Wild Horses Return to Kazakhstan's Golden Steppe After 200 Years
Wild Horses Return to Kazakhstan's Golden Steppe After 200 Years
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For the first time in over two centuries, wild horses have galloped across the Golden Steppe of Kazakhstan, marking a historic reintroduction effort led by the Prague Zoo.

In early June, the Prague Zoo orchestrated two 18-hour airlifts of seven Przewalski's Horses from Europe to Kazakhstan. These horses, named Tessa, Wespe, Umbra, and Sary, have acclimated well to their new home on the plains, according to their caretakers.

Miroslav Bobek, director of the Prague Zoo, expressed his joy, stating, "[The mare named] Tessa was the first to run out of the transport box into the pen, then Wespe, followed by Umbra, and Sary brought the foursome to a close." He emphasized that their return to their ancestral homeland is the culmination of generations of conservation work.

Przewalski's Horse, the last remaining wild horse species, derives its name from Russian explorer Nikolai Przewalski, who first identified the species for the European scientific community. Millennia ago, these horses roamed the steppes of Central Asia but were taken to Europe and North America in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The horses that have now been reintroduced in Kazakhstan are descendants of those kept in zoos in Munich and Prague. Historical records indicate that people in northern Kazakhstan were riding and using these horses for food at least 2,000 years before the first records of domesticated horses in Europe.

Mr. Bobek highlighted the significance of this reintroduction, saying, "The seven horses that we transported here by two Czech Army planes represent the first individuals of this species in central Kazakhstan in hundreds of years."

Since World War Two, the Prague Zoo has played a central role in international efforts to save Przewalski's Horses, overseeing the "international studbook" of the breed. Unlike feral horses like the American mustang or Australian brumby, Przewalski's Horses are considered the last true wild horse species.

The reintroduction operation in Kazakhstan was meticulously planned by the Prague Zoo since 2022. The six mares and one stallion selected from various European programs were housed together in Tierpark Berlin - Berlin Zoo - for several months before their journey began.

Military airplanes transported the horses over a 6,000km route, including stopovers in Turkey and Azerbaijan, before landing at Arkalyk Airport in Kazakhstan. From there, an eight-hour drive took them to the Altyn Dala, the Kazakh name for the Golden Steppe, where they were released.

"Our goal is to slowly bring at least 40 individuals here to establish a viable population," Mr. Bobek explained. The mares and stallion were released separately to ensure genetic diversity, with the hope that they will form harems and contribute to the breeding efforts. Mr. Bobek expressed his satisfaction with achieving the zoo's long-standing dream: "Hardly anything could be a better demonstration of the purpose of modern zoos than the return of the Wild Horses."

This successful reintroduction is a testament to the dedication of conservationists and marks a significant step towards restoring biodiversity in Kazakhstan's landscapes.

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