These endangered horses traveled 3,000 miles to their new home — and it could mean survival for their species

A wild Przewalski’s horse -- tan with a black mane and tail -- stands on a plain, with a sunrise behind them painting the sky pink and blue and white.

The Kazakh Steppe, also known as the Great Dala, is a great expanse of land that stretches from northern Kazakhstan to Central Asia. 

A patchwork of grasslands, savannas, and shrublands, the Kazakh Steppe is home to Saiga antelope, Siberian deer, foxes, badgers, Mongolian gerbils, Russian steppe tortoises — and a growing herd of wild Przewalski’s horses

Last week, three Przewalski’s horses (named Zorro, Zeta II, and Ypsilon) traveled 3,000 miles — by truck and plane — from the Prague Zoo in Czechia to the Altyn Dala reserve in the The Kazakh Steppe. 

They are the first of 40 horses that will join them in the next five years, in an attempt to rewild the species.  

“We have been waiting for this moment for a very long time,” Albert Salemgareyev from the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Kazakhstan told AFP. “A lot of work has been carried out in recent months in order for the Przewalski horses to come to Kazakhstan.”

A Przewalski’s horse foal lies on the ground near it's mother.
A Przewalski’s horse foal. Image via Meghan Murphy / Credit: Smithsonian Institution (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Przewalski’s horses were once native to Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and China, but due to human interference, they disappeared from the wild completely in the 1960s. 

Remarkably, all living Przewalski’s horses are descended from just 12 horses — all caught in the wild from 1910 to 1960. Through decades of conservation efforts led by a network of zoos and nature reserves, the species has been pulled back from the brink of extinction.

There are now 1,900 Przewalski's horses left on the planet. They are still listed as endangered, but their numbers are slowly growing. Rewilding efforts like these could ensure the continued survival of the species, which is widely regarded as the last “truly wild” horse species in the world

Pavol Šepel’ák, an ambassador of the Czech Republic, said that the project has moved swiftly from its first conception in April 2023. 

“I am very happy that we can return this beautiful animal to the land of its habitat,” Šepel’ák said in a press statement. “The project itself, which the Prague Zoo called the Return of Wild Horses 2024, has already had great success. … I am very glad that the first stage was accomplished in such a short period of time.” 

The Altyn Dala reserve spans over 1.2 million acres, but the three horses will live in a center within the larger reserve for the first year of rehabilitation for their own protection. 

“There, they will be monitored and the work will be carried out by veterinarians and scientific workers,” Vera Voronova, an executive director of the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative, told The Astana Times

As more horses arrive over the next few years, the veterinarians and conservation workers will have to gradually adjust their operations, but the team welcomes the challenge. 

“Of course, we will consider how to form groups among these horses,” Voronova explained. “They will continue to be monitored even after their release.”

Header image via Petr Jan Juračka / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Article Details

June 11, 2024 11:41 AM
A giant pangolin in desert sand. It is a massive scaly creature with a long tail, claws, and a slender snout.

Endangered 'walking pinecone' mammal spotted after 24 year absence

Conservationists thought that this massive, scaly creature was gone altogether in this West African country, until it was spotted on their trail cameras for the first time since 1999.
Illustration of colorful ocean waves

9 Activities To Celebrate World Oceans Day on June 8

June 8 is World Oceans Day! We’ve gathered a list of ideas to help you celebrate and protect the world’s oceans...
Horses running in a rewilding field

Rewilding Projects Are Multiplying Across the U.K. – Seeking to Boost Biodiversity

One of the most innovative projects now underway may be WildEast, which ambitiously hopes to rewild an area more than three times the size of New York City, creating interconnecting wild corridors across East Anglia, the country’s most intensely farmed region.
A female giant anteater roaming in a field with her baby on its back

Conservation good news: Giant anteaters are returning to south Brazil thanks to rewilding efforts

Recent giant anteater sightings in Rio Grande do Sul state indicate the species has returned to southern Brazil, where it had been considered extinct for more than a century.

Want to stay up-to-date on positive news?

The best email in your inbox.
Filled with the day’s best good news.