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The Atlas brings to its readers a sense of the beauty and wealth in Central Asia, the issues its people face in using and conserving natural resources, and the efforts toward sustainable development. Its land is mainly sandy deserts, capped in the north by green plains of the Central Asian Steppe and cradled in the south and east by soaring snow clad mountain ranges. Rich with oil and gas and a variety of plants and animals, some parts of the region are crossroads for Asian and Mediterranean species, while others are centers of endemic species. The countries share a family of languages and are all newly independent nations that must use their na tural resources wisely for a sustainable future.

Your email address will not be published. Central Asia Atlas of Natural Resources 5, Foreword A profusion of high mountain ranges rise from the vast flatlands of deserts and steppes in Central Asia and host a rich variety of indigenous and endemic flora and fauna in a range of vibrant ecosystems. This hotbed of diversity is an important global treasure and one we must protect. Fortunately, Central Asian nations participate in the main international conventions related to the issue.

However, progress toward meeting the objectives of these conventions has been uneven, and the global biodiversity targets were not achieved. Close cooperation and coordination between relevant multilateral environment agreements and institutions will be crucial.

In this way biodiversity management can benefit from increased synergies, as experience in other areas such as chemical and waste management has shown. With this in mind, this report provides a synthesis of biodiversity information in Central Asia prepared by experts to communicate the challenges of biodiversity protection to global and national audiences. Importantly, the information is presented primarily in a visual format intended to help educators and decision-makers in agriculture, forestry and fisheries understand the scale and complexities of the task ahead.


Regional biodiversity problems became apparent 50 years ago with the disappearance of tigers, and a number of alarming trends have followed. The Aral Sea ecosystem has essentially died, and Issyk-Kul Lake in Kyrgyzstan has experienced a collapse of its fisheries over the past 10 years, and is highly endangered. The teresken bush in the Tajik Pamirs, an important food source for both wild and domestic animals, faces eradication as a result of overgrazing and fuelwood harvesting.

Overexploitation of this kind is one of five pressures on biodiversity highlighted in this report. The other four are climate change, pollution, habitat fragmentation and invasive species. This joint anniversary is more than symbolic. Cooperation between the GEF and Central Asian countries has included projects covering a range of ecosystems from deserts to seas to high mountains, and interventions from policy development to education to demonstration projects and many small improvements and innovations.

These efforts have produced instances of transboundary cooperation and the joint planning of nature reserves, ecosystem corridors and the protection of natural areas. Foreign support has also been important in Central Asia. For example, Switzerland has been active there for more than 15 years, providing support for water management, forestry and sustainable mountain development including pasture management, organic agriculture and biodiversity services.

A recent example of Swiss assistance is the development of mechanisms for payments for ecosystem services. Switzerland and the Central Asian countries are members of the same GEF group, and with their history of bilateral support, the Swiss are well positioned to represent Central Asia in discussions with the GEF, the World Bank and other prospective donors. Overall, there is much to look forward to when it comes to preserving biodiversity both globally and in Central Asia. As the UN Decade on Biodiversity unfolds, this volume will undoubtedly make a key contribution to those efforts.

Bern - Montreal - Geneva. This table was distributed at the Istanbul regional workshop on biodiversity October , Turkey to catalyse discussions on gaps, priorities and lessons for biodiversity conservation. Central Asia is a largely arid region consisting mainly of steppes, deserts and mountains, though with some more fertile parts, like the Ferghana Valley, which is shared by Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan the two other countries of the region are Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

It stretches from the borders of China to the shores of the Caspian Sea, and from Russia to Afghanistan. Traversed by the ancient trade routes known as the Silk Road which linked China and Asia Minor, the region earned a reputation as a crossroads through which goods, people and ideas passed between the furthest reaches of Asia and the whole of Europe. Central Asia was formerly under Soviet rule, and marks the twentieth anniversary of independence of all five countries.

Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have the most extensive pastures of the five, and specialize as well in the mining and extraction sectors. Uzbekistan, the most populous country, has a variety of industries, although many of its people work in agriculture. The mountain states of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have huge potential hydropower reserves, but still have too little fossil fuel energy for their needs. A large part of the rural population of both countries has migrated abroad in search of work. Despite difficult times immediately after the Soviet collapse, the Central Asian economies have grown rapidly in the past decade, and poverty has been reduced, although growing numbers of people mean there is less land, forest and water available per head the region is home to more than 60 million people.

It is in the heart of the Eurasian landmass, it contains a very wide variety of landscapes and climates, and the ecosystems and different species it harbours are immensely varied. Many of them are of global as well as regional importance. Some of the most important of these are climate change, invasive species, the degradation of habitats, over-use of resources, and pollution.

Many of the most harmful of the human impacts on Central Asia occurred during the decades of Soviet rule: one example is the treatment of the Aral Sea which straddles the border between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The Aral Sea basin was designated by Moscow for growing cotton and now suffers the effects of massive loss of water caused by ill-judged irrigation projects, saturation by pesticide overload, high salinity levels and severe problems for human health.

The snow leopard is now extremely rare throughout most of its range. The last tigers in the region are thought to have been killed in the s. Relative importance of impacts on ecosystems and trends Habitat Climate Invasive Pollution Overuse change change species.

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This table was distributed at the Istanbul regional workshop on biodiversity October , Turkey to catalyse discussions on gaps and priorities for biodiversity conservation. The regional situation may differ from country level. The authors hope that in the new generation of the national biodiversity strategies and action plans countries will report their specific situations in similar fashion. The Living Planet Index assesses the state of biological diversity by measuring trends in global populations of vertebrates.

The ecological footprint measures human demands on planetary ecosystems. It represents how much biologically productive land and sea is needed to supply human consumption and to cope with the resulting waste. So it is possible to estimate how much of the Earth is needed to support the entire human population at a particular lifestyle. In the footprint was estimated at 1. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have the highest ecological footprints in Central Asia, more than the world average, mainly due to their high carbon footprints greenhouse gas emissions.

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have the lowest footprints. The Aichi Biodiversity Targets The world largely failed to meet the Biodiversity Target to halt the decline of biodiversity set 10 years ago. So a revised and updated Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, including the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, to run from to , was adopted at the 10th conference of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity at its meeting in Japan, in October They represent a new approach, including tackling the drivers of change.

Strategic Goal A Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society. They seek to improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity, and to enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services. The Central Asian nations are determined to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and a joint approach and synergies with socio-economic development priorities are important for success.

People are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably. Biodiversity values have been integrated into national and local development and poverty reduction strategies and planning processes and are being incorporated into national accounting, as appropriate, and reporting systems. Incentives, including subsidies,harmful to biodiversity are eliminated, phased out or reformed in order to minimize or avoid negative impacts, and positive incentives for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity are developed and applied, consistent and in harmony with the Convention and other relevant international obligations, taking into account national socio economic conditions.

Governments, business and stakeholders at all levels have taken steps to achieve or have implemented plans for sustainable production and consumption and have kept the impacts of use of natural resources well within safe ecological limits. The rate of loss of all natural habitats, including forests, is at least halved and where feasible brought close to zero, and degradation and fragmentation is significantly reduced.

All fish and invertebrate stocks and aquatic plants are managed and harvested sustainably, legally and applying ecosystem based approaches, so that overfishing is avoided, recovery plans and measures are in place for all depleted species, fisheries have no significant adverse impacts on threatened species and vulnerable ecosystems and the impacts of fisheries on stocks, species and ecosystems are within safe ecological limits.

Areas under agriculture, aquaculture and forestry are managed sustainably, ensuring conservation of biodiversity. Pollution, including from excess nutrients, has been brought to levels that are not detrimental to ecosystem function and biodiversity. Invasive alien species and pathways are identified and prioritized, priority species are controlled or eradicated, and measures are in place to manage pathways to prevent their introduction and establishment.

By , the multiple anthropogenic pressures on coral reefs, and other vulnerable ecosystems impacted by climate change or ocean acidification are minimized, so as to maintain their integrity and functioning. Strategic Goal C Improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity.

At least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascapes.

The extinction of known threatened species has been prevented and their conservation status, particularly of those most in decline, has been improved and sustained. The genetic diversity of cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals and of wild relatives, including other socio-economically as well as culturally valuable species, is maintained, and strategies have been developed and implemented for minimizing genetic erosion and safeguarding their genetic diversity.

Ecosystems that provide essential services, including services related to water, and contribute to health, livelihoods and wellbeing, are restored and safeguarded, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities, and the poor and vulnerable. Ecosystem resilience and the contribution of biodiversity to carbon stocks has been enhanced, through conservation and restoration, including restoration of at least 15 per cent of degraded ecosystems, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation and to combating desertification.

By , the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization is in force and operational, consistent with national legislation. Strategic Goal E Enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building.

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By each Party has developed, adopted as a policy instrument, and has commenced implementing an effective, participatory and updated national biodiversity strategy and action plan. The traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and their customary use of biological resources, are respected, subject to national legislation and relevant international obligations, and fully integrated and reflected in the implementation of the Convention with the full and effective participation of indigenous and local communities, at all relevant levels.

Knowledge, the science base and technologies relating to biodiversity, its values, functioning, status and trends, and the consequences of its loss, are improved, widely shared and transferred, and applied. The mobilization of financial resources for effectively implementing the Strategic Plan from all sources and in accordance with the consolidated and agreed process in the Strategy for Resource Mobilization should increase substantially from the current levels.

Target 20 will be subject to changes contingent to resources needs assessments to be developed and reported by Parties. International and Regional Biodiversity-related Agreements The Convention on Biological Diversity CBD , an Convention oninternational legally binding treaty, aims to conserve biodiversity, to ensure that it is used sustainably, and Biological Diversity to see that the benefits derived from genetic resources are shared fairly. Parties to the convention number Convention on countries: they include all five nations of Central Asia.

The agreement covers all ecosystems, species and genetic. It links traditional conservation efforts to the economic goal of using biodiversity sustainably. The convention insists that, where there is a threat of significant reduction or loss of biodiversity, lack of full scientific certainty can never be a reason for postponing action to avoid or minimize the threat.

The convention encourages countries to develop national strategies for sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity and to report about progress. All Central Asian nations are about to update their national biodiversity strategies and action plans in the light of lessons learnt and of the Aichi Targets. It entered into. It makes clear that products from new technologies must be based on the precautionary principle and allows nations to balance public health against economic benefits.

It also requires exporters to label shipments which contain genetically-altered commodities such as agricultural crops. Central Asian nations are currently developing their national biosafety frameworks and clearing house mechanisms for comprehensive legal and instrumental control of LMOs.

The protocol aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms LMOs resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biodiversity, taking into account as well possible risks to. The protocol aims to share the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources in a fair and equitable way,. It seeks to do this by taking into account all rights over those resources and technologies, and by appropriate funding, contributing to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

The Ramsar Convention the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat is an international treaty aimed at conserving wetlands and using them sustainably, by slowing encroachment on them and promoting recognition of their ecological importance. It takes its name from the Iranian city on the southern Caspian Sea where it was adopted on 2 February , coming into force on 21 December The Ramsar Convention is the only global environmental.

The list of wetlands of international importance currently includes around 2, sites. Its broad definition of wetlands includes lakes and rivers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands and peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, mangroves and coral reefs, and human-made sites such as reservoirs, and salt pans. The Convention has parties countries , including all the nations of Central Asia. The convention was signed in in Bonn and entered into force in , and unites parties countries , including Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Species which need or would significantly benefit from international co-operation are listed in Appendix II.

The Convention encourages states where these species live to conclude regional agreements, which may be legally binding or less formal. Several existing agreements include ones which aim to conserve marine mammals, and birds which migrate between Africa, Asia and Europe.

There are also memoranda of understanding on the protection of the Bukhara deer and the saiga. It aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Parties to the convention number countries: they include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The convention entered into force on 1 July Species protected by CITES against over-exploitation by international trade number about 5, animals and 28, plants.

Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction now but which may become so unless trade is closely controlled, while Appendix III lists species included at the request of a country that already regulates trade in the species and that needs the cooperation of other countries to prevent unsustainable or illegal exploitation. Kazakhstan has three sites, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan one each, Turkmenistan three and Uzbekistan four.

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Many more country sites are listed as tentative pending endorsement. The five Caspian countries, including Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, are members. Its objective is to protect the Caspian Sea environment from pollution and to promote the protection, restoration and rational use of the biological resources of the Sea. The protocol concerning regional preparedness, response and cooperation in oil pollution incidents was signed in August and three other protocols are being discussed: on land-based sources of pollution, on transboundary environmental impact assessment, and on biodiversity protection.

Aiming to strengthen regional environmental cooperation, it has five priorities: air pollution, water pollution, land degradation, waste management and mountain ecosystem degradation. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have signed the convention. Kazakhstan, the largest country in Central Asia, contains a variety of habitats. Thousands of small lakes, rivers, Lake Balkhash, the Caspian and Aral Seas further add to the diversity of ecosystems. Forests occupy only 4.

The protected areas of Kazakhstan have nearly doubled in size and coverage over the last decade and now cover 8. Kazakh strategy for protected areas system expansion calls for a further increase of strict nature reserves and national parks. Large mammals in Kazakhstan have declined almost everywhere, mainly because of habitat loss.

Some species are hunted - such as wolf and wild goat. More positively, the saiga antelope living in the southern steppes and semi-deserts recovered from near-extinction. Among 12 amphibians is the unique Semirechye salamander. Rare mountain species are the endangered snow leopard, Tien-Shan bear, wild sheep and vultures. Wetlands host greater flamingoes and relict gulls. With extensive governmental and international support, the level of the northern Aral Sea has stabilized and fisheries slightly recovered.

Kyrgyzstan is dominated by the mountains of the Tien Shan and Alai, important in providing fresh water to other Central Asian states and the western part of China. Local scientists distinguish more than 20 different ecosystems in Kyrgyzstan. Many have been affected by. Forests currently cover about 4. Spruce, juniper and fruit-and-nut forests are the main types of national forests. The existing network of protected areas in Kyrgyzstan includes ten strict nature reserves, nine national parks, more than forty species management areas and numerous nature monuments, covering 6.

If this territory is added, the ecosystems under protection would cover one quarter of the country. Since independence, many protected areas have been operating on reduced budgets, staffing and equipment. There has been some improvement in recent years to involve local communities in forest and pasture management and advance species monitoring and conservation in international projects.

Many species of animals like the goitered gazelle, great bustard and imperial eagle are no longer found. Critically endangered are wild pomegranates and several tulip varieties including the glitter tulip Tulipa nitida , Ostrovskiy tulip T. Rare species like the grey monitor lizard, marbled polecat, snow leopard and brown bear remain in an extremely dangerous situation. It boasts a wealth of biodiversity and a broad range of habitats, reflected in high species diversity and local flora endemism.

The protected area system includes four strict nature reserves, one national park the Tajik National Park covering nearly half of the Tajik Pamirs, Shirkent natural-historical park, five Ramsar sites, and more than a dozen species management areas. They cover almost all representative ecosystems, although many protected areas.

Protected areas are too small for effective protection and lack management plans, equipment and adequate budgets. Several protected areas were negatively affected by the civil war in the s. Juniper forests make up nearly half of national forests and play a crucial role in erosion control and water regulation. Walnut forests mixed with wild fruit trees as well as pistachio and almond forests occur in central and southern Tajikistan. The existing Red List of Tajikistan dates back to the Soviet era , although the new Red List is under preparation.

Almost half of all mammals and reptiles are included in the Red List. The status of the leopard and striped hyena is doubtful. Threatened species include the goitered gazelle, grey monitor, snow leopard, brown bear, argali Marco Polo sheep and markhor goat. Other ecosystems are riparian wetlands, mountain forests and the Caspian Sea. Turkmenistan has many close relatives of domestic food plants, including wild pomegranate, grape, fig, apple, pear, cherries, plum, almond and melon.

Central Asia and Global Biodiversity. Besides the strict reserves, there are 14 species management areas and 17 nature monuments. One of the famous nature monuments in the Kugitang mountains has 2, fossilized dinosaur footprints. The Red List of Turkmenistan includes around 30 mammals, 30 reptiles, and many bird species.

Since the s the tiger, Syrian brown bear and lynx have vanished. The surviving populations of goitered gazelles, markhors, wild sheep, leopards, wild cats and wild goats are thought to be much reduced. Characteristic desert mammals include honey badgers, endemic sand shrews, ground squirrels and desert cats. Desert reptiles abound in Turkmenistan and many are endemic to Central Asia.

These include tortoises, lizards and snakes. Threats to biodiversity include habitat loss, deforestation, overgrazing and pollution. Hunting, over-exploitation and the introduction of alien species compound the damage. The Caspian Sea ecosystem around the Cheleken peninsula of Turkmenistan suffered years of environmental mismanagement during the Soviet era. Industrial waste and discharges led in those days to high levels of pollution in the Sea and on its shores. While pollution has fallen, many effects persist.

More than four fifths of the country is desert and semi-desert which includes seven types of terrestrial ecosystems as well as wetlands. There are nine strict nature reserves, two national natural parks, 14 species management areas, five nature monuments and the Dzeiran centre for captive breeding of rare animals, including the goitered gazelle, wild ass, Houbara bustard and Bactrian deer.

Most of these areas were established in the Soviet era and cover 5. New categories of protected areas covering groundwater and river zones are being introduced in the country. In the past decade, more than 25 such water protection zones along or upstream of the main rivers and lakes have been designated. Forests cover 7. Steppes are grassy and largely treeless plains.

The climate is usually too dry to support the growth of forests but not dry enough to qualify as a desert, though some steppes may be semi-deserts. They often experience very marked differences of temperature between day and night, and between summer and winter. Steppes have developed their own suite of species, both resident and migratory.

The Saryarka ecoregion is an area of the Central Asian steppe with both freshwater and saltwater lakes in northern Kazakhstan. A World Heritage Site, it is outstanding for its wetlands that receive millions of water birds migrating between Africa, Europe, and South Asia and their breeding areas in Siberia. In the next two decades, however, 35 million hectares of virgin and fallow steppe lands were ploughed for Soviet agriculture.

Wind erosion triggered massive dust storms. After collective farms vanished soil rehabilitation stopped and herders soon overcrowded steppe pastures and depleted them. The Central Asian deserts and semi-deserts include several sandy, stony and clay deserts that stretch from the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea to Lake Balkash and to the foothills of the Kopetdag, Tien Shan and Pamir mountains. The large Karakum Desert deserves special mention: it occupies more than two-thirds of Turkmenistan and covers some , square kilometers, more than the total area of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan combined.

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Under its arid surface are rich oil, gas, and sulphur deposits that are now being fully exploited. The spread of agriculture in the deserts, especially irrigated farming and grazing, in combination with energy infrastructure, is the main threat to the local biodiversity. The unsustainable use of plants, especially saxaul forests, for firewood is also damaging.

All play key roles as indicators of species diversity, core ecosystem elements, and carbon sinks. They offer not only timber but many non-wood products, including fruit, nuts and honey, as well as refuges for wildlife. Some forests harbour trees which tolerate high aridity and salinity, and others which are close relatives of domestic food plants: both could be useful as climate change and biodiversity loss intensify.

Saxaul trees grow in the deserts of Central Asia. The biggest saxaul forests, which are composed primarily of white and black saxaul, are in southern Kazakhstan where they cover six million hectares. Turkmenistan has about four million hectares, Uzbekistan two million, and small areas are also found in Tajikistan. Saxaul trees are important for protecting soil and helping prevent sand from filling channels, oases and covering roads, and so help to regulate water supply.

They benefit pastures by providing shade and increasing pasture productivity. They are extensively used for reforestation efforts around the Aral Sea to mitigate dust storms and halt desertification. The saxaul has extensive root systems reaching down as deep as 10 metres to find moisture. Saxaul trees grow up to metres high and live 50 years. Tugai forests are floodplain forests of Central Asia, found in river valleys where the groundwater is close to the surface.

They can include a range of tree species, among them poplar, willow, tamarisk, birch, salt tree and buckthorn. They were once widespread, but the area occupied by tugai has shrunk dramatically because of floodplain reclamation and low water levels in rivers and deltas. Those that are left are vital for wildlife. The largest remaining tugai forests are found in the lower Amu Darya river delta.

Floodplain forests in the mountains are increasingly threatened by the gold development projects along nearby river beds. Tugai forests have a high value for soil protection, and serve as grazing lands, fire barriers and habitats for wildlife. Juniper trees grow at about 2 cm annually, and some specimens are estimated to be more than 1, years old. Most juniper forests are found on the northern slopes of the Turkestan, Alai, Zeravshan and Gissar mountains.

Central Asia Atlas of Natural Resources

All mountain forests play a vital soil-protection and water-regulating role and they are strictly protected. They attenuate erosion processes, stabilize the soil against mudand-stone landslides and regulate runoff. Scientists believe Central Asia produced the ancestor of most cultivated apple species, which then spread East and West along the Silk Road. But the wild apple forests are not adequately managed to conserve biodiversity, and there are fears they are losing their genetic distinctiveness.

Kazakhstan is now working to conserve its wild apples in situ - in their native habitats, in addition to research stations and botanical gardens. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan also have significant wild fruit and nut forests. On the eastern slopes of the Fergana Valley in southern Kyrgyzstan are the largest areas of natural walnut forests in the world, composed mainly of walnut but also including other fruit trees and shrubs, among them varieties of apple, pear and plum.

The forests have extremely rich biodiversity - more than tree species, bird species and 40 mammal species. After studying traditional forest management schemes, Kyrgyzstan with Swiss support introduced community fruit-and-nut forest management, an experimental approach that engaged community groups and local authorities to manage forests. In addition to Kyrgyzstan, walnut forests also grow in central and southern Tajikistan.

Well-known in southern Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, it grows as well in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Wild pistachio nuts are prized for their flavour.

Central Asia (Tajikistan Highlights-2018) Part 34

Each hectare of pistachio forest on average provides 80 kg of nuts and in some areas kg. But pistachio trees are valuable for more than their harvest. They can protect the soil and prevent the formation of gullies and the destruction of mountain slopes. The mountains provide an astonishing array of essential ecosystem goods and services that serve not only the mountain inhabitants but also those in the lowlands and people around the globe: forest products and land for food production; watershed protection; habitat for flora and fauna of local and global significance; the regulation of natural hazards and climate; natural areas for leisure and recreational activities; and perhaps most important of all, the storage and release of water.

The Kopet Dag, also known as the Turkmen-Khorasan mountains, run along the border of Turkmenistan and Iran, a region characterized by foothills, dry and sandy slopes, plateaus and steep ravines.


Most of the population in Central Asia relies on water that falls in the mountains where it is stored in glaciers and snow before making its way downstream to population centres. The densely populated valleys and oases of the vast drylands of Central Asia depend on mountain water transported by numerous rivers and streams. Global warming is slowly melting mountain glaciers, affecting snow reserves and at the same time increasing the water requirements of basic agricultural crops.

At lower altitudes and in the foothills, dryland ecosystems prevail. At higher altitudes, grasslands, shrubs and forests are widespread. Meadows and tundra-like ecosystems are found at the high mountain plateaus. Globally endangered species resident in the mountains include the snow leopard with more than half of the global population and the Marco Polo sheep. The numbers of these species have declined, however, as a result of poaching, hunting and the depletion of the food base.

The high biodiversity richness and endemism of flora and fauna of the mountains of Central Asia is exemplified by the fact that the number of vascular plant species found in the Pamir-Alai or the Tien Shan Mountains is four times higher than that of the nearby lowland Karakum Desert, which has twice the area. The Caspian seal is endemic to the Sea, which is also home to many sturgeon species, now endangered by overfishing for the caviar trade. Offshore hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation poses other risks.

The other main river flowing into the northern Caspian is the Ural: the wetlands around the Ural delta are important to migrating birds. The Kara-Bogaz-Gol is a shallow water ecosystem in north-west Turkmenistan, forming a lagoon of the Caspian about 18, sq km in extent but separated from it by a small rocky ridge with a very narrow opening. In the Soviet era, the Kara-Bogaz-Gol was artificially separated from the Caspian, which led to negative environmental impacts.

In the early s, the waters of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers that fed the Sea were diverted for irrigation mainly to grow cotton, causing the gradual disappearance of the Sea. Despite numerous local and international rescue efforts it continues to shrink, as overall water consumption patterns persist. The exposed seabed has left salt, sand, dust and agricultural chemicals blowing as far as km.

Water, land, crops and human health all suffer, with chronic respiratory and kidney disorders and liver diseases increasing. The Sea can no longer moderate the increasingly extreme climate. The economy, based on fisheries, livestock grazing, hunting and fur production, is devastated. Four decades ago the annual fish catch was 35, tonnes, but fishing stopped altogether in the mids, although Kazakhstan has partly managed to restore water levels and fisheries with an extensive artificial dam in the northern Aral Sea.

Poaching and habitat fragmentation caused further stress and led to the extinction of the Turan Caspian tiger, other large predators and a significant drop in the Bukhara Bactrian deer. Once a Silk Road staging post, it was a popular tourist resort and a flourishing fishing ground. In the last decade, however, fisheries declined to negligible levels, and many fish, including endemic species, are threatened, because of over-fishing, predation by introduced species, and the end of restocking with juvenile fish. The government banned all fishing here in In spite of this, thousands of illegal fishing nets are detected annually.

Community based and eco-friendly tourism is now developing around the lake. Tulips of Central Asia Central Asia is home to the wild tulip, forebear of the carefully nurtured blooms which now beguile gardeners across the world. But in their heartland many are under severe pressure from agriculture and plant collectors. In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, more than 20 species are included in the national Red Lists as rare and endangered. Of more than tulip species known globally, roughly half are found in Central Asia. Snow Leopard Symbol of the Winter Asian Games and motif of the coat of arms of Central Asia cities, this stealthy nocturnal hunter with its huge furry tail is well adapted to life at high elevations.

But poaching and loss of prey and habitat mean at most 7, wild survivors remain worldwide. Marco Polo Sheep Argali The largest wild sheep, a coveted trophy with its curling horns, this is a sub-species of the argali sheep. The 13th century explorer described them in his autobiographical book The Travels of Marco Polo.