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Wild horses are being reintroduced to their native habitat in Kazakhstan


The world's last remaining wild horses are going home to Kazakhstan, 200 years after their species became extinct in the wild.


Seven Przewalski's horses with wiry black manes stepped out of light blue transport crates, and sniffed the air and trotted off across the plain.

SCHMITZ: These small, stocky horses have been bred in zoos all over the world. The seven released in Kazakhstan were flown all the way from Berlin and Prague.

STEPHANIE WARD: We don't just move these endangered species around the planet just because it looks nice, so it makes a good story.

INSKEEP: Although it does look nice and makes a good story. Stephanie Ward is with the Frankfurt Zoological Society and helped to coordinate the logistical and legal hurdles to transport the endangered species back to its native habitat. She says the goal is to restore the ecosystem of the Kazakh Steppe, the unforested grassland.

WARD: Which became fairly degraded of wildlife after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

SCHMITZ: That's right. The horses' grazing and digging habits made the landscape more fire resilient. It also increases the number of plant species.

WARD: When you've got, like, really really thick snow, they use their hooves to dig into the snow and expose the grass for other creatures. They also do the same when it's really dry. They dig for water.

INSKEEP: Ward's team hopes to introduce dozens more Przewalski's horses in the next five years and help them thrive with 24/7 care.

WARD: We've got some researchers and some experienced veterinarians who are there looking after them in their first two weeks. Then after that, we have these caretakers who will be monitoring the horses every day.

SCHMITZ: The hope is they'll eventually begin to reproduce on their own. For now, these seven horses are safe and sound back in the land of their ancestors.

WARD: Each one has a name. It has a story. It's an important species.

INSKEEP: And if everything goes according to plan, there will be at least 200 wild horses roaming the Kazakh Steppe over the next decade.


THE ROLLING STONES: (Singing) Wild horses... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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