Internship position: Monitoring assistant for equid behaviour and parasite load assessment

Project: Reintroduction of Large Herbivores to Central Kazakhstan (Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative)
Location: Alibi Reintroduction center for Wild Ungulates, Torgai steppe, Kazakhstan
Time: ASAP – December 2024 (fractions of this time possible, but at least two consecutive months)

While this is an unpaid position, travel and subsistence costs will be covered by the Initiative.

Brief Information on the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative:
Founded in 2005 and operating under a signed MOU, the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative is spearheaded in Kazakhstan by the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK), with financial and technical assistance from Fauna & Flora (F&F), Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), and the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB), working in partnership with the Government of Kazakhstan’s Committee for Forestry & Wildlife, part of the Ministry of Ecology, Geology & Natural Resources. The Initiative is a large-scale, long-term partnership to conserve and restore fully functional ecosystems of steppe, semi-desert, and desert across the historical range of the saiga antelope in Kazakhstan. The Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK) is a non-profit public organisation dedicated to the study and conservation of rare species of flora and fauna, as well as significant areas of Kazakhstan. ACBK is a partner of Birdlife International in Kazakhstan.

Brief Information on the large herbivore reintroduction project:
Right in the heart of the Central Asian plains, there is a vast grassland dotted with wetlands stretching thousands of miles in every direction. This is Altyn Dala, the “Golden Steppe”, and in it lies in a region known as Torgai. Inherent to its unique ecosystem are large grazers, the Przewalski’s horses and wild ass, called Kulan. Due to human pressure during the last centuries, these charismatic species have been lost to the landscape. Since 2006, dedicated conservation efforts have significantly improved local protection levels in the Torgai region. Kulan are being successively reintroduced to Altyn Dala since 2017 and have been joined by the first seven Przewalski’s horses in June 2024. By 2028, we plan to translocate 40 Przewalski’s horses from European Zoos and 100 Kulans from within Kazakhstan, thus creating self-sustaining populations of both equids, requiring ongoing protection and monitoring to understand their wider impacts on the steppe ecosystem. While the Kulans are wild-captured animals from the world’s largest Kulan population in a National Park at the southern border of Kazakhstan, the Przewalski’s Horses will be provided by participants of the EAZA Ex-situ Program (EEP).

The designated large herbivore reintroduction centre consists of a permanently staffed field station and several large acclimatization enclosures. It is strategically located in the Torgai steppe within an established network of nature reserves connected by ecological corridors totalling 40.000km2. Several of these reserves and the centre itself are run by the national NGO partner, the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK). The facility has been in use since 2017 for the ongoing Kulan translocation program.

Position Objective

  • Secure sound monitoring of the behaviour of reintroduced Przewalski’s horses and kulan within
    the acclimatization enclosures.
  • Assess the animals’ parasite load using fecal sampling and basic analysis in the field lab on
    site.
  • Keep track of daily observations using the conservation software “Spatial Monitoring and
    Reporting Tool” (SMART)
  • Keep project leaders up to date to enable their immediate response to any negative trends.

Tasks and responsibilities

  • Daily observation of animals in the enclosure including assessment of social interactions and
    recording Body Condition Score
  • Fecal sampling of every animal and parasitological analysis (once every two weeks)
  • Collecting fecal samples for future microbiome analysis
  • Consistent documentation of all findings and developments on SMART
  • Taking daily video footage of horses and storing the data chronologically
  • Regular and reliable reporting to the national / international team
  • Implementation of minor adjustments to enclosures / animal enrichment in coordination with
    Reintroduction Center Caretakers and project leaders

Requirements

  • Enrolled in or graduate of veterinary medicine, biology or related subjects
  • Familiarity with equid behaviour – need to be able to interpret social interactions!
  • Proficiency in data collection and analysis using scientific methods and protocols
  • Knowledge of conservation principles and practices
  • Ability and willingness to work in very remote area
  • Physical fitness and ability to cope with challenging field conditions
  • Ability to work without on-site supervision
  • Excellent interpersonal skills and willingness to engage/communicate with Kazakh rangers on
    site
  • Love of wilderness and nature

Preferred, but optional:

  • Proficiency in Russian or Kazakh language
  • Experience with parasitology (flotation-sedimentation, McMaster Egg Count), fecal sampling
  • Experience with photography

Condition on site
The reintroduction center for wild ungulates “Alibi” is an autonomous ranger station that lies in a vast network of wilderness areas. The temperatures can reach from 30°C in summer to -30°C in winter. You will share a room with one other monitoring intern. There is electricity and basic WiFi, which is sufficient for text messages. There will be at least two Kazakh caretakers at a time with you and frequent visits by the project leader, patrolling rangers, scientists, etc. The ranger station is heated, with a kitchen inside and toilets outside.

Internship benefits

  • Hands-on experience in internationally recognized conservation project
  • Improved understanding of wildlife veterinary diagnostics and animal management skills
  • Meaningful impact on Kazakh nature conservation
  • Connection to dynamic and dedicated international team of conservationists
  • Amazing nature and wildlife experience
  • Potential for publication and dissemination of research findings in reputable scientific journals
  • Cultural immersion and exposure to the unique traditions and landscapes of Kazakhstan

Contact

Please send your application including motivational letter and CV to Stephanie Ward: ward@zgf.de and Anne Dohrmann: anne.dohrmann@fzs.org

You may also use these contacts for any questions.

We look forward to your message!

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