Kulan reintroduction to Central Kazakhstan

After almost 100 years of absence, a key steppe species  is returning to Central Kazakhstan: the kulan. Through careful reintroduction of the Asiatic wild ass, a stable population of kulans is to be 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.

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 a stable population of Asiatic wild ass in the Altyn Dala project area. In order to build a solid source to start off a self-sustaining herd, more individuals are needed than are present in the area so far.

The problem: mountain ranges and highways prevent the independent migration of kulan from the southern part of the country to the central steppe.

That is where we step in: we capture wild kulan from the herds in the south, which have reached their habitats’ capacity limits and transport them using cargo helicopters to the reintroduction site in the central steppe. Here, a contiguous area of 700,000 km2 awaits the kulan for large-scale treks.

Before catching the kulan, the target population is closely monitored to assess their behavior and whereabouts.
Building a solid capture corral is a technical and logistical challenge. The fence must be at least 2.5 m high, because kulan can jump astonishingly high.
Chances for a successful capture are highest in utter darkness when the animals cannot see the enclosure at a distance.
Viewed from above, the capture corral resembles an eight. Thanks to the smaller paddock, it is possible to separate different groups of wild asses. Here, individual kulan can be sedated and safely prepared for transport.
Veterinarian Nikolaus Huber has set up his mobile field laboratory in a minibus - here he examines the animals' blood for indicators of critical stress levels and diseases.
This gigantic helicopter airlifted nine kulan and the entire Altyn Dala team in 2017. The rental costs for the machine are high, but on-the-ground transport would have been detrimental to the welfare of the animals.
The 1,300 km journey from the south-east to the center of Kazakhstan takes about 10 hours. The green fields mark the origin and destination areas which have increased protection status.
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.
Petra Kaczensky, the scientific director of the project, is happy to see nine lively kulans on the morning after the transport.
Albert Salemgareyev (center), the reintroduction specialist of our Kazakh partner ACBK, leads a school class through the reintroduction enclosure.
Kulanstute steht mit neugeborenem Fohlen auf der Steppe
Two foals were 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.
In order to track the kulan on their treks through the endless steppe, GPS collars are fitted on the adult animals before releasing them into the wild.

Research

A solid database is a prerequisite for meaningful conservation work. Therefore, we put a lot of focus on researching the migration routes of the wild ass by analyzing GPS data results from the collared kulan in the different populations of Kazakhstan. In addition, we are increasingly using 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.

Transport

Transporting large wild animals is a complex logistical undertaking. Kulan are no exception: they are fast, cunning, and extremely shy with a high flight distance – this means they run really far before checking if the threat is still there. When put under pressure they can also become very dangerous. This makes a solid capture enclosure and transport boxes, trained personnel, vehicles, and of course, a suitable cargo helicopter indispensable for a relocation. In addition to this challenging task itself, a demanding bureaucratic process accompanies the fieldwork.

Environmental Education

We actively involve local communities in the reintroduction program through field trips and educational services for school children.

Our rangers also visit the local people in the project area to explain their conservation strategies and to familiarize the people with how to deal with kulan. 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.

Motivation and Background

Large steppe mammals are essential to their unique ecosystem. Many rare ground-nesting birds – such as sociable lapwings and various lark species – depend on the grazed grasslands. However, poaching and competition for food with livestock led to the complete eradication of kulan from Kazakhstan by 1930.

The surge of poverty that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, however, led to a rural-urban migration that left an area the size of France in central Kazakhstan devoid of people and livestock. This area is now a perfect place for kulan and offers the unique opportunity to reconstruct and protect an immense contiguous habitat with its natural fauna. Like the Serengeti in Africa, a refuge for the last migrating herds of large mammals on our planet is to be created here.

Partners

With generous support by

 

 

 

 

Alongside our international partners, we are looking ahead – into a future with a steppe full of kulan.

Join us on this journey!

 

 

Contact

Zoologische Gesellschaft Frankfurt von 1858 e.V.
Bernhard-Grzimek-Allee 1
60316 Frankfurt

Telephone: +49 (0)69 - 94 34 46 0
Fax: +49 (0)69 - 43 93 48
E-Mail

You will find our office in the Zoogesellschaftshaus (1st floor).
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