Kulan reintroduction to the Steppe of Central Kazakhstan

After an absence of over 100 years, the first kulan are back on the Torgai Steppe. Photo: Diana Gliga & Natalia Petrova

In the past, large herds of migratory wild asses (Equus hemionus), also known as kulan, roamed the Eurasian Steppes. Nowadays, kulan have become confined to <3% of their former range. The situation is particularly critical for the Central Asian subspecies (E. h. kulan and E. h. onager) accordingly listed as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List.

In Kazakhstan the species became extinct in the 1930s, but reintroduction initiatives already started in the early 1950s. Today, kulan are again found in two separate locations in south-western (Barsa Kelmes Strictly Protected Area) and south-eastern Kazakhstan (Altyn Emel National Park).  However, kulan have not even reclaimed 1% of their former range in Kazakhstan and remain absent from the central steppe. 


Aims of KulanSteppe

The project will airlift wild captured kulan from the large reintroduced population in Altyn Emel National Park in SE Kazakhstan to a release site on the Torgai steppe, strategically located in a network of protected areas, ecological corridors, and hunting areas managed by the partner organization in Kazakhstan. The infrastructure at the release site includes a field station and two large acclimatization enclosures. All adult kulan will be radiocollared to allow post-release monitoring of their whereabouts.

Ultimately, the project expects to; 

  1. Double the range of kulan in Central Asia
  2. Significantly increase the global population
  3. Provide a catalyst for kulan conservation actions across the region.

It is also an important step towards paving the way for the restoration of the full steppe fauna of central Kazakhstan, including preparing for Przewalski's horse (Equus przewalskii) reintroduction and helping conserve the largest remaining range of saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica). The kulan reintroduction project is firmly embedded in the ongoing wider conservation activities of the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative (ADCI).

Project Partners

The 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).