Wild horses return to their historic natural habitat in Kazakhstan

Przewalski's horses being released into the wild in northern Kazakhstan. Screenshot from the video “Home at last: Wild horse species returns to the Kazakh steppes | AFP” from the AFP News Agency YouTube channel. Fair use.

On June 4, three Przewalski’s horses arrived in Kazakhstan from the Praha Zoo in the Czech Republic. These horses are considered the last wild breed of never domesticated horses. They were later joined by four other horses, which arrived from the Berlin Zoo, totaling the number of the newly reintroduced wild horses to seven: six mares and one stallion. Another stallion from the Praha Zoo, supposed to arrive in Kazakhstan, fell ill on the way to the airport and is expected to come later.

Kazakhstan plans to reintroduce 40 Przewalski’s horses in the next five years. All of them will live in the wild in the Altyn Dala (Golden Steppe) State Natural Reserve located in the northern Kostanay region of the country.

Here is an Instagram post with the video of the wild horses’ reintroduction in northern Kazakhstan.


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This initiative became a major milestone in global wildlife preservation efforts to save Przewalski’s horses from extinction and reintroduce them to their natural habitat. Before their extinction in the wild in 1968, these horses roamed throughout the Eurasian steppe for millennia. Encroachment by humans and domesticated animals as well as hunting and environmental changes put an end to their life in the wild. The last wild Przewalski’s horse in Kazakhstan was seen 200 years ago.

There are over 1,500 of these horses left in the world, living in zoos and reintroduction sites in Mongolia, China, and Kazakhstan. They all descend from the 11 wild horses that were captured in north-western China in the early 20th century and brought to zoos in Europe, where they were first mainly exhibited and later extensively bred after going extinct in the wild.

Przewalski’s horses’ name derives from the Russian geographer Nikolay Przewalsky, who was the first to introduce them to the European scientific community after discovering an unusually large skull in 1878 in the border area between China and Mongolia. He later encountered them in the wild but failed to capture alive and bring one home, describing them as “highly anxious” and possessing “an extraordinary sense of smell, sight, and hearing.”

Here is a YouTube video about wild horses’ reintroduction in Mongolia.

In Mongolia, they are known as “takhi,” which means wild. In Kazakhstan, the government adopted a decree in 2024, according to which Przewalski’s horses carry the names “kerkulan” (bay kulan) and “kertagy” (bay wild horse), which highlight their wild nature and sandy bay color.

Their reintroduction in northern Kazakhstan carries enormous symbolic significance. It was in this region of the world, where the prehistoric Botai culture thrived, that horses were first domesticated 5,500 years ago. The latest research suggests that horses became the main mode of transportation 4,200 years ago, revealing that for thousands of years before that they were used mainly for milk and meat.

This historic fact is reflected in modern Kazakhstan, where horses constitute a main element of everyday life. For example, one of the national drinks is a fermented horse milk known as kymyz, and horse meat is the main ingredient of the national dish called besbarmak. Additionally, the main national game, kokpar, is played on horseback.

This is not the first time Kazakhstan has attempted to reintroduce wild horses. In 2003, 10 Przewalski’s horses were brought to the Altyn Emel National Park in the southeast of the country. The program has not been successful, with their number decreasing to five, due to the lack of a stallion to reproduce and to guard the mares from predators.

However, there is also a reason to be optimistic of the new program. Kazakhstan’s astounding success at saving the saiga antelope from the brink of extinction is widely recognized as an exemplary wildlife conservation effort. Their number has risen from less than 21,000 in 2003 to 1.9 million in 2023. The hope is that kertagy horses can be similarly successful and thrive in the steppes where their ancestors once roamed.

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