Wild kulan donkeys in Kazakhstan

This video says about itself:

1 September 2014

Herd of Indian wild ass grazing in a field…..

The Indian wild ass (Equus hemionus khur) also called the Khur, is a subspecies of the onager native to Southern Asia.

The Indian wild ass, as with most other Asian wild ass subspecies, is quite different from the African wild ass species. The coat is usually sandy, but varies from reddish grey, fawn, to pale chestnut. The animal possesses an erect, dark mane which runs from the back of the head and along the neck. The mane is then followed by a dark brown stripe running along the back, to the root of the tail.

From BirdLife:

21 Dec 2017

Coming home: the kulan of Central Kazakhstan

Danara Zharbolova from ACBK/BirdLife Kazakhstan recounts the promising first steps in an exciting project to establish a new population of Turkmenian kulan in Central Kazakhstan.

The Turkmenian kulan Equus hemionus kulan is a subspecies of onager, or Asiatic wild ass, native to Central Asia. And though it may not look it – with a diminutive frame 200-250 cm long and 100-140 cm tall – it is actually one of the largest onagers in the world. There was a time when the kulan’s distinctive light brown coat with patches of white on its on belly, back and sides was a familiar sight out upon the deserts, deltas and steppes between northern Afghanistan, southern Siberia and western China. But in recent years, its story has taken a sad turn.

The combined threats of illegal hunting and habitat loss has dramatically limited its population size and distribution areas – and from some locations, it has disappeared entirely. In 2016, the full extent of its sad decline was hammered home when the IUCN marked it globally Endangered on its Red List.

In Kazakhstan, our BirdLife partner ACBK has recently started work on a project to establish a new kulan population in Central Asia.[1] The project, coordinated by the Norwegian Institute of Nature Research, aspires to not only make the species more stable, but to help restore the natural ecosystems of the Central Kazakhstan steppe.[2]

According to a 2017 survey, the total Kazakh population of Turkmenian kulan stands at 3,900 animals, of which 3,400 reside in Altyn Emel National Park – the biggest population of this subspecies in the world. But the park’s territory is limited and Altyn Emel is struggling to cope with the herd’s growth, leading to potential outbreaks of disease and competition with other species. Conservationists came to the conclusion that something had to be done.

In late October, ACBK successfully moved the first nine kulan from Altyn Emel national park to Altyn Dala nature reserve in Central Kazakhstan. The chosen nine were carefully selected by expert zoologists and veterinarians from a group of 50 kulan rounded-up by ACBK together with the Altyn Emel park rangers and the state-run Okhotzooprom. Precise measures were taken to ensure safety and minimise stress levels during the big move – each animal was sedated and put into a special box for transport upon a Mi-26T – the world’s biggest helicopter – run by the Kazakh airline Kazaviaspas.

And so they embarked for the Turgai steppe. At the beginning of the 19th century, the kulan lived in this region, and were still to be found roaming along the river Uly-Zhylanshyk until the 1930s. Today, its relief, vegetation and water access still provide the perfect ecological requirements for the kulan to thrive. And it is here, in the two state nature reserves, Altyn Dala and Irgiz-Turgai, where they will make their new home.

For the time being, the nine animals will be well looked-after in a purpose-built centre set up by ACBK. Then, in the spring, they will be released to the wild. It is hoped that these first nine ‘adventurers’ will be joined by a further 30 animals in 2018 and 2019.

Danara Zharbolova – Head of Communications, ACBK/BirdLife Kazakhstan


White-headed ducks in Kazakhstan

This is a white-headed duck video from Spain.

From BirdLife:

14 Nov 2017

Tagging the Elusive White-headed Duck

Danara Zharbolova and Alyona Koshkina from our Kazakh partner ACBK tell us about their first attempts to catch and tag the elusive White-headed Duck with geolocators out on the lakes of the Central Kazakhstan.

The White-headed duck Oxyura leucocephala, with its long tail (often cocked vertically) and striking blue bill, is an unmistakable sight – if you are actually lucky enough to spot one out in the wild. European populations have markedly declined in the last 10 years due to habitat loss, making this famously elusive waterbird even more of a rarity. It is classified globally Endangered by the IUCN Red List. Due to its furtive behaviour and rarity, this species has not been studied extensively. In recent years, BirdLife and several of its partners have been working to change this. In 2015, the White-headed duck was selected as one of sixteen iconic European bird species for the EU-funded LIFE EuroSAP project which aims to address population decline on a continental scale. SEO-BirdLife Spain, together with AEWA (The African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement), has been coordinating efforts to identify threats and conservation measures to feed into a revised International Species Action Plan.

At the same time, BirdLife’s Kazakh partner ACBK (Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan) has been working to learn more about the migration of the Central Asia population which nests mainly in Northern and Central Kazakhstan and the steppes of Southern Russia.

This summer, ACBK, working with a group of ornithologists from Russia, tagged four White-headed ducks with geolocators at key moulting sites on the lakes of the Tengiz-Korgalzhyn Region of Central Kazakhstan.

Lake Ashchikol has become a popular site for moulting and migration gatherings for many waterbirds – pochards, grebes, coots, Red-necked phalaropes and White-headed ducks. Between the end of August and the end of September, some 2,500 White-headed ducks were counted within a 5 km2 area.

Aleksey Bagaev, one of the participants relates his experience: “We would start our field work at 4am. In the steppe, we would inflate the boat and lower it down onto the water. Then our small flotilla would spread the nets to catch the ducks. On the shore, we would talk tactics. As this bird-catching technique had never been used before, it was difficult to predict the outcome of our operation. We did know, however, that the White-headed duck is a very cautious bird and skilled diver.”

Team leader and ACBK Science Fellow, Alyona Koshkina, also told us a little bit about the work: “We chose lightweight geolocators because safe techniques for attaching heavier equipment onto this small bird have not yet been developed. This is a problem with studying diving ducks generally, as their specific biology must be taken into account. Considering how labour-intensive this process is, the chances of recapturing the same individuals are slim. We can now either perfect this method to improve results or continue looking for a different approach – but this is a challenge for future research projects.”

Though we were only able to tag a small number of birds, we were still able to learn a lot about the behaviour of this mysterious species, which will eventually lead to more efficient research techniques into bird migration. With support from the Rufford Foundation, in 2017 ACBK purchased 33 geolocators that we will use to tag nesting and moulting birds in the coming years.

This tagging work with our Russian colleagues from the NGO Ecological Centre Strizh was conducted as part of the Conservation Leadership Programme Knowledge Exchange project. ACBK has been studying the White-headed Duck since 2013 with support from the Forestry and Wildlife Committee of the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve.

Danara Zharbolova – Head of Communications, ACBK (BirdLife Kazakhstan)

Alyona Koshkina (ACBK Science Fellow)

New data on the wintering of White-headed Ducks Oxyura leucocephala in Algeria: here.

New Ice Age rhino discovery in Kazakhstan

This video says about itself:

18 August 2015

Elasmotherium” is an extinct genus of giant rhinoceros endemic to Eurasia during the Late Pliocene through the Pleistocene, documented from 2.6 Ma to as late as 50,000 years ago, possibly later, in the Late Pleistocene, an approximate span of slightly less than 2.6 million years.

Three species are recognised. The best known, “E. sibiricum”, was the size of a mammoth and is thought to have borne a large, thick horn on its forehead. This horn was used for defense, attracting mates, driving away competitors, sweeping snow from the grass in winter and digging for water and plant roots. Like all rhinoceroses, elasmotheres were herbivorous. Unlike any others, its high-crowned molars were ever-growing. Its legs were longer than those of other rhinos and were adapted for galloping, giving it a horse-like gait.

From LiveScience:

‘Unicorns’ Lumbered Across Siberia 29,000 Years Ago

by Mindy Weisberger, Senior Writer

March 29, 2016 04:24pm ET

Large, four-legged beasts, each with a single horn growing from its head, once ambled across part of western Siberia, in what is now Kazakhstan.

Sometimes referred to as “unicorns” because of their single horns, these animals were originally thought to have gone extinct 350,000 years ago. However, fossils from a new dig site place the hefty creatures in the region as recently as 29,000 years ago, according to a recent study.

In spite of their magical-sounding nickname, these bruisers share little in common with the graceful and delicate horselike creatures described in song and story and pictured in medieval tapestries. A 1923 publication by paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn estimated the creatures to be larger than any of the modern rhino species. Artists’ reconstructions hint at a burly build and body plan that resemble that of the animals’ extant cousins. And the beasts go by an equally cumbersome name: Elasmotherium sibiricum (ee–laz–moh–THEER–ee–um sih–BIH–rih–cum). [6 Extinct Animals That Could Be Brought Back to Life]

A well-preserved skull

The partial skull that the researchers found was well-preserved and in very good condition overall, though the teeth were missing, the scientists said. Dimensions of features in the skull fragment were considerably bigger than those in any other E. sibiricum specimen yet discovered in Eastern Europe, hinting that the skull most likely belonged to a large, older male, said study co-author Andrey Shpanski, a paleontologist at Tomsk State University in Russia.

“The dimensions of this rhino [described] today are the biggest of those described in the literature,” Shpanski said in a statement.

E. sibiricum is thought to have ranged from the Don River in southern Russia to the eastern part of Kazakhstan, and prior findings showed that the animal had long inhabited the southeastern part of the West Siberian Plain.

Other fossils found alongside the E. sibiricum skull include two upper teeth from a mammoth, the lower jaw of a steppe elephant and pieces of a bison‘s horn stem.

Dating a “unicorn”

To find out how old the fossils were, the scientists used a method known as radiocarbon dating, which they employed to analyze the amount of carbon-14 in the skull pieces. Carbon-14 is a carbon isotope, a variation of carbon with a different number of neutrons in its nucleus (14, in this case). Living plants and animals absorb carbon-14 from the atmosphere as long as they’re alive.

But once an organism dies, the carbon-14 in its body begins to decay at a regular rate that can be tracked over time, until about 60,000 years have passed and all the carbon-14 is gone. By analyzing bones to see how much carbon-14 is left, scientists can tell when the animal was still alive.

Radiocarbon dating told researchers that the E. sibiricum individual died 29,000 years ago, a dramatic divergence from previous estimates placing the species’ extinction at 350,000 years ago.

If the new calculation is correct, the “Siberian unicorn” could have crossed paths with modern humans. An earlier study suggested that humans inhabited the Siberian Arctic as far back as 45,000 years ago, based on the evidence of a butchered mammoth carcass that was likely cut up by hunters.

The new findings were published in the Feb. 2016 issue of the American Journal of Applied Sciences.


Mars spacecraft narrowly avoids exploding booster

This video says about itself:

Replay of the ExoMars 2016 liftoff on a Proton-M rocket from Baikonur, Kazakhstan at 09:31 GMT on 14 March 2016.

Credit: ESA/Euronews

From Universe Today:

ExoMars Mission Narrowly Avoids Exploding Booster

24 March 2016 by Bob King

On March 14, the ExoMars mission successfully lifted off on a 7-month journey to the planet Mars but not without a little surprise. The Breeze-M upper booster stage, designed to give the craft its final kick toward Mars, exploded shortly after parting from the probe. Thankfully, it wasn’t close enough to damage the spacecraft.

Michel Denis, ExoMars flight director at the European Space Operations, Center in Darmstadt, Germany, said that the two craft were many kilometers apart at the time of the breakup, so the explosion wouldn’t have posed a risk. Still, the mission team won’t be 100% certain until all the science instruments are completely checked over in the coming weeks.


Waterbirds in Kazakhstan counted

This video is called Birds of Kazakhstan. Cinclus pallasii (brown dipper).

From BirdLife:

Kazakhstan’s latest winter census sees fewer waterbirds in more wetlands

By Danara Zharbolova, Tue, 09/02/2016 – 11:18

Waterbirds (birds that live in freshwater habitats) cover tens of thousands of kilometres every year during their annual migration to warmer climates. To help determine their population status and trends, every January over 20 million waterbirds are counted in the Western Palearctic region, and up to 10 million in Sub-Saharan Africa by a network of about 15,000 volunteers for the International Waterbird Census.

The census, which began in 1967 in Europe and Asia, turns 50 this year. Coordinated by Wetlands International, today it covers more than 25.000 sites in more than 100 countries, making it one of the largest global monitoring schemes largely based on citizen science. The data it provides helps conservationists advocate for the right international and national policies to conserve waterbird populations and key wetland sites.

Kazakhstan began conducting its winter census in the central, southern and western parts of the country in 2004. Lead by the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK, BirdLife in Kazakhstan), the data of the winter census is used to identify changes in waterbird numbers and for monitoring key ornithological areas. This year, ornithologists surveyed 15 wetlands and counted more than 130.000 wintering birds from 80 species, including the Mallard, the Eurasian Wigeon, the Common Teal, the Ruddy Shelduck and the Greylag Goose.

The distribution of the species seen was unlike the previous years because of a warmer-than-usual winter that even brought out the crocuses. Wetlands in southern Kazakhstan were not frozen, leading to more sites being available for the birds than usual. For example, in the south, waterbirds were found not just at the Chardara reservoir, but also at the Koksaray, Badam reservoirs and Shohkakol lakes, which normally freeze over in the winter. More birds were also seen in the more northern reaches of the Caspian Sea.

“The weather was… mild and without precipitation. [Only] 40-60% of smaller water bodies in the southern region were covered in ice and birds were recorded on almost all of them, even if not in great numbers,” said Valeriy Khrokov, an ACBK board member. Counts are conducted in January because this is when many waterbird species congregate conspicuously at a relatively small number of sites where they can be readily counted.

Despite overall numbers being within the range of the last few years, some species did see a drop in population, owing mostly to the warm winter, according to experts. In the south, the population of the Mallard (56.800) was half that of 2012-2014, and the population of the Greylag Goose (2.530) was lower than four years ago. On Karakol Lake, the number of Mute Swans dropped from 3.500 to 2.000 between January 12 and January 16, which was much lower than the 14.000 recorded here in previous years.

However, there were some bright spots: the numbers of the Ruddy Shelduck doubled to 10.500 and volunteers counted 1.000 Greater Flamingos as well.

This year was also special for another reason: For the first time, students participated in this important task together with ornithologists. Around 30 students surveyed water bodies with 14 qualified recorders and learned to identify species. As a result, ACBK was able to cover the biggest number of wetlands ever, including all the really important sites.

After several years of collaborative work with regional governments and environmental experts and NGOs, the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK), BirdLife’s partner in Kazakhstan, is proud to announce that Western Tien-Shan was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List: here.


First Danish cosmonaut in space

This video says about itself:

Historic 500th Soyuz rocket sets off from Baikonur

1 September 2015

The 500th Soyuz rocket has successfully lifted off from the Gagarin’s Start launchpad marking a historic milestone for Baikonur Cosmodrome. The spacecraft will deliver three new crew members to the International Space Station.

Russian and Kazakh cosmonauts (Sergey Volkov and Aidyn Aimbetov respectively), along with the first ever Danish astronaut (Andreas Mogensen) have entered history on board Soyuz TMA-18M. The 500th manned rocket launched from the same pad that Yuri Gagarin’s original Soyuz blasted off from on April 12, 1961.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain today:

Soyuz slowly blasts off to space station

KAZAKHSTAN: A Russian, a Dane and a Kazakh blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome to the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday.

Andreas Mogensen became the first Dane in space, while Kazakh Aidyn Aimbetov got his chance to go into space when British singer Sarah Brightman pulled out.

The Soyuz spacecraft will take an unusually long two-day flightpath to the ISS due to safety concerns after the station had to adjust its orbit to avoid orbital debris.


Saiga antelope and art in Kazakhstan

Drawing attention to the plight of the saiga through local engagement in community art. Photo: Rory McCann

From BirdLife:

Drawing attention to the plight of the Saiga through school mural painting

By Rory McCann, Mon, 15/06/2015 – 12:40

I am here in Kazakhstan to paint a mural depicting the wildlife of the steppe environment, with a particular focus on the Saiga antelope – a comical-looking yet critically endangered species which originally inhabited a vast area of the Eurasian steppe zone. The Saiga population in Kazakhstan has recently suffered severe losses due to a disease outbreak.

On my second day I meet staff of the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK, BirdLife Partner in Kazakhstan), who tell me one of the main issues for Saiga antelope is that they are being poached, especially by individuals in the remote villages of central Kazakhstan.

Our mural will be made in one of these villages, with the aim of boosting the plight of the Saiga. The mural painting team are Zhanna Aksartova – ACBK’s Conservation Education Coordinator, Ekaterina Aksartova – Zhanna’s sister and ecology student, and myself – Rory McCann – a wildlife artist with a background in conservation.

We travel across Kazahkstan to the village where we will paint the mural.  Its location is the village school, a mighty-looking building built by the government 3 years ago. We hope to have the help of the schoolchildren.

We are shown around the school by the school director and the village leader. I am touched and tickled to be given many business-like handshakes by children as young as three years old!

It’s exciting to introduce ourselves and explain our reasons for being there. We talk about the values of preserving native biodiversity and we launch a drawing competition for the students.

We have eight days to paint the mural!

The first brush strokes are always the hardest, but the fear of ruining a perfectly good wall quickly subsides and mural-painting fever takes over!

The days go by and our mural starts to take shape and so does a growing following of budding young artists. By the third day, I can barely move for all the students who are packed around me producing their own drawings based on the mural painting.

Zhanna and Ekaterina chat to the children and get them involved in activities such as making masks and singing songs about the Saiga. The children seem enthralled by the process – exactly the response we were hoping for!

We run a workshop with the younger competition winners – a series of mini drawing challenges, a master class in drawing eyes, and making Saiga gift cards. The competition winners can paint an animal on the mural.

The final day arrives. We must have the mural finished by 5pm in time for the grand opening. The mural has been sectioned off with curtains across the entrance so that our big unveiling can have maximum dramatic impact!  At 4:45 pm, the brushes are put down for the last time, with a big sigh of relief.

At 5pm, we emerge from behind the curtains to a waiting crowd of students, staff and other villagers. A few minutes of prize–giving, tributes and words of thanks, the curtains are pulled back to reveal the finished mural. More than 25 steppe animals and birds are represented on the mural painting.

The hope is that this project can pave the way for ACBK to conduct further outreach and educational projects in this region with a view to improving the status of the Saiga antelope and other species in the surrounding environment.

The enthusiasm and friendliness of the students has really made this experience a rewarding one for me.

The Mural Project was instigated by the Saiga Conservation Alliance, with funding generously given by Zynga via the Wildlife Conservation Network.

Rory McCann worked for two years at BirdLife’s Global Secretariat office in Cambridge.

Nearly 140,000 of the critically endangered saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica), which lives in the Central Asian steppe, have died suddenly in Kazakhstan, almost half the global population, over a two week period: here.

Mystery sudden death of 200,000 saiga antelopes solved by scientists: here.

The saiga is a Critically Endangered antelope that was originally found almost all over the Eurasian steppes, from Ukraine and Russia all the way to Mongolia. Today, they can only be found in parts of Russia and Kazakhstan due to illegal taking pressures for their meat and horns: here.