First Przewalski’s Horses Are Back in the Golden Steppe!

Director´s view

Miroslav Bobek  |  08. 06. 2024

The trucks raced through the steppe, raising high clouds of dust behind them, along the improvised road, which the grader dug for them a few days ago. The moment when three Przewalski’s horses, loaded on their decks, would be able to leave the crammed transport crates after more than thirty hours was approaching. At that moment only tens of minutes of driving were left to reach the introduction centre in Alibi and with every kilometre my hope that everything would turn out well after all and that after hundreds of years Przewalski’s horses would return in steppes of Central Kazakhstan was growing.

Photo: Miroslav Bobek, Prague Zoo Photo: Miroslav Bobek, Prague Zoo

Unfortunately, our first – and at the same time already twinned – transport of Przewalski’s horses from central Europe to Kazakhstani Golden Steppe has been dogged by serious problems. On Monday afternoon, two army CASA planes were supposed to fly to Arkalyk, Kazakhstan, simultaneously, one from Prague, the other one from Berlin, both of them with four Przewalski’s horses on board. In reality, however, only the CASA flight from Prague left, after a small delay, carrying three horses. During the journey to the airport we sent back to the zoo the stallion Pelle, who had started sitting down in the crate, which could cost him his life during such a long journey. Departure of the second plane from Berlin was at that moment already delayed by at least 48 hours due to a technical defect. During the journey, however, there were other, although not so serious, difficulties that got on our nerves.

But the main things worked. Our “Prague” CASA landed with no difficulties at the runway in Arkalyk, abandoned for decades. Everything was ready on the spot – rescue services, firemen, custom officers and so on – and we were welcomed by the Minister of Environment of Kazakhstan. However, we didn’t have time for ceremonies. We loaded the horses on the trucks and while there were celebrations going on at the airport, we set off for Alibi. Fortunately, the sceptical estimates that the journey would take ten hours were incorrect.

A river ford was the last big obstacle we faced before Alibi. We were already worried about it since our first visit in April last year. But we found it well-tended and with a low water level, so the trucks as well as the escort vehicles got over it easily and soon the gate to one of the two acclimatisation enclosures opened in front of them.

The three-year-old mare Zeta II was the first to touch the ground of Kazakhstan on Tuesday evening. I insisted that it be her. Her namesake Zeta became a legend of Gobi, where she managed to survive the harshest winters and became the mother of many foals. Hopefully Zeta II will follow her… the mare Ypsilonka was the second one to enter the steppe, and the stallion Zorro was the third.

It was a historic moment: the first step to the return of the wild horses to another area, where they had lived in past, and at the same moment the culmination of a tremendous effort of many people. All of them, whether they were on the spot or thousands of kilometres away, could breathe a sight of relief, and some had tears in their eyes…

On Thursday morning the army plane CASA with four mares on board from Berlin landed in Arkalyk. These are now, on Thursday evening, also in the acclimatization enclosure in Alibi.
Done! The first seven Przewalski’s horses are in the Golden Steppe.

Well… done for this moment. We still have a lot of work to do.