Ustyurt reserve, Kazakhstan: description, objects of flora and fauna protection, photo


Ustyurt reserve in Kazakhstan is a unique place. The local landscapes are called fantastic, extraterrestrial, unreal … However, the value of the reserve is not only in landscapes, but also in its diverse fauna. It is home to many rare and endangered species of animals. In this article you will find the most detailed information about the geography, climate, flora and fauna of the Ustyurt reserve. In addition, we will tell you about the most interesting of its inhabitants.

Ustyurt reserve: photos and general information

For the first time the idea of ​​taking under the protection of unique landscapes on the Ustyurt plateau originated in the 60s of the last century. It was during this period that the Soviet government began to actively explore the desert and unsuitable for living spaces of Central Asia.


The Ustyurt State Nature Reserve was officially established in July 1984 on an area of ​​223.3 thousand hectares. It is located on the picturesque watershed between the Caspian Sea in the west and the rapidly dying Aral Sea in the east (the map is presented below). From the point of view of natural-geographical zoning, this territory belongs to the Iran-Turan desert subregion, and administratively it is located within the Mangystau (former Mangyshlak) region of Kazakhstan.


Ustyurt reserve - a contender for inscribing on the UNESCO World Heritage List. To date, this prestigious list includes only two natural sites from Kazakhstan - the Western Tien Shan and Saryarka.

Ustyurt Plateau

Before you begin a detailed story about the objects of protection of the Ustyurt reserve, you should familiarize yourself with the natural climatic and geomorphological conditions in which it is located. It will be a question of the Ustyurt plateau - one of the least studied places on the planet Earth.

The plateau covers an area of ​​200 thousand square kilometers within the two neighboring countries - Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. From the west it is limited to Mangyshlak, and from the east to the delta of the Amu Darya River. In fact, Ustyurt is a vast clay-gravel desert that is sporadically covered with saline and wormwood vegetation. Local landscapes are called cosmic, extraterrestrial and at the same time unforgettable. Especially beautiful plateau looks in late spring and autumn.


One of the local names of the Ustyurt plateau is Barca-Kelmes. This can be translated into Russian like this: “If you go, you will not return!” And this is not just a banal threat. In summer, the air temperature here sometimes exceeds +50 ° C, and in winter cold, piercing winds blow. And around - not a single reservoir, not a single permanent watercourse! But, in spite of everything, many adventurers and brave tourists seek to penetrate into the very heart of Ustyurt, referred to in the people of Shaitan-Kala (“The Devil’s Castle”).

History of creation

The Ustyurt State Nature Reserve is located in the southwestern part of the Ustyurt Plateau. But his administration is located two hundred kilometers to the west - in the city of Aktau.

The active development of Ustyurt began in the mid-1960s, when significant reserves of gas, oil and uranium ores were discovered on the Mangyshlak Peninsula. At this time, roads are being actively built, oil and gas pipelines are being built, new cities and towns are being built. In a relatively short period, the population of Mangyshlak region has almost doubled.

But there was a reverse side to this process. The so-called conquest of Mangyshlak was accompanied by uncontrolled poaching: saigas, gazelles, cheetahs and other large animals were shot by dozens and even hundreds. By the early 1980s, the saiga population had shrunk tenfold, and the Asian cheetah was completely exterminated in this region. Many species of birds have been threatened.

Scientists and local lore worried and sounded the alarm. After lengthy bureaucratic procedures and approvals, the Ustyurt State Reserve was formed. It happened in 1984. However, not all the territory originally proposed by scientists and zoologists was included in the protection.

Geology and relief

Ustyurt reserve is located at altitudes from 50 to 300 meters above sea level. The highest point is at the Kugusem spring (340 meters), and the lowest is to the north of Kenderlisor (-52 meters).

The territory of the reserve was finally formed about 15-20 thousand years ago, after several attacks and retreats of the Caspian Sea. Everywhere there are deposits of the Permian period, presented in the form of folds of black and grayish-brown rocks with fragments of petrified remains of ancient plants. Traces of the Jurassic period are thin layers (10-30 centimeters) of fossil coal, which can be found on the eastern slopes of the Karamay ridge.

The most interesting objects in the Ustyurt reserve are chinks. These are steep precipices-ledges, reaching 150-200 meters in height. They are composed of rocks of the Cretaceous period - with chalk and limestone. They contain well-preserved remains of ancient marine animals - ammonites, shells of mollusks, sea urchin shells, shark teeth, ridges of bony fish, etc. You can see the Ustyurt chinks in the photo below.


Climate features

Ustyurt reserve is completely in the zone of sharply continental climate. Well-deservedly this area at one time was called the “brutal land” by the famous scientist Eduard Eversman.

Climatic conditions of Ustyurt are extremely harsh. Summer in the reserve is very dry and hot. The thermometer in July sometimes rises to + 50 … + 55 ° С. But in the winter months it can drop to 30-40 degrees with a minus sign. Thus, the annual temperature amplitudes in this region reach colossal values. Ustyurt winters are often accompanied by strong snow storms and piercing winds. Although in some years the snow may not fall at all.

Rainfall per year falls slightly, usually in the range of 100-120 millimeters. The lack of permanent watercourses and any freshwater bodies is to some extent compensated by underground springs and sources. Their greatest concentration is observed in the areas of the Karamay ridge and the salted Karazhar stream.

Flora and landscapes

Ustyurt reserve is located in the desert, so the richness of the plant world for him is not typical. Just across its territory lies the boundary between the subzone of wormwood and solyanka deserts in the north and the subzone of ephemeral-wormwood deserts in the south.


In general, the flora of the Ustyurt reserve has over 250 species of vascular plants. Among them - the five Red Book species. It:

  • madder is chalky;
  • Khiva's solyanka;
  • euphorbia, hard-toothed;
  • Katran toothless;
  • cremolite softcarp.

The nature of the vegetation is largely determined by the diversity of the soil cover of the reserve. Thus, on clay substrates, a hydrophilic flora was formed, consisting mainly of cereals (covert, reeds) and camel thickets. In places, there are undersized black saxaul, sucker and tamarisk trees. On the sandy substrates there grow groves of white saxaul with admixtures of sand acacia. The slopes of sand ridges are dotted with astragalus, feather grass, wormwood, and the same camel thorn.

Convolvulaceae, saxaul and wormwood communities predominate on gravelly and stony soils, and potashnikovye and sarsazanovykh on saline soils. The vegetation of chinks, outcrop rocks and ravines is most diverse. Here you can find thickets of tamarisk, cane and quinoa. Near the springs there are reed groves, and the reed stalks are significantly higher in height than a man’s height.

Adaptation of Ustyurt plants

The flora of the reserve is forced to adapt to the extremely arid climatic conditions of the region. Local plants solve the problem of moisture deficiency in different ways: some species minimize evaporation, others accumulate water in succulent and thick stems, and others - develop a powerful and very extensive root system in order to “harvest” nutrient moisture from under the ground.

However, there are plants in the reserve, which simply adjust their life cycle for those short periods of “wet” seasons, which usually last no more than four weeks. Scientists call them ephemera and ephemeroids. The size of these plants, as well as the intensity of their flowering period, directly depend on the amount of precipitation that fell.


Animal world

The fauna of the reserve is more diverse than the flora. So, in total, in the protected area:

  • mammals - 29 species;
  • birds - 166 species;
  • insects - 793 species;
  • arachnids and crustaceans - 12 species;
  • reptiles - 18 species;
  • amphibians - 1 species.

Among them - many rare and endangered representatives of the fauna. In addition, a number of animals no longer occur in the reserve for a long time. Thus, according to the zoologist A. A. Sludsky, porcupines disappeared at the end of the 19th century, but the cheetahs were completely exterminated in the second half of the 20th century. The population of the Ustyurt mouflons is under great threat. If in the mid-60s there were about 1500 individuals, by the end of the 90s this number was reduced to 120 individuals.


Ustyurt reserve is distinguished by the richest world of birds. The total number of bird species recorded here is 166. A third of them constantly nest in the reserve. Eight species are listed in the Red Book of Kazakhstan. Among the objects of protection of the Ustyurt reserve are flamingo, saker falcon, peregrine falcon, golden eagle, steppe eagle.

Numerous niches, cracks and grooves in Ustyurt chinks, inaccessible to predators, are a favorite nesting site for a number of birds. Most often, such places are crows, owls, vultures, and owls. Power lines pose a great danger to the feathered inhabitants of the reserve. Every year several dozens of birds, including Red Book predators, perish on them.

Creeping and jumping fauna

Reptiles (or reptiles) are typical inhabitants of any desert terrain. Within the Ustyurt reserve, there are 18 species. The most numerous among them are the steppe agama, the quick-footedfoot, the arrow-snake. Geckos are quite widespread (in particular, gray and Caspian). However, due to the twilight lifestyle of the latter, it is quite difficult to see them.

The curious inhabitant of Ustyurt is a sand boader. The diminutive suffix is ​​not accidentally added to the name of this species: the snake is indeed small in size. However, it also stifles its victims - small rodents, lizards and birds, as well as its larger tropical relatives. Another interesting representative of the local fauna is the green toad. From the heat of the day she hides in deep burrows, and goes hunting only at night. It breeds in strictly defined and rare places, where ground waters come to the surface.

Objects of protection of the Ustyurt reserve

As mentioned above, a number of rare Red Book animal species dwell within the reserve. Some of them are especially vulnerable and need more serious protection. We list the main objects of protection of the Ustyurt reserve:

  • mouflon;
  • gazelle;
  • caracal;
  • manul;
  • dressing;
  • honey badger;
  • leopard (extremely rare);
  • barchan cat;
  • white-bellied strelouh;
  • four-strip runner;
  • flamingo;
  • peregrine falcon;
  • steppe eagle;
  • golden eagle;
  • Black-bellied speckles.


Jayran is a hoofed mammal of the gazelle genus. To date, no more than 250 representatives of this species have survived within the reserve. And the entire habitat of this animal did not enter the boundaries of the reserve. Therefore, gazelles often become prey for poachers.


The study of these animals is an incredibly difficult task. After all, they are shy and very careful. In 2014, special camera traps began to be used in the reserve, which were placed near sources of fresh water. The result was not long in coming: the staff of the Ustyurt reserve received a number of magnificent shots of gazelles and some other ungulates.

Honey badger

The honey badger is an animal from the marten family that looks like a badger. Its main habitat is in Africa. Contrary to its name, the honey badger feeds mainly on rodents, amphibians, and bird eggs. It is an aggressive and agile predator with very sharp claws and teeth. Sometimes it can even attack a fox or antelope. Within the Ustyurt reserve is extremely rare.



Caracal is a feline carnivorous mammal. Another common name is the steppe trot. Differs monotonous sandy or brownish color, as well as the presence of black tassels on the ears. Hunting caracal mainly on the jerboa, gophers and other rodents. The species population within the reserve is not numerous.



Another extremely rare inhabitant of the Ustyurt reserve is the wild manul cat. It is similar in size to a domestic cat, but differs from the latter in thicker hair and short paws. Unfortunately, over the past thirty years, the fact of the presence of manul on the territory of the reserve has not been recorded. But experts do not lose hope to meet this cute and funny predator.


Nature or gas - who will win?

The main threat to Ustyurt is the Kansu gas field adjacent to the southern borders of the reserve. In September 2016, the Kazakh authorities decided to start its development. According to experts, the field is capable of producing from 25 to 125 million cubic meters of natural gas.

The famous biologist Mark Pestov, who has been studying the fauna and flora of Ustyurt for seven years, assures that if active geological exploration works begin on the border of the Ustyurt reserve, then all large predators and birds will leave this place. Thus, the fauna of the reserve will be poorer at least twice.


This same fear is shared by other scientists and environmentalists. In their unanimous opinion, the development of the Kansu field will deal a crushing blow to the unique ecosystem of Central Asia. Kazakhstani activists have already sent a letter to President Nursultan Nazarbayev with a request to impose a moratorium on its development. Will the authorities listen to this appeal? Time will tell.

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