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Kulans on island of Barsa-Kelmes.

A trip to Barsa-Kelmes Nature Reserve.

“... Suddenly the troops parted with a noise:
Wild herds burst forth
They started up, and were all stunned and screeched.
The darkness of the mares, the darkness of the stallions Then they let go to the fugitives.
In horror, each of their khans said
With a start, and a wild look, he said:
“What an unprecedented ass!” -
"These are kulans, not donkeys..."

Epos "Manas".

A trip from Aralsk to Barsa-Kelmes.

Mysterious Kulans - the purpose of a trip to the island of Barsa-Kelmes! The territory on which they inhabited and still live in places is very vast: deserts and semi-deserts, plains and mountains from Northern Arabia, Syria to Mongolia and Tibet, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. In each of the countries they were called differently: in Tibet - Kiang, in Mongolia - Dzhegetey, in Turkmenistan, Syria, Arabia - onager, in Kazakhstan - kulan.
In fact, these are three different subspecies: kiang - the largest, darkest and with high legs; onager - smaller than a kulan and kiang, colored lighter than them; dzhegetey - smaller kulan, but larger than onager. The ancestor of the modern kulan was not known to science for a long time.
The people made legends about kulans: their meat and fat were considered miraculous, the hide was highly valued.
One of these legends about the skin of onager was used by Honore Balzac in his philosophical novel “Shagreen Skin”. Here is what it says about onager, kulan:
“We poor Parisians have no idea about onager!” In our museum it is not. What a wonderful animal! - continued the scientist.
- This creature is mysterious, his eyes are equipped with a reflective shell, to which the inhabitants of the East attribute magical power; his skin is thinner and smoother than that of our best horses, it is in bright red and pale red stripes and is very similar to the skin of a zebra. His coat is soft, glossy to the touch; his vision in its acuity is not inferior to the vision of man; onager is slightly larger than our best domestic donkeys and endowed with extreme courage.
If they attack him, he strikingly successfully fights off the most ferocious animals; as for the speed of running, it can only be compared with the flight of a bird; the best Arab and Persian horses would not have kept up with onager.
By definition, given by the father of the conscientious scientist Niebuhr, the average running speed of these amazing creatures is equal to seven geographical miles per hour. Our degenerate donkey and ideas can not give about this donkey, an independent and proud animal.
Onager is agile, moved, his eyes are smart and cunning, his appearance is elegant, his movements are full of playfulness. This is the zoological king of the East! Superstitions Turkish and Persian ascribe to him a mysterious origin, and the name of Solomon also mixes with the narratives of Tibetan and Tatarian tellers about the exploits of these noble animals. It should be noted that tame onager costs a lot of money: it’s almost impossible to catch it in the mountains, it rides like a roe deer, flies like a bird, fables about winged horses, about our Pegasus, no doubt, were born in those countries where shepherds could often see onager jumping from cliff to cliff. ”

Of course, many properties of kulans here are poeticized, a lot of fiction, folk fantasy. In the oral poetry of the East, the description of the kulan is more realistic. The kulan is praised in the folk epos of the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz.
In the Kyrgyz epic “Manas”, legendary kulans help the protagonist, whose poem is named after. Kulans obedient to one Manas accompany him to the camp of hostile khans. Enemy units encounter this herd of wild kulans and flee in fear, escaping from an avalanche of running animals
... Suddenly the troops parted with a noise:
Wild herds burst forth
They started up, and were all stunned and screeched.
The darkness of the mares, the darkness of the stallions
Then they let go to the fugitives.
In horror, each of their khans said
With a start, and a wild look, he said:
“What an unprecedented ass!” -
“These are kulans, not donkeys”...

In the ancient epic "Kambar Batyr", to emphasize the strength and dexterity of the hero, it is said about his hunting trophies:
My Kambar is returning.
He has five saddles on his right,
Five kulans - to the left of the saddle.

Even in ancient times, kulans were the subject of hunting. Their meat was considered a gourmet dish. Winter clothes were made from the fur of the female’s belly, and from the skin, expensive colored morocco for shoes and saddles.
Many centuries have passed since then. We have reached later information about the hunt for kulans. They were hunted, lurking at watering holes, and a detour: a group of hunters took a herd of kulans in the ring, choosing for this a possibly more rugged terrain where you can hide. In the open steppe it was impossible to overtake these frisky animals. The kulans of the hunters were fascinated by their fast running and endurance. People have long tried to tame kulans, but to no avail.
It is known that kulans were domesticated in Asia Minor earlier than horses, and harnessed to chariots. And already in our time, in the nursery of the Badkhyz nature reserve, kulans were harnessed to running shakes and saddled. But these are only special cases, in most attempts to saddle or harness the kulan ended in failure.
Nowadays, the problem of domestication of kulans is one of the most important: kulans were crossed with a horse and a donkey, but hybrids were fruitless. This animal is carefully studied. It is known that the Barsa-Kelmes kulans are relatives of the Turkmen onager.
They are as fast as horses, but with a relatively large and heavy head and longer ears. The tail of the kulans is short with a brush on the end, like striped zebras and donkeys; the color of yellow desert tones, turning in places to white, along the back there is a narrow dark strip - a belt. Between the ears to the withers there is a high erect dark mane.
There are no horse bangs in kulans. In this they are like donkeys. Adult males and females do not differ in color, but males are somewhat larger in size. Young kulans in the first months of their lives are covered with a relatively long soft and somewhat shaggy coat of a dull tone. Their long ears and limbs are especially striking.
For example, the length of the body of adult kulans from the end of the nose to the root of the tail is two hundred to two hundred and twenty centimeters, and the height at the withers is one hundred ten to one hundred thirty-seven centimeters.
Young people under the age of one and a half months have a body length of one hundred ten to one hundred and twenty, eighty-eight to ninety centimeters high at the withers. On the front legs there are clearly visible chestnuts - rounded hairless areas of wrinkled skin.
On their hind legs they are not. In general, chestnuts on all four legs are a sure sign that we have a horse in front of us. The kulan combines the features of a horse and a donkey: young kulans are more like a horse, and older ones are more like a donkey.
According to many scientists, kulans are related to donkeys, but some zoologists believe that there are no sufficient grounds for such conclusions and it is most correct to bring a kulan closer to a real horse, despite some zebra and donkey signs (long ears, short tail, low mane and lack of bangs, donkey voice).
Given this and taking into account the habits of the animal, we can say that the kulan is a close relative of Przhevalsky’s horse, once very widespread, but now preserved only in Central Asia. It is not for nothing that scientists attributed them to one genus equus, and just like Przhevalsky’s horse, kulans were preserved only in some places and in small quantities.
It is known that the ancestors of Kulans lived in the steppe zone of the European part of the Union, Western Siberia and Kazakhstan, the semi-deserts and deserts of Central and Central Asia, Tibet, in the steppe and semi-desert regions of Asia Minor, including the Arabian Peninsula far from us, in Asia Minor and northwestern India.
But already during the time of man’s existence on earth, the range (distribution area) of the kulan has greatly decreased, since the number of the animal itself has fallen sharply, especially over the past sixty to eighty years.
The kulan is now almost exterminated and preserved in few areas. Zoologists believe that the main reason for reducing the range of the kulan is its direct extermination in connection with the development of previously uninhabited or poorly populated steppes and semi-deserts. Animals lost watering places, were not protected.
Fast running did not save them either, as in the hunt for them firearms and a car were used, from which they could not escape. How widespread were kulans in Kazakhstan and when did the last kulan leave the territory of our republic? In the XVIII century, the Kulans occupied most of Kazakhstan and the plains of Central Asia far to the south.
The animals went north - to the city of Semipalatinsk and along the Irtysh River reached 52 ° north latitude. Then there were most kulans near the Sarysu River, they lived along the Embe River, in the Kokchetav Mountains and Yereimentau.
In the sixties of the last century, the extreme northern limit of distribution of these animals were the spurs Mugodzhar and Ulytau, the Kulan-Utpes river and the channels of the Tersakkan river. By the beginning of the twentieth century, in most of Kazakhstan, kulans had completely disappeared and survived only in the Betpak-Dale desert, in the Northern and Southern Balkhash regions, in the Dzungarian Gate area and in the Zaysan depression.
There were many more at Betpak Dal. These animals lived between the Aral Sea and the Caspian - on Mangyshlak and Ustyurt. In the twenties and thirties they met only in a small number in the Southern Balkhash. And by the end of the thirties, the kulans disappeared from here.
Later, only some of their visits from Dzhungaria were noted east of Balkhash, along the Ili River and in the spurs of the Dzhungarsky Alatau. Currently, these rarest animals (subspecies of onagra) have been preserved in southern Turkmenistan in the Badkhyz reserve, where there are about seven hundred of them.
From here, kulans, as already mentioned, were brought to Bars-Kelmes, where they acclimatized for two decades and still live. For the first time, eight kulans were brought to the island of Bars-Kelmes in 1953, and a little later - six more.
However, there was no growth in the herd: the herd was headed by an old male, so kulanats were not born, which was an undesirable phenomenon. In 1955, a one-year-old male was brought to Barsa-Kelmes from distant Badhyz and gave him the nickname Badkhyz.
The very next spring, the reserve workers saw the first newborn kulanenka. Subsequently, year after year, the sons and daughters of Badhyz were born. Among them, Ratmir stood out. Now there are eighty descendants of Badhyz on the island.
This is the total number of kulans in the reserve. So few! After all, fourteen adult animals were imported, among them there were eleven females. Especially the growth rate of the Kulan stock has slowed in the last decade. If in 1963 there were forty-eight kulans (26 females, 13 males, 9 newborns), then over the next six years they increased by only thirty with a few individuals.
How to explain such a slow population growth? The reason is nonfodder in the winter. For only two winters of 1963 - 1964 and 1966 - 1967, the retreat amounted to thirty-eight goals, and in the winter of 1970 - 1971 - eleven.
Already in the winter of 1968 - 1969, animals were fed with hay and animal feed. Then only Badkhyz died. He lagged behind the herd and did not approach to feed at the Central Estate. He fell from exhaustion at the age of fifteen. This was the last kulan brought from the Badkhyz reserve. It is interesting for its origin and behavior on the island of kulans.
Badkhyz gave birth to dozens of slender and quick as the wind kulans. It is hard to say what destroys newborns kulan - heat or cold. In southern Turkmenistan, the birthplace of our Badkhyz, the sun becomes especially cruel in the afternoon.
In Balkhash, Betpak-Dala, Ustyurt and Bars-Kelmes - with the only difference being that there is much less sun at these latitudes. But the sun, its blinding and burning rays in the desert - the worst. All living things seek to hide from them. But kulans, donkeys and camels are an exception: they are not afraid of the sun.

M.I. Ismagilov. "Island of the Kulans." Series "Man and Nature." Kaynar Publishing House, Alma-Ata, 1973.