Return of the Wild Horses to the Golden Steppe

Director´s view

Miroslav Bobek  |  01. 06. 2024

Two CASA C-295M planes with Przewalski’s horses on board will take off from Prague and Berlin on Monday afternoon. Their destination will be the abandoned Arkalyk airport in central Kazakhstan. If everything goes well, the first phase of reintroduction of wild horses to this Central Asian country will be completed after more than a year’s effort.

The training of loading the CASA plane at the military airport in Kbely was also part of the preparation. Photo Miroslav Bobek The training of loading the CASA plane at the military airport in Kbely was also part of the preparation. Photo Miroslav Bobek

Before I started writing this column, I was jotting notes on all what had to be done over the past thirteen months. In Kazakhstan, in our country, in Germany as well as in other countries. I was not even halfway through when I stopped. It is an incredible amount of work of a very large number of people, with the biggest load being shouldered by our zoo staff and the employees of Kazakhstan organization ACBK.

In short, the preparation of the reintroduction and transport of Przewalski’s horses is very complex in itself. But in the case of the Return of the Wild Horses to Kazakhstan, two events complicated it even more.

The first one were extraordinary floods which hit Kazakhstan in the spring. They did not avoid Alibi in Altyn Dala (Golden Steppe), where the reintroduction centre and therefore also the destination of our transport is located. They damaged the old as well as the new acclimatization enclosures and also devastated the buildings of the centre. In the end we received a message saying that many stretches of the access roads to Alibi, which we planned to take for the transport of our Przewalski’s horses from the airport in Arkalyk, were destroyed. Our joint plans were on the verge of collapse. Where to find the time for all the repairs? And money? The lack of time could be compensated only by our friends in Kazakhstan using all their strength. And the money was also raised, among others thanks to the gift of one million Crowns from our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the crucial support from Bidfood.

The second blow came less than two weeks before the transport. We learned from the zoo in Almaty that the polar bear Tom, whom we transported there at the turn of March and April on the recommendation of the European breeding programme coordinator, had died. What was striking about the whole thing, was that we only learned about Tom’s death when our employees were getting ready to check on him directly in Almaty, eighteen days after his death. Yes, it was about different people, different place, different context, but it still had shaken our confidence… Fortunately, thanks to the acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan and the Ambassador in Prague we managed to quickly clarify the situation.

So, we are taking off with Przewalski’s horses on Monday. They are wild animals, and it is always an extremely demanding and risky operation. However, the news, coming from our preparatory team in Kazakhstan, sounds optimistic and the successful training landing in Arkalyk carried out by Kazakh Air Forces is also a great encouragement. In any case, please, keep your fingers crossed for us!