The wild ass returns

November 7, 2017, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research
Kulan foal. Credit: John Linnell/NINA

On 24th October 2017, a first group of nine animals was released into an acclimatisation enclosure on the edge of the Altyn Dala protected area in central Kazakhstan. The animals had been transported 1200 km by helicopter from Altyn Emel National Park in the southeast of the country. They will be released in early spring. This is the first step in a multi-year project that aims to restore the full range of large herbivores to this unique area of steppe habitat.

Kulan once ranged across the Middle East and Central Asia – from the Mediterranean to the east of Mongolia. During the last two centuries, their range has been dramatically reduced to less than 3% of their former range. Although the species is doing relatively well in Mongolia, the Central Asian subspecies is classified as Endangered and only persists in small isolated populations in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Reintroduction of kulan to the central steppes of Kazakhstan

The current aims to move 30-40 kulan from Altyn Emel to the central steppes during the next 3-4 years. "The initial translocation of nine animals this year was a pilot project to test the methodology and logistics of animal capture, handling, transport and release," says Petra Kaczensky, research scientist from NINA, who co-coordinates the project. "The approach using a corral to capture animals, chemical immobilisation for handling, a helicopter for transport, and a large acclimatisation enclosure at the release site worked rather well. For future years we will do a bit of fine-tuning," Steffen Zuther, project leader of the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative and main implementation partner in Kazakhstan, points out.

Kulan in corra. Credit: John Linnell/NINA

Various circumstances have created a unique opportunity to conserve the species in Kazakhstan:

  • The ongoing social and economic changes following the collapse of the Soviet Union have created a vast area of available habitat in the central part of the country which is currently home to the world's second largest population of saiga antelope. This area is subject to the "Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative"
  • The population of kulan in Altyn Emel National Park has grown to such an extent that the park now has a surplus of that can be used to found additional populations
  • Funding became available from the Fondation Segré and Nuremberg Zoo.
Credit: Petra Kaczensky/NINA

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