Kazakhstan: Bringing Back Large Herbivores to the Steppes
For the first time in more than a century, Asiatic wild ass or kulan (Equus hemionus) are again roaming the central steppes of Kazakhstan. 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.
Kulan release. Daniel Rosengren © Frankfurt Zoological Society In October 2017, nine kulan were released into an acclimatization enclosure on the edge of the Altyn Dala protected area as part of a pilot project that aims to move 30-40 kulan from Altyn Emel to the central steppes over the next 3-4 years. Various circumstances have created a unique opportunity to conserve the species in Kazakhstan:
• 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, also home to the world’s second largest population of saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica). This area is a focus of 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 animals that can be used to found additional populations. ArcGIS: Returning Kulan to the Steppe of Central Kazakhstan
The project is coordinated by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research and implemented with the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan in partnership with the Committee of Forestry and Wildlife of the Ministry of Agriculture of Kazakhstan, the Royal Society for Protection of Birds, Frankfurt Zoological Society, and Nuremberg Zoo within the framework of the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative.
Mongolia: Anthropogenic Impacts on Kulan
Since August 2013, WCS has been collaring kulan in the southern Gobi region, to assess the potential impacts of mining related infrastructure development and other anthropogenic developments in the southern Gobi. Kulan have been collared at both impact and non-impact sites with collar deployment time set at 2- 2.5 years. In addition to the GPS collars, a camera collar, purchased by the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, was deployed in 2015 with the aim of gaining additional insights into kulan behaviour and habitat use. The camera collar provided such valuable new insights that additional units were deployed during the next planned capture in 2018.
The 2018 field mission collared a further 26 animals, including 6 with cameras, and the study site was expanded to include two new capture locations The two additional sites are expected to expand understanding of the boundaries of the range of collared kulan, increase the chances of monitoring kulan that approach or enter the area adjacent to the Ulaanbaatar-Beijing railway and maximize the value and productivity from handling wild kulan by collecting biological samples to gain insight in different aspects of kulan physiology and ecology.
Watch a kulan wake from anesthesia and head off into the Gobi....
Banner Image Credit: Screenshot of drone footage from a video clip by Khureelen at: https://bit.ly/2yereKr