Rewilding a Lakeshore in Latvia

gaston in boat
  • sunset horses

    Horses at sunset on the shores of Lake Pape. Just a few years ago, this same area was an impenetrable tangle of brush and reeds. But now, 15 years after their reintroduction to the wild, the horses have restored wild meadows like this one, making it accessible to other animals that depend on open spaces, and access to the lake, for their survival.

The clouds hung thick above us, but it wasn’t raining yet. Ints Mednis powered up the motorboat and headed us out into the lake. A program director for WWF-Latvia, Ints wanted to check the state of the lake. His passengers had other objectives: local policeman Sergejs Larins, to enforce fishing laws; me, to take pictures; and Ints’s dog Egons, to be with Ints.

It was May, when water in Lake Pape is deep enough to navigate without getting beached on the sandy bottom or tangled in reeds. Sergejs joined Ints in making notes on bird nests, beaver huts and stands of rare plants. He also pulled a few illegal nets and traps out of the water. Both were on the lookout for poachers fishing out of season. They caught one, seized his rod and tackle, and issued a fine.

The lakeshore is the site of WWF-Latvia’s “rewilding” project, which has returned long-missing wild breeds of horses, oxen and bison to the area. The grazing of these large herbivores has gradually cleared the invasive plants that took over when farming here collapsed. Now, having reverted to a state of natural meadow, the landscape invites the return of other native animals and plants.

As we turned for shore, the surface of the lake lay flat behind us, disturbed only by the wake of our boat and the flapping of a bevy of swans taking flight.

Explore More

World Wildlife magazine provides an inspiring, in-depth look at the connections between animals, people and our planet. Published quarterly by WWF, the magazine helps make you a part of our efforts to solve some of the most pressing issues facing the natural world.

View all issues