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MOSCOW (Reuters) - A group of cranes that took to the air with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an exercise designed to accustom them to migration have had to be flown home by plane after they failed to migrate on their own, agencies reported on Wednesday.
The cranes, born in captivity, had been due to make their way south to Central Asia after Putin's publicity stunt in Russia's northern Yamal peninsula, in which he flew a light plane in the hope of teaching them to follow other migrating birds.
But five failed to even set out from Yamal for their autumn migration south and have instead been taken back to their old home in a nature reserve in Ryazan, southeast of Moscow.
"Yesterday the cranes flew home on an airplane along with ornithologists to the Ryazan region," Interfax quoted a local official as saying.
A sixth did take off south for the migration south but was injured en route and will join them back in Ryazan.
Wild dogs had attacked that bird in Kazakhstan, state news agency RIA quoted Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying. Other birds it was travelling with had flown off when threatened but the captive-born crane failed to do so.
Peskov said all the birds would be taken from Ryazan to a nature reserve on the border between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan for the winter.
Putin's stunts are often engineered to give the impression of the president as a clean-living nature lover. The crane-training exercise is not the first to go awry.
Environmentalists said earlier this year a tiger Putin shot with a tranquilizer gun and tagged in 2008 had been brought from a zoo and planted at the scene for the stunt. They also claimed it later died from an overdose of the tranquilizing drug.
Putin acknowledged last month that many of his stunts were staged but defended them by saying that they help to draw attention to important issues such as endangered animals.
A survey by independent pollster Levada showed that 49 percent of Russians dismissed the exercises as public relations stunts while 27 percent found them interesting.
Reporting by Thomas Grove; editing by Andrew Roche