Uzbekistan's Nature Reserves


        Enthusiasts of ecological tourism have always been very much attracted by Uzbekistan's exotic nature with its contrasts, diverse flora and fauna, abundance of sunny all the year round, and friendly climate. Now there are nine functioning nature reserves in Uzbekistan. They embrace as diverse types of the environment as deserts with their sand-dunes, blossoming oases, riverside tugai woods and alpine meadows. The forces of nature seem to have created this part of the world for keeping and development of its sound genetic fund – the fund that cannot be restored if damaged.




 

        It is common knowledge that a journey starts with the first step. It is really worth taking step forward to such 'temples' of nature as the desert Lake Aydarkul, the alpine Fedchenko glacier, the grove of the relict Central Asian juniper on the slopes of the Pskem mountain ridge.

        One of the oldest and biggest nature reserves is Ugam-Chatkal National Park, which was founded in 1947 in the spurs of the Western Tien Shan. It is situated in a rather close vicinity of Tashkent, only 80 kilometers from the city. Man began developing this area in prehistoric times. The mountains appealed to ancient settlers by abundance of fruit and game. Plenty of rock paintings depicting hunting scenes are evidence of this. There are still such traces of ancient man's presence in the area as mines, primitive smelting furnaces, remains of settlements and burial grounds.

        The Western Tien Shan is one of the most ecologically clean regions in the world. At present the fauna of the reserve remains as diverse and abundant as it was thousands of years ago: according to the scientists the region is the natural habitat to 44 species of mammals, 230 species of birds, 1168 species of plants that include endemic ones, growing only in the area.

        In the valley of the river Pskem, from the foothills and up to the alpine zone, there lives the white-claw bear. In the area surrounding the tributaries of the Maidantal and Oygaing rivers one can meet wolves. There can also be found Tien Shan fox, red marmot, stone-marten, whereas in the river basin area you can meet Turkestan lynx and snow leopard. Almost everywhere in the reserve there lives wild boar. Badgers are also common. The reserve is also home to Siberian roe and mountain goat. Frequent visitors from the neighboring territories are Tien Shan wild rams. There are lots of birds in the mountains. On the grassy slopes there live wild turkeys and mountain partridges. Higher on the cliffs one can find nests of golden eagles, bearded vultures, eagle vultures.

        The slopes of the Pskem ridge are covered with lush vegetation. There grow walnut-trees, wild fruit trees and wild bushes. The banks of the river are occupied by archa – Central Asian juniper.

        Uzgam-Chatkal National Park is notable for its Chimgan-Charvak-Beldersay Resort Zone, which is almost 100,000 hectares in area. The zone has three health-recreation complexes: 'Charvak', 'Chimgan' and 'Beldersay'. Here you can have a good opportunity to get in touch with the pristine environment: to admire beautiful scenery, to enjoy fresh air, with your own eyes to watch rare specimen of flora and fauna. Escorted by experienced guides extreme tourism seekers can go in for a breath-taking rafting along the rapid mountain river Ugam, or visit the stalactite caves and the underground “banquet hall” at the Giza mountain pass.

        On the territory of Ugam-Chatkal National Park, at the upper part of the river Beldersay, there was recently opened Children's Ecological Reserve, where under the direction of instructors, young botanists, zoologists, geographers, forestry and soil specialists study the ecological systems of the reserve. Their studies are first of all aimed at research and protection of all the species of animals and plants that inhabit the area.

        It is better to open up the reserve on foot. Lake Aydarkul, for example, not long ago was a closed salt-marsh depression. But in 1969 the river Syr Darya got catastrophically flooded and its excessive water had to be drained to this depression. Later into the same depression there was sent the drain water from the neighboring Hunger Steppe. These measures resulted in formation of a new lake, a geographical marvel, whose water surface exceeds 2300 square meters. By now the lake has become habitable for fish, whereas lakeside attracts many tourists. The desert south of the lake is now protected as Arnasay Reserve.
 

        Sometimes scientists make amazing discoveries in Uzbekistan's countryside. Botanists still remember the discovery of a plain herb of the nightshade family. The herb turned out to be a new species of the mandrake, a mysterious herb of Tibetan medicine, similar to the ginseng.

        The Central Asian gazelle jeyran is incomparably the most beautiful and graceful of animals. Not without reason it was praised so much by the poets of the Orient. But jeiran had a tragic fate. It was just as short time ago as last century when these swift-footed animals in large quantities were hunted by men in jeeps and helicopters.

        In Uzbekistan jeyran is included in the Red Book (the book of endangered species). A quarter of a century ago in 40 kilometres from Bukhara there was also founded the “Jeyran' ecological centre, the only one of the type in Central Asia. After foundation of the centre there were brought here 42 jeyrans. At present there are 700 unique animals here. They live freely in a fenced area of 5000 hectares. Besides jeyrans, wild Prezhevalskiy horses and koulans are bred in the reserve.

        The Aral Sea zone has every reason to be called a unique natural phenomenon. The Aral Sea itself is a marvel of nature. With respect of water-surface area this enormous inland water reservoir had until recently ranked third in the world. But by now the lake has shrunk by many kilometers from the original waterside and left behind uninhabited land with only graveyards of ships stuck in the sand. The banks of the lower reaches of the river Amu Darya are covered with degrading tugai woods.

        The eastern edge of the Ustyurt plateau is also a unique natural phenomenon. It is a grandiose precipice that is over 100 meters in height and hundreds kilometers in length. Its canyons remind of the famous canyons of the river Colorado in the USA.

        Another interesting ecological monument is Barsa-Kelmes area. It is a natural two-metre-thick layer of salt, which occupies the depression in the middle of the Ustyurt Desert. No less attractive for the visitors is the nature reserve 'Badai-Tugai' on the banks of the Amu Darya river.

        There are very few places in the world where evidence of the formation of the earth's crust remains on the surface. There are such places in England, France, Norway and Check Republic. Uzbekistan has such a place, too. These are the spurs of the Zerafshan mountain ridge, where in 1979 there was founded Kitab State Geological Reserve. The scenic rivers Obi-Safit, Khodzh-Kurgan, Zinzilban, Novabak and others cut deep through the mountains, forming beautiful canyons. The mountains of the reserve provide the scientists with good opportunity to conduct stratigraphic researches, that is, researches on historically formed sets of rock layers, like rings of a sawn tree trunk. The knowledge of the earth's crust formation enables the scientists to predict with high degree accuracy the presence of mineral resources in it.
 

        The originality of the earth's crust stratification and abundance of various sea fossils attract a lot of specialists, including foreign ones, to the reserve. The limestone strata of the Kara-Tag ridges have, for example, well-preserved flora and fauna fossils of the earlier geological epochs; they are of great value for the modern geological theory and practice.

        All the interested specialists, including those who intend to conduct serious research work, have a free access to Kitab State Geological Reserve. At their service in the reserve there is a hotel, offices and labs, conference hall, and a museum.

        Each reserve has its distinctive features. The peculiarity of the Zarafshan reserve is its tugai woods. The Turkic word tugai means 'riverside woods in Central Asian deserts and semi-deserts'. These dense and almost impassable woods made up of poplars, willows, tamarisks, oleasters, sea-buckthorns and other plants are the habitat of many animals and birds. In the Zarafshan reserve there lives the subspecies of the macartney, which cannot be met anywhere else in the world. In tugai woods there also could be found Bukhara deer, wild boars, striped hyenas, Central Asian otters, jackals, reed cats.

        The green oasis of the reserve stretches along the Zarafshan river for 47 kilometres. But its width varies only from 300 meters to 1500 metres. The population of Bukhara deer is what the attendants of the reserve take special care of. The program on protection and restoration of the population of the Bukhara deer has been under way for already several years. Today there are not more than 500 Bukhara deer left in the world. Sixteen of them live in the reserve in two spacious enclosures. In 3-4 years, when the population of these animals reaches 50 heads, they are to be settled throughout the whole territory of the reserve. The Bukhara deer, this handsome dignified animal with spreading antlers, which is also called khangul ('royal flower'), will be definitely preserved for the posterity.

        Uzbekistan's nature is diverse and full of wonders. There are a lot of terrific landscapes here. Among them are the mountains, woods, fast rivers and deep canyons of Zomin area, Jizzakh Province. There, on the slopes of the Turkestan ridges lies another national park – Zomin Forest Mountain Park. It was founded in 1976, the first park of such kind ever created in Uzbekistan. Its area is 47 000 hectares.

        In the course of a journey up along the road leading to the park, the climatic zones change one another. The steppes change to deciduous groves; then, higher up the hills there appear Central Asian juniper woods, which are then superseded by mountain bushes, mountain steppes, sub-alpine and alpine meadows. And at last your eye can catch the snowy tops of the mountains.

        The main asset of Zomin-Say Reserve is archa – Central Asian juniper. These trees grow very slowly. Some of the junipers in the reserve are nearly 1000 years old. The trees are given the utmost care by the scientists. Altogether there are up to 700 species of plants in the reserve. In the areas which lie lower than those occupied by juniper there grows rowan, currant, dog-rose, barberries, St.-John's wort, Origanum and many other useful plants.

        The fauna of the reserve is also very diverse. Over 40 species of animals can be found here: white-claw bears, lynxes, wild boars, porcupines, Siberian goats, foxes, wolves, forest dormice, hares. Besides, the reserve is the habitat of over 150 species of birds and reptiles. They all live in the natural conditions of wildlife.

        Where there's water, there's life. This old truism is likely to come to mind when you see with your own eyes a borderline between water and land. On one side there is a wall of vegetation that seems almost impassable; on the other side there is a desert with sand-dunes stretching far away beyond the horizon. Altogether this is Kyzylkum Tugai and Sand Reserve. The reserve was founded in 1971. It lies in the north-west of Bukhara Province, embracing the flood-lands of the river Amu Darya and the adjoining sand-dune desert. The riverside vegetation occupies the territory of 3177 hectares, whereas the sand area is 2544 hectares. The scientists of the reserve are engaged in studying the unstable borderline environment at the interfaces of these two different ecological systems.
 

        Spring is the best time to visit the reserve. But note that spring always comes early and is very short. In spring the air appears to be full of birds such as herons, river terns, wild ducks, sandpipers, turtle-doves. According to ornithologists, there are about 190 species of birds in the reserve.

        The flora of the reserve is also diverse and lush: poplars (Populus diversifolia) grow next to silver oleasters and riverside willows. Among herbs there prevail dog-banes, liquorices, Calamagrostis. In the tugai woods, besides birds, there live a lot of wild animals: deer, wild boars, wolves, jackals, foxes, hares, reed cats. The population of jeyrans is being restored.

        One of the most scenic places in Uzbekistan is the Amankutan gorge near Urgut, Samarkand Province. And here, among the wood-covered mountains and waterfalls, has preserved a dwelling site of Neanderthal man. On the slopes of Amankutan one can encounter the species of the tulip which is the forefather of many Dutch tulips, as well as clary – a very effective medicinal herb.

        From time immemorial through Amankutan there lay the shortest path from Bactria to Sogdiana. Centuries ago that path was used by the armies of Alexander the Great, Genghiz Khan and the Arabs.

        Nuratau-Kyzylkum Biospheric Reserve, which is being created now, has every reason to be called a nature reserve of the future. The reserve is to become a model of protection and steady development of the environment. The project is being implemented by the government of Uzbekistan, Global Ecology Fund and UN Development Program. The Project is also co-financed by German Union of Nature Protection.

        The territory of the reserve lies between the desert and mountain systems of Central Asia. It embraces the southern part of the Kyzylkum Desert, lakes Aydarkul and Tuzgan and the mountain ridges of Nuratau and Koitash. The territory of the reserve is to be divided into three zones, each with its peculiar purpose and management: preservation zone, protection zone and steady development zone. Besides having their distinctive features, these zones have the features typical both of the wildlife and of the man-populated areas of Central Asia. They represent various historical and archeological monuments, cultural and natural realms, traditional economy methods and living standards.

        It should be mentioned that there are already two functioning reserves within the territory of the forthcoming reserve: Nurata Reserve, and Arnasay Ornithological Reserve on Lake Tuzgan. These two reserves are to integrate into the new, larger, entity.

        The flora and fauna of the new reserve, many species of which are included into the Red Book of Uzbekistan, are to be under special care. Some of the species do not live anywhere else in the world. Among them is Severtsev ram or Kyzylkum ram. Among the birds the Red Book protects the golden eagle, bearded vulture, black griffon-vulture and other rare birds. Of hundreds of the species of plants there should be mentioned the rare sorts of the walnut-tree and Central Asian juniper. Here also grow Bukhara almond-trees, pistachio-trees, wild vines, apricot-trees, apple-trees, various sorts of dog-roses.

        The bio-ecological reserve is meant to stimulate the local people to make their cultivation activities environmentally friendly, and to maintain traditional agriculture techniques. The products from the reserve will enjoy the so-called 'ecologically clean' status. Moreover, the development of environmentally friendly sources of energy – sun and wind is to be stimulated. Rather promising is the ecological tourism.

        Nuratau-Kyzylkum Biospheric Reserve will be included in the UNESCO global net of biosphere reserves. The experience gained from organizing this reserve is to be later used in founding biosphere reserves in the Central Kyzylkum Desert, in the Southern Ustyurt Desert, in the tugai woods of the river Amu Darya and in other unique locations of Uzbekistan.