Natural Environment of Nuratau-Kyzilkum area
The Nuratau Mountains stretch over a distance of approximately 180 km in the east-west direction. The highest peak is 2169 m above sea level. It is located north of Samarkand and south of Lake Aydar. The mountains are the last refuge of the highly endangered Severtzov’s wild sheep (Ovis Ammon Severtzovi). This fact indicates the international significance of this territory. The Nuratau Nature Reserve was created in the mid-1970s in order to protect Severtsov’s Argali. The Reserve is located in the heart of the Nuratau Mountains and is inaccessible to visitors for protection reasons. A Biosphere Reserve has been planned covering not only the Nuratau Mountains but also parts of the Kyzylkum semi-desert and the large Lake Aydar system. However, the Biosphere Reserve status has not been legalized yet. The area includes several landscape types such as rocky mountains, lush green fertile valleys, flat dry semi-desert, rolling desert dunes, and extensive wetlands, which are typical for Central Asia. The Biosphere Reserve is a new category for protected areas in Uzbekistan. It is intended to combine wildlife conservation with sustainable rural development and the preservation of culture.
Due to the geographic location and habitat variety, the Nuratau–Kyzylkum area has a high biodiversity. Each landscape type has its own specific beauty:
The deciduous forests of Nuratau valleys are lush green oases of big old fruit- and nut trees, cultivated for centuries by the local people. In the valleys, the most common trees are walnut, mulberry, apricot, cherry, plum, pear, apple, eastern plane, and white poplar. On the mountain slopes, other types of trees such as Zeravshan archas, pistachio trees, common buckthorns, maples, apple trees, hawthorns, and Caucasian hackberries are widespread. The Nuratau mountains are home to a variety of bird species such as the rare Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus), Eurasian Griffons (Gyps fulvus), Black Vultures (Aegypius monachus), Egyptian Vultures (Neophron percnopterus), Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), Saker falcons (Falco cherrug), Lesser Kestrels (Falco naumanni), Little Swifts (Apus affinus), Eurasian Crag-Martins (Ptyonoprogne rupestris), Rock Thrushs (Monticola saxatilis), Blue Rock Thrushs (Monticola solitarius), Chukars ( Alectoris chukar) and different Wheatears. The mountain valleys attract Orioles (Oriolus oriolus), Common Nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos), Asian Paradise Flycatchers (Terpsiphone paradisi), Turkestan Tits (Parus bocharensis), Grey-headed Goldfinches (Carduelis caniceps) and many others.
Stone martens (Martes foina) and porcupines (Hystrix indica) are typical mammals in this kind of ecosystem. Several types of bats live in caves and niches. As mentioned above, rocky mountainsides and rocky slopes are feeding and resting place for the Severtzov’s wild sheep.
The Kyzylkum semi-desert, with its herbaceous vegetation, is an important breeding place for many species and a popular stop-over for migratory birds in spring and summer. Birds to be found in this habitat are Great Bustards (Otis tarda), Little Bustards (Otis tetrax), Houbara Bustards (Chlamydotis undulata), Black Vultures (Aegypius monachus) and Black-Bellied Sand Grouses (Pterocles Orientalis). Every spring thousands of Demoiselle Cranes (Anthropoides Virgo) gather in the steppe. Rare types of reptiles such as Dessert Monitor (Varanus griseus), Central Asian Tortoises (Testudo Horsfield), Plate-tailed Geckos (Terratoscincus Scincus), and Asian Ablepharouses (Ablepharus pannonicus) can be found in the desert as well.
The Lakes Aydar and Tuzkan and their adjacent wetlands are habitat types that cover extensive areas of the region. They are important breeding, resting, and wintering areas for more than a hundred species of birds. Eleven of them are listed in the Red Data Book of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN): Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus Crispus), Little Cormorant (Phalacrocoraх pygmaeus), Red-Breasted Goose (Rufibrenta ruficollis), Lesser White-fronted Goose (Anser erytropus), Ferruginous Duck (Aythya nyroca), Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus), Imperial Eagle (Aquila heIiасa), Pallas´ Sea
The Nuratau-Kyzylkum area also accommodates a wide range of mammals. Approximately 40% of the mammal species registered in Uzbekistan live here. Wolves (Canis lupus), Jackals (Canis aureus), Foxes (Vulpes vulpes and Vulpes corsak), Muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus), and Central Asian Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) are just a few.