Reintroduced Khulans Adapt Well to the Harsh Climate of the Priaralie Region in Uzbekistan

Author: Turabek Kholikov, State Committee on Ecology and Environmental Protection, Republic of Uzbekistan.

The kulan (Equus hemionus Pallas, 1775) is included in the Red Book of the Republic of Uzbekistan (2019) as a rare, locally distributed subspecies of the Asiatic Wild Ass on the verge of complete extinction. Until the end of the 19th century, the kulan was common on the Ustyurt plateau, from where it completely disappeared in the 1930s of the 20th century.

The global population of the Asiatic wild Ass is “near threatened” on the IUCN Red List. Its range is fragmented and its populations went extinct in 11 out of 17 countries, which it once inhabited. Small populations now also exists in Israel, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan due to re-introduction efforts.

In the 1980ies around 100 individuals of kulan were re-introduced in Turkmenistan, some of the animals then dispersed to Uzbekistan to the territory where the national natural park "Southern Ustyurt" was created in 2021.  In the 1970ies Turkmen kulan were established in semi-captive conditions in the Uzbek “Jeyran” breeding center with the view of subsequent re-introduction into the wild, which had been delayed for various reasons. In 2021 the population in the breeding center numbered 202 individuals in an enclosure of 5,145 ha, which accompanied by 1062 individuals of Goitered Gazelles (Gazella subgutturosa) likewise held in the enclosure surpassed the carrying capacity of the habitat.

The Uzbek State Committee on Ecology and Environmental Protection in accordance with the recommendations of the Institute of Zoology under Academy of Science started a project for re-introducing the animals into protected areas of the Priaralie region. In the frame of this project the habitat in potential re-introduction locations was surveyed and the a availability of suitable fodder and drinking places was confirmed. In the planning of the re-introduction efforts, the experience with kulan reintroduction in Kazakhstan was taken into account. In 2021 48 animals were successfully transferred - 13 kulans (2 males, 9 females, 2 juveniles) to the complex landscape reserve "Saigachiy" and 35 individuals (10 males, 21 females, 4 juveniles) to the territory of the state reserve " Sudochye-Akpetki" without any mortalities due to capture and transport of the animals.

Field observations conducted in December 2021 and in January 2022 showed that the animals formed small populations of 4-5 individuals, dispersed and survived their first harsh winter. These results show that re-introduced kulan adapt well in natural conditions. Further re-introduction of 127 kulan is planned for 2022. The state re-introduction project also includes the re-location of 30 individuals  of Bukhara Deer (Cervus hanglu bactrianus Lydekker, 1900)   from the «Badai-Tugai» site of the Lower-Amudarya State Biosphere Reserve to its  «Nazarkhan» site  and 45 individuals into the Khorezm national park, which implements the activity 10.1 from the Bukhara Deer Work Programme, adopted in 2021 by the Signatories of the CMS’ Bukhara Deer MOU. In addition, it is planned to implement measures aimed at improving the conditions for the existence of ungulates on the Ustyurt plateau by drilling 8 artesian wells and arranging watering places near the wells.

Last updated on 04 April 2022