The Southern Kazakhstan Nature

The Golden Eagle soars in the high blue sky. The bright southern sun plays on his brilliant plumage, sharp-sighted eyes serenely watch vicinities, a wind is flows round a proud silhouette of a free bird. The fertile Southern Kazakhstan land is below stretched, its beauty pleases heart and torments inquisitive mind. A variety of the southern nature is unique: fragrant gardens of ancient cities; unique, mysterious Betpak Dala, Mujunkum and Kyzyl Kum deserts; frightening Hungry steppe; snow-covered Western Tian Shan mountains peaks; gorges, attracting by a cool of shady and by juniper woods emerald; the great ancient Seikhun river framed with wood greens, where tigers wandered recently. Deserts are divided by a rocky Karatau ridge, freakish mountains are the results of of earth crust evolution. Millions years ago waves of primitive ocean lapped here. Today the fallen asleep annals of a life silently verify it: prints of the most ancient seaweed, molluscs and fishes - fossils of Karatau mountains. Wisdom of the East, a life celebration, the nature grandeur, independent spirit of nomadСs word are concentrated on the Southern Kazakhstan land. Go cautiously on the ancient earth, be respectful to it. Here destinies of the numerous people of Asia were decided, proud sultans governed here, brave soldiers battled, rich caravans went, inquisitive minds of our ancestors comprehended the world, beautiful girls hearts were burnt with scarlet tulips. Involuntarily you recollect great Omar Hajam words:

And a mote was a living particle,

It was a black ringlet or long eyelash.

Wipe a dust from your face cautiously and gently,

May be, dust was Zukhra as a beatyfull girl!

The nature of Southern Kazakhstan is presented by the surprising, various and well preserved landscapes with rich wildlife, unique high-mountainous area of Western Tian Shan, natural monuments, reserves and national parks.


The bewitched world of deserts

The considerable part of the South Kazakhstan territory in the northeast and the southwest is occupied with Kyzyl Kum and Muiunkum sandy deserts and Betpak Dala clay desert. The deserted landscape is many-sided: boundless spaces of quicksands, changeable barkhans, clay plains with hills and depressions, firm as a concrete takyrs, whitish saline soils, vivifying greens of rare oases, a deceptive haze of a mirage. According to V.I.Dal's explanatory dictionary a word ДDesertУ means a lonely monastery, a deficiency. Really, desert living conditions are hard for a wildlife for many reasons. A lack of water is the main reason.


In a hot scorching heat of sunny summer day, when even a camel tries to hide in a poor shade of a saxaul, the desert can be compared to one of hell circles. But only at first sight the desert seems dead. The nature here lives, adapting to a dry arid climate.


аAfter destructive summer heat and penetrating winter winds, the nature as a kind wizard wakes the sleeping beauty. Fanned by legends, directing horror on people by centuries, the pernicious world of desert is capable to fascinate any person in the spring. Magnificently blossoming in spring desert is an unforgettable show, the magic world, triumph of a life, light and colours.


Crystal air rings larkТs songs, in heated-up by the sun temporary pools and lakelets goggle-eyed toads turn, inflating a throat and singing joyful marriage trills, long-legged stints scurry on coast. Great Bustards (Otis tarda) match among barkhans proudly having fluffed up a pink loop of feathers. Plenty of the big and small turtles hasty creep because of their urgent matters, ridiculous big-bellied Sand Round-headed Lizards (Phrynocephalus interscapularis) scurry about on sand having a striped tail twirled in a ring. Blossoming ferulas have risen and tower as tiny trees, involving a set of insects by their pungent smell. There are Black Longhorn Beetles; shining by elytronСs emerald Blister Beetles; small hardworking Wild Bees; clumsy Fiddler Beetles on the flowers.


Carpets of scarlet poppies and yellow tulips are scattered in separate curtains. Animals in desert adapt to a water lack, they run into nocturnalism or hibernation.


There is a lot of lizards, snakes, rodents in a desert, but there are larger animals as well. Corsac Foxes (Vulpes corsac) hunt on Tolai or Sand Hares (Lepus tolai) here. Libyan Wild Cats (Felix libyca) live there. Swift desert Gointred or Persian Gazelles (Gazella subgutturosa) may be recorded here. Recently Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) were found in desert. There is a scientific data on cheetah meetings in deserted areas to the north from Karatau mountains. Probably, this rare predator lives in secluded corners of the wild nature still now. Deserts of Southern Kazakhstan are different in the landscape relation. The Kyzyl Kum desert Ц translated as a ДRed sandУ- is located in the southwest of Southern Kazakhstan area between border of the Uzbek Republic and the Syrdariya river.


The Muiunkum desert is located in the northeast from Karatau mountains, on a left bank of the Chu river. In the north the desert incorporates to Betpak Dala. Kyzyl Kum and Muiunkum are sandy deserts. Sand absorb a moisture well. There is a damp horizon and ground waters under a dry top layer of sand. Plants use this phenomenon, and tulips, kandym, feather grass, sedge, brome, poa, sand acacia, saxaul, dzhuzgun grow in sandy deserts.


Santonica wormwood (Artemisia cina) grows in mass in the south of Kazakhstan only. It is the best raw material for santonin production. Santonin is the best medicine against helminths (parasitic worms). In 19 century the Shymkent merchants were sold santonin to Europe directly. Then, with chemistry and pharmacology development, santoninа forgotten, but now interest to Santonica wormwood has again revived, because of eco-friendly organic food and medicines fashion.


Small leftovered Krakatau mountains are located in Kyzyl Kum sand, approximately at the latitude of Shymkent, in 30 km from the river Syrdariya. Their height is 388 metres only. It is interesting, what one of the most endangered animals of Southern Kazakhstan Ц Kyzylkum Mountain Sheep (Ovis ammon sevetzovii) - probably still inhabits here.


Betpak Dala or Northern Hungry Steppe concerns to the type of clay deserts. Betpak Dala occupies northern part of Southern Kazakhstan area. In clay desert water filters into a ground badly, so in the spring there are many temporary reservoirs which form superficial salty lakelets called sory. Drying up sory turn into saline soils and takyrs. Takyrs are the most dead desert sites. It is the dried up, firm, cracked pure clay. But a life presents even here. Wormwood, solyanka, yellow acacia, saxaul and boyalych grow in clay desert. Unique small animal has been found and described for the first time in the world rather recently. Seleviniya or Desert Betpakdala Dormouse (Selevinia betpakdalensis) is the name of the animal. Till now a desert is full of riddles.


The ancient ridge of Syr-Darya Karatau divided deserts of Southern Kazakhstan. This ridge closely approaches to spurs of Western Tian-Shan in southeast of South Kazakhsyan Province. Talasskiy Ala Tau and Ugamsky ridge are the parts of Western Tian-Shan . Karzhantau ridge outstands to a steppe from Talasskiy Ala Tau. Ugamsky ridge is located on the border with Uzbekistan.

In the country of a Snow Leopard

In the southeast of the South Kazakhstan area dry semi-deserts and foothill steppes suddenly pass in highland. The dry hot climate of deserts is replaced by a cool of shady gorges. There are snow-covered peaks of Western Tian-Shan on horizon one behind another.


ДIn front of eyes ridges grow from steppe Ц ridge by ridge; one goes down, behind it there is another growing. All of them are outskirts of immense Tian Shan uplands only... There ridges are piled up above ridges, each next is more hight, more snowy and more rocky. There are snow-slides in valleys on the whole versts, forming bridges over mad mountain streams. Such snow-slide thaws for three years, surrounded with greens and flowers on rocks.

...This ridge ends by low hills at the river Arys, but Tian Shan is not terminated yet. Behind, to the south, again the wall with a snow teeth, but eye covers it already. Its steppe end is visible. It is Kazygurt - lonely, snowless peak like a naked rock of reddish porphyry. It conects with the main ridge by a low crest. By the local legend, on Kazygurt, NoahСs ark has moored. For residents of Tian Shan foothills its bulk seems inaccessible even for a FloodУ N.A.Severtsov (1873).


The well-known Aksu Dzhabagly Nature Reserve is located in Tulkubas District of the South Kazakhstan province. The reserve is on a junction of three states borders: Kazakhstan, Kirgizstana and Uzbekistan. The reserve territory occupies the space about 130 thousand hectare. Within many decades natural sights are under protection on the large mountain area of Western Tian-Shan, composed by Talasskiy Ala Tau and Ugam ridges. Surprising fauna and highland plants, a unique landscape of rocks, canyons, the Alpine meadows, juniper woods, the mad mountain rivers, turquoise lakes and eternal glaciers are present here. The highest points of Southern Kazakhstan mountains tower on height more than 4000 metres above sea level. Sayram Peak is the highest point, its height is 4238 metres. Other tops are more low: Aksuat Mount in Dzhabagly upper reaches has 4027 m, Korumtor has 4034 m, Bugulutor has 3919 m. There are snow fields on ridges higher then 3500 m elevation. Abrupt ridge slopes often form steep rocky precipices and taluses. There is a lot of springs, streams, creeks, rivers and lakes in mountains. Western Tian Shan and Karatau Mountains have all-important value for the whole South Kazakhstan region. Their juniper woods give fresh air. Snow fields and glaciers are a mountain constant source of the local mineral water supply.


The Snow Leopard is found in mountains. He is an alive symbol of Kazakhstan prosperity. According to the zoologist V.Shakula about 12-15 individuals of snow leopard (ДIrbisУ is a local name) live in the Aksu-Dzhabagly area. This magnificent predator hunts on Mountain Goats (ДTekeУ is a local name) and Wild Sheep (ДArkharУ is a local name) basically. Marmots become prays of Snow Leopard in summer quite often. There are two species of marmots in mountains. Red or Long-tailed Marmot occupies Talasskiy Ala Tau and mountain jumction around Sairam Peak. Another one quite interesting species called Menzbir Marmot is usual on the Ugam ridge. The border of inhabitations of two species and a zone of their hybridization extend along Saryaigyr river. Menzbir marmot is an endemic species, lives on the Ugam ridge only. The species is listed to the International Red Data Book pages and is a real adornment of Sayram-Ugam National Park, recently established here.


There are many other animals in mountains. Tian Shan or White-clawed Bears (Ursus arctus isabellinus), Central Asian Lynxes (Lynx lynx), Wolves (Canis lupus), Marals with branchy horns (Cervus elaphus), Argalis (Ovis ammon karelini), Ibexes (Ibex sibirica), Siberian Roe Deers (Capreolus pygargus), Wild Boars (Suc scrofa), Beech Martens (Martes foina), Badgers (Meles meles), a lot of birds and other animals are found here.


In spring mountains become covered by blossoming tulips. Greig and Kaufman tulips are the largest and the most beautiful of them. It is considered that these two species have been taken out to Turkey in 15 century, and from there have got to Holland where have served as a material for selection of a large quantity of grades of the well-known Dutch tulips.


Mountain woods of Southern Kazakhstan are primogenitors of many grades of cultural plants. Sivers Crabs, Mahaleb Cherries, Regel Pears,Wild Apricots, Pistachio, Walnutа and Grape lianas till grow now, having a huge value for a science and selection.

The ancient world of Karatau


The Syr-Dariya Karatau ridge reaches 300 km - from the southeast on the northwest between the river Syr-Dariya and Muiunkum sand. Average height of Karatau mountains is 1500-1700 metres above sea level. Bes Saz Mount is the highest top and has 2176 m. The Karatau mountain-mass has a complex relief. There are sites with abrupt carved gorges and ravines, specific dzhons as the raised plain highlands reminding tiny African savannas, there is a lot of caves, failures, springs and mountain creeks. Karatau mountains are very ancient. They are well-known because of paleontologic finds. The place with the hardened prints of animals and plants living here 150 million years ago is found. It is difficult to believe that waters of ancient ocean lapped here, but well remained fossils, the rests of ancient seaweed, trilobites and fish is the best evidence for it. Even fragments of dinosaurs had found here.


There is a small Kyzylkol lake in Karatau foothills to the northwest from Zhanatas city. The slope of one of ravines at lake coast entirely consists of a teeth and bones of the sharks occupying ancient ocean at the Jura period. The flora and fauna of Karatau mountains differs from more young Western Tian Shan Mountains. The influence and affinity of desert is more strongly felt here. There are a very few juniper trees only. Some mountain animals as Snow Leopard (Uncia uncia), Mountain Goat (Ibex sibirica) and Maral are absent on the range. But you may meet more lizards and snakes. Gointred or Persian Gazelles (Gazella subgutturosa)а and Saigas (Saiga tatarica) come into foothills. Indian Crested Porcupine (Histrix indica), and Corsac Fox (Vulpes corsac) are common. Emdemic Karatau Argaliа (Ovis ammon nigrimontana) inhabits here.


There is plenty of endemics among plants. Almost the whole Red Data Book of Kazakhstan is presented on Karatau: more than 70 percent endangered plants of the Republic grow on Syrdariya Karatau. In 2004 in the range central part the Karatau Nature Reserve is established for the preservation of Karatau unique ecological systems.

Life sources

The rivers and lakes are a life basis in a droughty climate of Southern regions. Since an ancient time people settle on coasts of reservoirs. Water serves people as drink and food source and an energy source as well. Water feeds plants and irrigates the earth. Trailblazers and the Silk Road caravans moved along the rivers.

Syr-Dariya river is one of the largest waterways of Central Asia. In the ancient time this river was named as Jaksart, and later it has been renamed in Seihun by Arabs. Syr-Dariya originates from high-mountainous lakes and glaciers of Terskei Ala Tau ridge and runs into Aral sea. It is 2863 km long. Extent of the river within the South Kazakhstan area is 430 km. Here the river moves from the south to the northwest crossing the Shardara steppe, adjoining with Kyzyl Kum desert. The Arys, Bugun, Keles, Kurukkeles rivers and other small creeks, flowing down from Karatau mountains slopes. run into Syr-Dariya as its inflows. The Syr-Dariya water-meadow is rich with lakes, old beds which water balance depends on a water level in the river. Flood-land woods of Chingil bush thickets and Tamarisk grow on Syr-Dariya banks. A lot of Wild Boars (Suc scrofa), Jackals (Canis aureus), Libyan Wild Cats (Felix libyca), Muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus), Pheasants (Phasianus colchicus), Geese, Ducks and Coots (Fulica atra) lives in the Reed thickets. There is a plenty of fish as well as European Wels (Silurus glanis), Snake-headed Fish (Ophiocephalus argus), Pike-perch (Lucioperca lucioperca), Sazan (Cyprinus carpio), Aral Asp (Aspius aspius), Eastern Bream (Abramis brama), Crucian (Carassius auratus) in reservoirs of the Syr-Dariya water-meadows.


Syr-Dariya plays an important role in tourism development and in hunting and fishing economy of the South Kazakhstan area. The Shardara water reservoir and the hydroknot is built on Syr-Dariya for regulation of a drain and water use for irrigation and watering. The main channels are spent to the desert far from the river bed. The lands which have been given to drink by their waters, give big harvest of rice, cotton, corn, various horticultural and market-gardening crops, melons and gourds. Million herds are grazed on watered desert sites. There is no any other river in Kazakhstan which could be compared with Syr-Dariya by value for agriculture. Besides, Syr-Dariya can give a lot of hydroelectric power Ц within borders of Kazakhstan more than 10 million kw/h in a year.

The Arys river originates from more than twenty sources of Dzhabaglytau mountains and runs into Syr-Dariya. The length of the Arys river is 378 km. The river is fast, with a lot of rifts. The river bed often breaks into channels. There are blockages and snags in the river. There are many settlements and gardens along the river. The dam is constructed at the Karaspan settlement. This is a beginning of the channel going to the Bugun water reservoir. In process of movement downwards the Arys water expense increases, because it accepts large left inflows from Western Tian-Shan spurs. The waters which have been taken away from Arysi, irrigate more than 200 thousand of hectare of the land. There is a lot of Marinka (Schizothorax intermedius) in the stream. There are pheasants and riparian birds along the river. Great White Egrets (Egretta alba) are a river decoration in winter. The mild southern climate, the abundance of a food and the nonfreezing river gives the chance to these rare and beautiful birds to live through winter safely.


The Aksu river. It is considered to be, what the name of Aksu means ДWhite waterУ. By this theory the river is named so because washing out limestones on the way and bringing the white colour to the water. However there are also other points of view of an origin of this term. According to the doctrine of linguists it is possible to treat the ДAksuУ as: 1. Moving water, 2. The river begins in glaciers and 3. The river flows in a natural channel. Artificial channels and canals usually named Karasu. Anyway all variants and explanations approach to the Aksu river. It really originates in high Aksuat mountains and flows in a original river bed, going to a mountain part of Talasskiy Ala Tau. The Aksu river forms a grandiose canyon 300 metres deep. It extends on more than 30 km. Curiously that in some places the distance between canyon rims is narrowed from 850 metres to several centimetres. The person can stand one foot on right river bank, and another on left, looking below how mountain streams of the Aksu river rush.

The river Boraldai and other Karatau rivers. The Boroldai, Kashkarata, Shaiyan, Berkara rivers flow down from slopes of Karatau mountains and form picturesque gorges. Groves of trees and bushes grow in the rivers valleys. There is a lot of animals around. The Marinka (Schizothorax intermedius) and Turkestan Sculpin (Cottus spinolosus)а are found in the rivers. The best relic woods of Sogdian Ash (Fraxinus sogdianus) have recorded here. It is a hygrophilous tree of rare beauty.


The Bugun river is formed by merge of Ulken-Bugun and Bala-Bugun rivers, flowing down from southwest slopes of Karatau ridge. Its length contains 164 km. The water comes from melting snow. Before it ran into Kumkol lake, now it is connected with Syr-Dariya basin by Turkestani water channel.


The Chu river. If some river was once an inflow of Syr-Dariya or its drain goes on the Aral sea direction, this river concerns as a part of Aral sea basin. The Chu river concerns the such. It has length of 1000 km, begins in high Tian-Shan mountains in Kyrgizstan. The river is abounding in water, but it is taken for irrigation in the summer and the river becomes small and is lost in Mujunkum sand and saline soils in the north of Southern Kazakhstan, forming a group of small salty lakes.


Lake Kumkol is located in the Syr-Dariya river flood-lands in Turkestani area. Growing on the water-meadow of the lake Willows (Salix sp.), Elaeagnus (Elaeagnus oxycarpa) and Asiatic Poplar (Populus diversifolia) create good conditions for the wildlife including riparian birds. European Wels (Silurus glanis), Snake-headed Fishes (Ophiocephalus argus), Pike-perches (Lucioperca lucioperca) live in the lake.


Chushkakol lakes. The area of Chushkakol reservoirs occupies 3700 hectare. Lakes were stretched in semidesertic plain with a poor vegetative cover and marsh saline soils. Reedbed (Phragmites communis and Typha latifolia) grows densely on the lakes coast. Lakes are rich with fish. Wild Boars (Suc scrofa), Foxes (Vulpes vulpes), Muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) and a lot of ducks and Coots (Fulica atra) inhabit here.


Lake Susyngen is located on Karzhantau ridge at the 1907 metres height. The Susyngen Creek bears his waters into the lake, and the Togutba stream runs from the lake. It follows into Ugam river more low. The Susyngen lake is very beautiful. It is interesting, the sizes of a water mirror strongly fluctuate. The maximum sizes of the lake about one kilometre long and up to 500 metres wide. But every year, in the summer, the lake suddenly disappears, simply turning to mountain small river, and then appears again. It is said that water leaves lake by underground channels and forms the springs near Shymkent. The Scaleless Osman fish (Diptychus dybowskii) lives in the lake.


Shardara river basin. In the extreme south of area on border of the South Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, in 1966, on the river Syr-Dariya is created an artificial Shardara reservoir. Its sizes amaze, this is a whole sea on the area of 900 square kilometres. Length of a reservoir is 65 km, width is up to 30 km. The water reservoir is used for regulation of a drain, electricity and irrigation of the earths. The Shardara water reservoir is basis of a fish economy of all the area. Under the Goverment order from 800 to 900 thousand fry of the valuable edible fishes are grown up here annually. Huge European Wels (Silurus glanis) up to 120 kg in weight, Aral Asp (Aspius aspius), Aral Carp (Cyprinus carpio), Rudd (Scardinius erythrophthalmus), Crucian (Carassius auratus), Eastern Bream (Abramis brama), Pike-perch (Lucioperca lucioperca) Snake-headed Fish (Ophiocephalus argus), Silver Carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix), Sabrefish (Pelecus cultratus), Shemaya (Chalcalburnus chalcoides), Roach (Rutilus rutilus) et cetera are found in Shardara. The reservoir serves as a refuge for many waterfowl species.


The remarkable nature of the South Kazakhstan area is our pride by right. On the same level with historical holy sites and fine human hands creations it is declared as a national value.

In 2004 the Karatau Nature Reserve is opened on the area of 34 thousand hectare, where relicts of an ancient Karatau ridge are protected.


In 2006 the Sayram-Ugam National Park is created on the area of 150 thousand hectare, with a goal of preservation of surprising natural Ugam ridge complexes.


The oldest in Central Asia Aksu Dzhabagly Nature reserve continues nature protection activity and ecological researches. A lot of special sanctuaries and wildlife refuges is opened in the area. Ecological tourism develops widely in the areas.а

A reasonable use of natural resources priority of the South Kazakhstan Province brings the ponderable contribution to the solution of the general wildlife management problems on the regional, national and world levels.

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