Europe and Central Asia
14 May 2018

Kulan roam the steppes of central Kazakhstan once again

Kulan in Central Kazakhstan © ACBK
By Danara Zharbolova & Gui-Xi Young

The latest update from ACBK/BirdLife Kazakhstan on its project to reintroduce a small herd of Turkmenian kulan to central Kazakhstan, long after the wild ass species disappeared from the region.

At the end of last year, Danara Zharbolova from our Kazakh partner ACBK recounted the promising first steps in an exciting project to establish a new population of Turkmenian kulan in Central Kazakhstan. This subspecies of onager, or Asiatic wild ass, once roamed freely in large numbers across the deltas, desserts and steppes of Central Asia. But habitat loss and illegal hunting took their toll; the kulan’s population size and range dwindled dramatically throughout the latter part of the 20th century, eventually leading to its red listing as globally Endangered by the IUCN in 2016.


Kazakhstan is now home to the largest population of this diminutive subspecies in the world. But nearly 90% the country’s total population (around 3,500 out of 4,000) reside in Altyn Emel National Park, which is struggling to cope with the herd’s growth. Conservationists from ACBK stepped in and in late October 2017, with the support of the Norwegian Institute of Nature Research[1], the project team successfully transported nine healthy kulan to Altyn Dala nature reserve in Central Kazakhstan. Here they were stabled in a large purpose-built reintroduction centre over the winter.


It is now six months later and the group has just been released into the wild. ACBK is pleased to report that the kulan thrived over the winter and all were in good condition when released. The purpose-built enclosure not only sheltered the kulan from harsh winter conditions, under the watchful eye of local staff, it also helped them acclimatize to their new environment. Indeed, the kulan at first seemed reluctant to leave their “home” of the last six months – “We were surprised that the kulans didn`t want to leave the enclosure for several days- said Albert Salemgareyev, national coordinator of Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative.   

All the animals have been marked with numbered ear-tags and adult mares equipped with GPS collars, enabling ACBK to monitor their progress. At present the kulans are intensively exploring new habitats and in the last month have travelled more than 750 km already.


The newly released group will hopefully lay the foundation for a new and thriving population of kulan in the region. ACBK plans to release a further 30 animals between autumn 2018 and 2019. This is an important step towards achieving the project’s over-arching goal of doubling the range of kulan in Central Asia and significantly increasing its global population.


Danara Zharbolova – Head of Communications, ACBK/BirdLife Kazakhstan

Gui-Xi Young – Editor & Campaigns Officer, BirdLife Europe & Central Asia


[1] This project is coordinated by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) and implemented with the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK) in partnership with the Committee of Forestry and Wildlife (CFW) of the Ministry of Agriculture of Kazakhstan, the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB), Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) and Nuremberg Zoo within the framework of the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative (ADCI). Veterinary support is provided by the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology (FIWI), University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna & the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Population genetics support is provided by the Molecular Zoology Unit of the Technical University of Munich (TUM). Main funding is provided by the Segré Foundation and the Nuremberg zoo.



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