Kazakhstan on Friday announced plans to bring wild tigers back to the Ili-Balkhash region, where they used to thrive before they were driven into extinction by poaching and loss of habitats, the World Wildlife Fund said. The country has also signed a memorandum with the WWF to jointly implement a tiger reintroduction programme.

“Kazakhstan is moving along the path of green development,” Kazakhstan Agriculture Minister Askar Myrzakhmetov said. “We are honoured to be the first country in Central Asia to implement such an important and large-scale project, that not only will bring wild tigers back to their ancestral home, but also protect the unique ecosystem of the Ili-Balkhash region.”

The memorandum was signed in a ceremony in the pavilion of the Netherlands embassy in Kazakhstan on Friday. “The Netherlands was one of the first supporters and sponsors of this bold and innovative project, and we are excited to be part of this key milestone today,” Netherlands Ambassador to Kazakhstan Dirk Jan Kop said.

The Kazakhstan government will designate a new nature reserve in Ili-Balkhash to house the tigers. The country’s tiger programme is expected to contribute to Tx2, a global initiative to double the number of wild tigers by 2022.

If the programme is successful, Kazakhstan will be the first country in the world to reintroduce tigers to a region where they have been extinct for nearly half a century.