Large Herbivore Reintroduction to Central Kazakhstan

After almost 100 years of absence, Asiatic Wild Asses and Przewalski’s horses are returning to Central Kazakhstan. During the last centuries, human pressure eradicated these charismatic species from the grasslands. Through careful reintroduction, new populations are being re-established in the Altyn Dala project area. The mammals play an important role in the steppe ecosystem and in balancing the fragile network of its biodiversity. Kulan are being successively reintroduced to Altyn Dala since 2017 and will be joined by the first Przewalski’s horses in June 2024.

The kulan mare, her yearling from 2021 and her foal from 2022 running together in the acclimatization enclosure in Alibi.

FZS and its partners on site

Our goal is to establish stable populations of Asiatic wild ass and Przewalski’s horses in the Altyn Dala project area. We have ongoing activities that are undertaken by the team on site, including monitoring the animals that have been released into the wider landscape, as well as those still in the acclimatization enclosure and ongoing maintenance of the reintroduction center itself. Seasonally, on our to-do lists are managing Kulan transports within Kazakhstan, and supporting Przewalski’s horse transfers from Europe to the steppe.

Prague Zoo, as well as being a hub for horses from Europe alongside Tierpark Berlin, leads on the complex legislative and logistical challenges of exporting an endangered species across the planet. Our long standing partner ACBK ensures that once the horses have landed in Kazakhstan their well-being and adaptation is secured for a long life in the steppe. As a key partner in this project, Kazakh Government’s Committee for Forestry and Wildlife leads on all matters inside Kazakhstan.

Altyn Emel National Park in southern Kazakhstan holds the worlds largest Kulan population. Due to geographical restraints, the animals cannot migrate between the central steppe and the Park, whose ability to hold large herds is almost at full capacity.
The Kulan chosen for relocation to the central steppe are captured in large groups from the free-roaming population in Altyn Emel National Park. Specialists then choose and seperate suitable individuals and prepare them for transportation.
The origin and the destination of the Kulans lies roughly 1400km apart. Transporting wild animals over such a long distance is a challenging task. In the past, the Kulan pioneers have been airlifted in cargo helicopters. In future, the vehicles of choice are trucks.
A small step for a Kulan - a big step for the species! For the first time in almost 100 years, an Asiatic wild ass steps onto the central plains again. The animals are monitored in a 55-hectare enclosure for six months before being released into the steppe.
Kulanstute steht mit neugeborenem Fohlen auf der Steppe
Two foals have been born in central Kazakhstan since 2019 to the same mare. This sends an encouraging sign that the Kulan are comfortable and healthy in their new habitat.
This iconic picture of a wild horse captures all the magic that these animals evoke. Long has it been lost to the central Kazakh steppe. 2024 marks the year of their return.
The Przewalski's horse reintroduction is a testimony to the importance of controlled breeding in human care for endangered animals. Out of these populations, suitable individuals are selected for reintroduction and airlifted all the way from Europe to Kazakhstan.
The leading partner for the Przewalski's horse tranport is Prague Zoo. Through a similar and successful project in Mongolia, they are highly experienced in the process.
Their thick coats shield the horses from chilling temperatures. During acclimatization, the animals are montitored closely and provided with additional fodder if necessary.
Adult animals receive a GPS tracking collar prior to release in order to follow their movements across the endless steppe.
Spotting the beige animals on beige terrain is not easy. Teams of dedicated and experienced rangers are up for the challenge and regularly check on both species. Also, they keep track of any illegal activity in the area.
Educating the local people about the return of wild equids is very important. Albert Salemgareyev (center), the reintroduction specialist of our Kazakh partner ACBK, leads a school class through the reintroduction enclosure.

Historical Background

Poaching and competition for food with livestock completely eradicated wild equids from Kazakhstan by 1930. The surge of poverty that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, however, led to mass migration away from rural areas into towns, leaving an area the size of France in central Kazakhstan almost devoid of people and livestock. This opened up the unique opportunity to enrich and protect an immense contiguous habitat with its natural fauna. Like the Serengeti in Africa, the central Kazakh plains are an important target for landscape-level restoration and a refuge for the last migrating herds of large mammals on our planet.


Inherent to steppe ecosystems are large grazers, and for Kazakhstan, these are Przewalski’s horses and wild ass, called Kulan. As its native megaherbivores, they redistribute resources over long distances: their dung enhances soil fertilization, boosts insect numbers and disperses the seeds of stationary plant species. This increases vegetational diversity and helps the ecosystem resist desertification and wildfires, two major causes of carbon being released from the soil. The megaherbivores further provide services for smaller wildlife in the landscape by facilitating access to water through their digging in dry riverbeds and lakes, and by exposing fodder hidden under thick snow cover in winter. And like all ungulates, they feed into the food web as prey for large predators such as wolves, and their carcasses serve as a food source for scavengers. The impact of Przewalski’s horses and Kulan strengthens the steppe ecosystem and provides habitats for many smaller species, such as ground nesting birds.


The Kulans are wild animals captured from the world’s largest Kulan population in a National Park at the southern border of Kazakhstan. Transporting them all the way to the central steppe is a complex logistical undertaking: they are fast, cunning, and extremely shy. When put under pressure, Kulans can also become very dangerous. This makes a solid capture enclosure and transport boxes, trained personnel and 4×4 vehicles indispensable for a relocation. The Przewalski’s Horses, however, will be sourced from Europe and provided by participants of the EEP (European Endangered Species Programme). Prague Zoo, as EEP Coordinator and experienced in successful Przewalski’s horse reintroductions to Mongolia, is well placed to lead the horse selection and transportation process. A team of experienced veterinarians will oversee the horses during the flight from Europe to Kazakhstan, as well as the over-land transfer of Kulans within Kazakhstan.

Reintroduction site

The designated large herbivore reintroduction centre “Alibi” is strategically located in the Torgai steppe within an established network of nature reserves connected by ecological corridors totalling 40.000 km2. Upon arrival to Alibi the animals will be divided into appropriate groups and spend some time in the acclimatization enclosures before being released to the surrounding steppe landscape. Comprehensive ranger patrols and specialists will then continue to monitor the hooved pioneers.


A solid database is crucial for meaningful conservation work. Prior to release, suitable animals receive a tracking device. We analyze the GPS data to determine the migration routes of the collared Kulan and, in future, Przewalski’s horses. In addition, we use drone technology to “oversee” large areas. An AI program that can independently detect animal occurrence on the immense graphic material of these flights is currently being developed.

Environmental education

We actively involve local communities in the reintroduction program through field trips and educational experiences for school children. Staff visit local people in the project area to explain the project aims and to help familiarize the people with the importance of Kulan and Przewalski’s horses. Transparency and communication are key for peaceful coexistence of wilderness and civilization. Furthermore, informative materials such as posters and comics for children have been produced.






Alongside our international partners, we are looking ahead – into a future with a steppe full of Przewalski’s horses and kulan. Join us in writing this new future for the steppe – with hoof prints on dusty soil.


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