Conservation on an epic scale
In 2006, a group of conservation professionals came together with the Government of Kazakhstan to form a partnership to enable the protection of fragile steppe, wetland and desert ecosystems, and allow the diverse wildlife to flourish.
This truly ambitious undertaking requires a deep understanding of the different needs, behaviours and interactions of many species across thousands of miles of landscape. It’s a challenge that draws on the skill and experience of each of the partners, from habitat protection and species research, to wildlife crime prevention and harnessing the power of community.
Together, we are the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative.
About the partnership
The Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative is a partnership that combines national and international NGOs, working alongside the government of Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources.
Together, this pioneering partnership is discovering how to preserve and enhance a prehistoric ecosystem using 21st century conservation science. They each bring a wealth of experience to the table, from wildlife crime prevention and species reintroductions, to habitat management and advanced surveillance technologies. Let’s meet the partners…
Creating a network of protected areas
How do you protect an area the size of Turkey for vulnerable wildlife? You can’t just throw up a fence around the border and declare it a nature reserve. It requires a much more targeted and strategic approach.
While we can’t protect every one of the 75 million hectares once occupied by saiga, we can protect the areas that are most important to vulnerable species. But species like saiga and kulan are nomadic, travelling as far as a thousand miles every year for feeding and breeding, so how do we also provide protection for them along the routes they travel?
To discover where species go and how they get there, we draw on the skills of the partners to put some cutting-edge monitoring and research into action.
Rangers & Monitoring
Government rangers and monitoring specialists from the partnership use a suite of tools to keep track of saiga and kulan movements across the steppe. This includes satellite collars, autonomous camera drones and remote camera traps.
To deter and prevent wildlife criminals from taking saiga, we work together with border and customs authorities. We provide training and specialised sniffer dogs to help border and customs guards detect caches of saiga horns being smuggled out of Kazakhstan.
Species & habitat research
There is still so much we don’t know about the steppe ecosystem. Our researchers study every aspect of life here – from birds, small mammals, wolves to the botanical diversity. They study species numbers, behaviour and movements, and even soil quality, to understand better how to restore the ecosystem to full health.
Altogether, these monitoring efforts produce a huge amount of data. It’s a highly specialised job to analyse this information and use it to make recommendations about which areas deserve better protection, and to help inform habitat management plans.
Restoring lost species
Many important steppe species have disappeared or declined in number. We are working to restore a series of these species to their former range and numbers, enabling balanced functioning ecosystems to reemerge.
Poaching, disease and other pressures drove saiga antelopes extremely close to extinction. Our partnership came together to save the Critically Endangered saiga. We want to see saiga numbers return to the millions that roamed the steppe before the agricultural revolution of the Soviet era. We want to help these unique antelopes rebuild self-sustaining populations, which co-exist with the human communities who share these wild landscapes.
Kulan – Asiatic wild asses – were once common across Kazakhstan, but poaching mainly for meat caused them to go extinct across most of the country in the 1930s. Until recently, all that remained was a small kulan population in a protected area in the south. We are working to bring kulan back to the steppe by translocating small groups and beginning to establish a new population in an area they once lived.
Involving local people
The steppe is only sparsely populated with humans, but the local communities living around the protected areas are vital to the success of the project.
Nature conservation can only work when it has the support of local people. The steppe is not just a place for wildlife, but for Kazakh communities too, many of them relying on the natural resources of this landscape for survival.
We work hand-in-hand with local people, raising awareness of how special this place is, and helping them appreciate their vital role as caretakers of this ancient landscape and its wildlife.
Through the establishment of Protected Areas, we are also able to increase employment and training opportunities for both local communities and government staff.
Education & schools
We are passionate about involving children in the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative. One day they will inherit this unique landscape, and they will only want to protect it if they care about it.
We organise regular field trips, taking school groups out into the conservation zones. There, they can see some of the iconic steppe wildlife, and learn about how our ranger and research teams are working together to save it.