The Noma, Japan’s smallest horse and one of its eight native breeds has been saved from extinction.

Experts have taken the small but sturdy horse off the endangered list as its numbers rose to 84, all living in Japan. This is a vast improvement from a figure of a mere six horses in 1978.

The Noma averages only 100cm high but was a favourite of the Japanese farmer from the 1600s for its strength and agility as a pack animal in mountain areas.

Its numbers went into decline after the Russo-Japanese war in 1904 when larger horses were found to be more useful on the battlefield.

It was only the perseverance of a few remote farmers in the Ehime district, who continued to breed the hardy little ponies, that has ensured its survival. However, by 1978 there was only one pair in Tobe Zoo and one stallion and three mares in a private collection.

The government-funded Noma Uma Highland reserve now has a well established breeding programme. Its director Katsuyaki Ozawa said: “The breed is now considered stable and we are looking at ways to put them back into use.”