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I’ve often stared at the world map and tried to imagine what wonders must lie in the vast Russian wilderness, but I never thought I would actually set foot there. Until an opportunity arose to visit some of Russia’s fledgling eco-tourism projects. I decided to choose a region of Russia where a critically endangered animal was about to be reintroduced into Russia for the first time, the Przelwaski’s Horse. My visit to the Orenburg reserves, just north of the Kazakhstan border, was by far my favorite experience of 2016.

The thrill of having a wild Przewalski’s Horse approach me in the middle of the wide open Russian steppe was a feeling I will never forget. Last year, six Przelwaski’s Horses arrived from  a reserve in France. After spending a year in a large acclimation corral, the horses were released the day before my arrival. By the time I got to the reserve, they were already exploring their new home and surroundings. We had no idea where we might find them when the project leader took me out on her ATV to search for them.

The first six Przewalski's Horses released in Russia
The first six Przewalski’s Horses released in Russia

I had the honor of being one the first people to see the Przewalski’s Horse returned to the wild in Russia. You can read more about my Russian adventure and see more photos of the Przelwaski’s Horse on my post Return of the Przelwaski’s Horse to the Russian Steppe.

While I was in the area, I managed to visit the Orenburg Reserve, the Shaytan-Tau unit, the Burtinskaya Steppe, and  the Preduralskaya Steppe. In Burtinskaya I met my new favorite animal in Russia, the Slepushonka,  which roughly translates as “the cute little blind guy”.

Slepushonka (the cute little blind guy) at Burtinskaya Steppe Reserve, Orenburg, Russia
Slepushonka (the cute little blind guy) at Burtinskaya Steppe Reserve, Orenburg, Russia

You can read more about what it’s like to be an American visiting the Orenburg Reserves in my article The First American Eco-tourist in Russia: My Week in the Orenburg Reserve.