its historical area in Russia and at the same time add another acotourism attraction to the Orenburg steppes. Also, the programme identified the area for horse release: the Orlovskaya Steppe site.

Practical implementation of the programme began only in 2010 under the UNDP/GEF project “Improving the coverage and management efficiency of protected areas in the steppe biome of Russia”. The key prerequisite for its implementation and the major task to be accomplished by the UNDP/GEF Project and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment was to establish the Orlovskaya steppe site as the new cluster of Orenburg reserve (later renamed as Preduralskaya steppe). The Preduralskaya Steppe site has everything that is required to qualify as an area for breeding and keeping in the wild Przewalsky’s horse. It is virgin steppe combined with fallow lands that have not been ploughed up since 1965. The site area is over 16.5 thousand hectares. In 2015, the site was included in the federal Orenburg Nature Reserve. Owing to the natural environment here, Przewalsky’s horses can not only live here independently for the period of temporary holding in acclimatisation zones during year one, but also after they have been released in the wild. All the necessary infrastructure required to keep the horse in semi-free conditions has been constructed.

The Przewalsky’s Horse Reintroduction Programme in the Orenburg region will be carried out for 15 years. According to the plans, by 2030 a semi-free population of 100 to 150 Przewalsky’s horses will be created on the Preduralskaya Steppe site.

The Programme is supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Global Environment Facility (GEF), RF Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Russian Geographic Society, Steppe Institute of the Urals Department of the Russian Academy of Sciences, A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution (Moscow), Zoology Museum (Moscow), Government of the Orenburg region and Supervisory Council of the Orenburg branch of the RGS, and the regional foundation Regeneration of the Orenburg Fauna.

This work be carried out jointly with global leaders in Przewalsky’s horse conservation: The Przewalsky’s Horse Association: ŇŔŐ (Association pour le Cheval de Przewalsky: TAKH, France, bio station Tour du Vale, European Endangered Programme for Przerwalski Horse (programme sponsor: Cologne zoo, Germany), Equid Taxon Advisory Group (trustee: Stuttgart zoo, Germany), International Studbook for the Przewalsky horse (trustee: Prague zoo), Altyn-Emel national park (Kazakhstan), Askania-Nova biosphere reserve (Ukraine), and Khustai-Nuru national park (Mongolia).

Tatiana Zharkikh, leader of the reintroduction project, Orenburg Reserve , russian969@yandex.ru
Natalia Sudets, PR specialist for the UNDP/GEF Steppe PA Project, brigantine@yandex.ru

Photos by Natalia Sudets

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