Przewalski’s horses in captivity in England. (Photo: Paul Dunleavy/CC BY 2.0)

Six of the world’s only remaining wild horses have been reintroduced to their natural habitat, after decades of absence from the vast Russian steppes.

The animals, known as Przewalski’s horses, will be entering a harsh winter landscape that was for centuries their own, a sharp departure from the warm confines many of them enjoyed at a shelter in France. Scores more are expected to join them in future years, constituting what scientists are calling an environmental success story, Agence-France Presse reports.

The steppes, bordering Kazakhstan and measuring over 40,000 acres, make up “the largest unbroken, strictly protected plot of virgin steppe in Russia,” Tatjana Zharkikh, leader of the reintroduction project, tells AFP.

The furry beasts were discovered in the 1800s by the Russian geographer and explorer Nicolai Przewalski, though decades of relentless capture meant that by the the late 1960s they were extinct from their natural habitat.

Today there are around 2,000 in existence, bred, AFP reports, from a genetic base of just 12 horses. Their rebound in captivity has been tentative yet steady, officials said.

“If you ask them, they will tell you: we want a warm stable, daily oats, fresh grass and maybe strawberries and cream,” Zharkikh said. “But this is a wild animal and it has to be in its natural habitat.”