GLAND, SWITZERLAND — The vast open steppes of Mongolia and Central Asia could one day resound again to thundering herds of the Przewalski wild horse.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWFN) announced Monday that two Przewalski foals had been born in southern France -- the first such births in the wild for at least 35 years.
The horse once dominated the Eurasian steppe and is considered the inspiration for Stone Age cave paintings. It is even thought to have been used by the army of Mongolian warrior Genghis Khan.
By the 19th century, the horse had been hunted almost to extinction until it was rediscovered in Mongolia in 1870 by celebrated Russian explorer Nikolai Przewalski (pronounced Shevalski).
The stocky, broad-faced ponies died out in the wild nevertheless. Foreign naturalists plundered herds for foals to take to zoos. By 1960, the last wild horses in Mongolia had disappeared.
The WWFN said two foals -- named Eglantine and Belladonna -- had been born on France's Causse plateau in the Cevennes National Park, where captive adults were released two years ago.
''They are the first to be born in the wild in at least 35 years,'' WWFN specialist Sarah Russell says.
Russell says other Przewalski horses had been bred in captivity. Some were sent back to Mongolia last year from a breeding program in the Netherlands.
WWFN's French branch hopes to build up the 15-strong herd in the Cevennes before sending more horses to the Mongolian plains.