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5 Kazakhstani National Parks & Reserves Not To Miss

By Gaukhar Erubaeva March 30, 2018

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Visitors to Altyn Emel can enjoy unique natural sites; the most popular are the Singing Barchans or whistling sand.

Earlier this month Kazakhstan launched a wildlife corridor in the country’s Almaty region to preserve the existing routes of migrating gazelles and other large mammals, and to expand the habitat of animals in conditions close to the natural environment.

With a territory covering nearly 2.4 million acres, which makes it almost the size of the U.S. state of Kentucky, the corridor has become the second largest of its kind in Kazakhstan, after the Irgiz-Torgai-Zhylanshyk corridor in the north of the country.

“In general, we have four ecological corridors in the country, while their goal is to preserve the ecosystem of migration routes for wild animals,” said Murat Darikbaev, an environmentalist at the Almaty region’s natural resources management agency.

The wildlife corridor is an area free of infrastructure and economic activity. Prior to the launch of the corridor, specialists from the United Nations studied the migration of inhabitants of national parks and nature reserves over three years.

As Central Asia’s largest country, Kazakhstan is serious about the preservation of its diverse wildlife. There are 25 specially protected natural areas, including 10 reserves and 11 national parks owned by the state.

Caspian News has picked five different parks and reserves located Kazakhstan to unveil some little-known facts about them.

ALTYN EMEL

While stretching along the Ili River basin and covering territory of more than 1.2 million acres on the south of Kazakhstan, Altyn Emel National Park is considered one of the largest in the country. The name of the park means “the golden saddle” in Kazakh, and this is no coincidence. In fact, the pass of the same name located here looks like a saddle, while sunlight pouring through its hills paint it gold.

Launched in 1996, Altyn Emel has diverse flora with about 650 species, including Allium galanthum, an Asian species of onion, as well as desert poplar, silverberry, granny’s bonnet and Prunus cerasus or sour cherry. One of the most popular inhabitants of the park is a centuries-old elm tree, whose trunk is extremely wide and can be enfolded only by eight people.

The park’s fauna includes about 400 species, including more than 100 migrating birds. There you can see the Siberian mountain goat, gazelle, mountain sheep and brown bear of Tien-Shan, as well as mysterious Turkmen onager, which are among the fastest mammals, as they can run as fast as 64 kilometers per hour.

Visitors to Altyn Emel can enjoy unique natural sites; the most popular are the Singing Barchans or whistling sand. With a length of about 1.5 km long and a height of 120 meters, this natural object can sound like an organ, thanks to the blowing wind.

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Altyn Emel means “the golden saddle” in Kazakh, and this is no coincidence. In fact, the pass of the same name located here looks like a saddle, while sunlight pouring through its hills paint it gold.

KORGALZHYN

While covering about 1.3 million acres, which makes it almost the size of Grand Canyon National Park in the U.S., Korgalzhyn Nature Reserve is the largest in the country. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the reserve was launched in 1968 in the Tengiz-Korgalzhyn basin located 130 kilometers southwestern of capital city, Astana.

Animals found in the park include more than 300 birds, such as a rare Siberian white crane, a curly pelican, and a Pallas fish eagle. Korgalzhyn is home to the largest population of pink flamingos, which nest only on the coast of Lake Tengiz. Birds are not the only inhabitants of the park, as their neighbors include jerboas, hamsters, steppe mice, as well as larger animals such as foxes, wolves, boars and ermines.

Korgalzgyn’s plant species is as rich and diverse as the fauna and includes more than 400 species such as dogrose, shrubby willow and honeysuckle. Rare and endemic plants such as Nymphaea candida, or candid water lily, as well as yellow water lily, grow there. Visitors to Korgalzhyn, who come mainly to watch birds during the migration period, need a special permit, which can be purchased at the reserve’s administration upon request.

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Korgalzhyn is home to the largest population of pink flamingos, which nest only on the coast of Lake Tengiz.

AKSU ZHABAGLY

Occupying a territory of more than 300,000 acres Kazakhstan’s first nature reserve is located in the north of the Western Tien-Shan mountain range. Launched in 1926, Aksu Zhabagly consists of three zones. The first zone is a strictly protected area inaccessible for tourists, while the second area is considered a buffer zone in which hunting is forbidden. The third zone is designed for visitors, who can visit the areas via specially arranged routes.

The territory of the reserve also includes several lakes, and two rivers – Zhabagly and Aksu, which gave the name to the reserve.

According to some estimations, flora of the Aksu Zhabagly includes more than 1,700 species such as fungi, lichen, algae and bryophytes, and more than 1,300 species of plants, including Túlipa gréigii, which is considered the symbol of the reserve. Mammals in the reserve are represented by 52 species including mountain goat, roe deer, wild boar, badger, stone marten, weasel and ermine.

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The territory of the reserve also includes several lakes, and two rivers – Zhabagly and Aksu, which gave the name to the reserve.

WEST ALTAI

Located in the northern corner of Kazakhstan right on the border with Russia, this nature reserve has a territory of more than 200,000 acres and is stretching along three climatic zones – taiga coniferous forests, alpine meadows and high-mountain tundra. The reserve is sufficiently remote from the settlements, and as a result the nature here is preserved in its original form.

The West Altai is home to more than 200 forms of fungi as well as about 900 key species such as the Siberian cow parsnip, angelica, peony, larkspur, wolfsbane and dandelion. At the same time the reserve is home to about 52 species of mammals, such as fox, bear, glutton, sable, weasel, ermine, Siberian weasel, otter, musk-deer, maral, roe, elk, squirrel, chipmunk, common dark and red field-vole.

While it is almost free to visit the West Altai – about 160 Kazakhstani tenge, or less than a dollar – there are three tourist routes that are designed to provide guests with an all-around image. Most of its territory is closed off from visitors, and they can see the famous ‘Stone Fairy Tale’ only from afar. Stretching for almost 12 kilometers, this valley is strewn with thousands of granite remains – bizarre-shaped giant pillars that appeared as a result of an ancient volcanic activity.

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Most of the territory of the West Altai nature reserve is closed off from visitors, and they can see the famous ‘Stone Fairy Tale’ only from afar.

ALAKOL

Launched in 1998, this nature reserve will turn 20 years old next month. The Alakol nature reserve is located in the southeastern corner of Kazakhstan and surrounds the lake of the same name, also known as a “healing lake.”

The pear-shaped Alakol Lake and neighboring hot springs have been famous since ancient times. According to legend, the water of the lake was the best solution to overcome tiredness, anger and pain. Some people still believe that legendary Genghis Khan used to stay here with his army to treat wounded soldiers.

In a period of 5-6 days, tourists can enjoy the flora and fauna starting from the highlands of Dzungarian Alatau and finishing in the Balkhash deserts.

Today the Alakol nature reserve is home to more than 250 species of birds, including rare relict gull, North African houbara, Pallas’s gull, Caspian tern, great white pelican, and many other rare and endangered waterfowl desert and mountain birds.

The fauna of the reserve is represented mostly with 27 species of rodents such as gopher, dormouse, jerboa, and hamster. The most typical representatives of mammals in the reserve are the wild boar, roe deer, lynx, fox, wolf, weasel, ermine, mink, badger and otter.

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The Alakol nature reserve is located in the southeastern corner of Kazakhstan and surrounds the lake of the same name, also known as a “healing lake.”