Several studies (IUCN 2004, Magin 2005) identified the Eurasian temperate deserts as nature regions of global importance. According to Magin, the temperate deserts have unique ecological qualities, support numerous endemic species and, particulary the sand deserts, support great biodiversity. Central Asian desert ecosystems are part of WWF Global 200 priority ecoregions (ecoregion 134), the global “hotspots” with the highest demand for common conservation efforts. The status of temperate deserts of Central Asia is classified by the WWF as “critical/endangered”. Olson & Dinerstein (1998) also assess the temperate deserts ecosystems as “critically endangered”.
Despite their importance temperate deserts are clearly under-represented in the regional and global network of protected areas (Dinerstein et al. 2017). The few existing protected areas with a relevant protection status are either too small, too fragmented or without adequate, appropriate management concepts and the therewith associated capacities. According to the UNDP (2015), often, for example in Uzbekistan, the area of desert nature reserves is “insufficient for a normal support of species breeding and communities inhabiting these habitats”.
Despite already done large efforts in the CADI target countries Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to designate Important Bird Areas (IBAs), the coverage of protected areas for the conservation of migratory birds is still insufficient (Runge et al. (2015). In view of the size and extent of the Eurasian temperate deserts, the existing network of protected areas is not sufficient to ensure the integrity of the ecosystem. None of the CADI target countries currently meet the Aichi Biodiversity Targets of 2010 to protect at least 17% of a country’s terrestrial ecosystems.
Among the CADI target countries Kazakhstan has the highest share of national territory protected (8.8%), followed by Uzbekistan (5%) and Turkmenistan (about 4.4%) (CAREC et al 2015).
This map provides an overview of the current protected areas (as of 2015) in the CADI target region.
The temperate deserts are the only biome worldwide for which the UNESCO World Heritage Commission has not yet inscribed a World Heritage Site. The UNESCO Repetek Biosphere Reserve in Turkmenistan is mentioned on the tentative list for nomination as a World Natural Heritage site (criterion x).
In a spatial analysis of conservation potential in temperate deserts of Central Asia, developed in the scope of CADI, areas with special protection demand were compared with actually existing protected areas in the temperate deserts of the project region. The study serves as prioritization for the scientific and technical justifications for the establishment, extension or IUCN status adjustment of protected areas in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan within the framework of CADI. The project will also implement measures to improve the management effectiveness of two existing protected areas in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. The measures include, inter alia, the development and adjustment of zonation and management plans as well as the training of protected area staff.
With regard to area protection in the single CADI target countries, the following situation exists:
Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country on earth. About 44% of its area account for deserts, 14% for semi-deserts.
The zone of temperate deserts in Kazakhstan occupies in the southern part of the country a vast belt about 900 km from North to South and about 3.000 km from East to West. The largest deserts are the sandy desert of Kyzylkum (“Red Sand”) and the desert Betpak-Dala.
A total of 8.8% of the national territory is covered by protected areas. The protected areas comprise 10 strict nature reserves (Zapovednik, IUCN category Ia), 12 national parks (IUCN category II), 5 special nature protection zones and numerous other protected sites (CAREC et al. 2015). Among the deserts and semi-deserts about 7.2% have protection status: 3 strict nature reserves (Zapovednik), 2 national parks, 4 natural monuments, 4 protection zones (Zapovednaja Zona) and 19 species management areas (Zakazniks). An overview of the protected areas in Kazakhstan gives this map.
Main purpose of the strict nature reserves (Zapovednik) in Kazakhstan is the conservation of flora and fauna as well as research. A strict protection regime prohibits access and any activities on the territory of the Zapovedniks.
In the Zakazniks, limited and regulated economic activities are permitted. Zakazniks aim to preserve and restore the national natural heritage. Usually, protected areas of this type are linked to other protected areas, which staff also manages the Zakazniks. Zakazniks do not have their own staff, what results in a rather weak management.
Establishment and development of protected areas in Kazakhstan are implemented within the framework of the state cross-sectoral programme “Zhasyl Damu”. Responsible for its implementation is the Committee on Forestry and Wildlife of the Ministry of Agriculture. The preparation of the scientific (phase I) as well as economic-technical justification (phase II) is based on a public procurement procedure by the Committee on Forestry and Wildlife. The following measures focusing on desert ecosystems are currently being implemented within the framework of the “Zhasyl Damu” programme 2019-2020 (UNDP/GEF):
- Western Ustyurt: Establishment of new protected area (Mangistau State Nature Reserve) covering 2,676,262 ha;
- Ili-Balkash region: Establishment of new protected area (Ile-Balkhash State Nature Reserve) covering 442,296 ha;
- Northern Ustjurt: Expansion of an existing protected area (Ustyurt State Nature Reserve) by approximately 220,000 ha;
- Little Aral Lake Region: Expansion of existing protected area (Barsakelmes State Nature Reserve) by 5,770 ha;
- Ustyurt protected areas: Establishment of a wildlife corridor between Barsakelmes and Ustyurt protected areas of approximately 750,000 ha.
More than 80% of the territory of Turkmenistan is occupied by the Karakum desert – an area with unique biodiversity, centuries of land-use traditions and rich cultural history.
The network of protected areas in Turkmenistan currently includes 9 strict state nature reserves (Zapovednik, IUCN category Ia). Some of them are surrounded by state biotopes/species management areas (Zakaznik, IUCN category IV) or protection zones (IUCN category V), where the two protection area types are jointly managed.
In addition, there are 17 officially designated natural monuments (IUCN category III). Protected areas currently cover approximately 4.4% of the national territory – with 1.6% covered by strict protected nature reserves.
An indication of the political relevance of wilderness protection by the state was the creation of a new state nature reserve (“Bereketli Karakum”), with an area of 87,000 ha in 2013.
The state nature reserves have a strict protection regime and exclude the use of natural resources by the local population, with very few exceptions. Most of the reserves are important not only for biodiversity conservation, but also for research and for the conservation of genetic resources.
The UNESCO Repetek Biosphere Reserve was designated in 1928. In 2009 the reserve has been included to the tentative list for the nomination as a World Natural Heritage site. Based on this, in the frame of CADI a document for a World Natural Heritage nomination of “Repetek” shall be prepared together with the national authorities of Turkmenistan.
In addition, CADI aims to establish, extend or adjust the IUCN status of a protected area in Turkmenistan. The activity is jointly implemented by the “National Institute of Deserts, Flora and Fauna” (NIDFF) in Ashgabat and the Michael Succow Foundation.
An overview of the current protected areas of Turkmenistan gives this map.
Uzbekistan has a wide network of protected areas: 8 strict nature reserves (Zapovednik, IUCN category Ia), one Complex (landscape) Zakaznik (IUCN category Ib), 3 national parks (IUCN category II), 12 species management areas (Zakaznik , IUCN category IV), one UNESCO biosphere reserve and several centers for captive breeding of rare birds and ungulates. The protected areas cover an area of 2.4 million hectares and thus about 5% of the national territory. In addition, there are about 25 water protection areas. The UN Development Programme in Uzbekistan (UNDP) recommends in its masterplan an expansion of the network of protected areas of up to 8.1 million hectares.
Although nearly 85% of the national territory of Uzbekistan is covered by temperate deserts or semi-deserts, the biome is clearly under-represented in the national network of protected areas. Temperate deserts are partially protected within Kyzylkum Zapovednik (IUCN category Ia) and Saygachiy Complex (landscape) Zakaznik (IUCN category Ib). The network of protected areas cover about 3.5% of the territory of temperate deserts of Uzbekistan (Zagrebin et al. 2012). Thereby, the Aichi Biodiversity Targets are currently far missed.
The largest protected area of Uzbekistan in the temperate deserts is the Complex (landscape) Zakaznik in Northern Karakalpak-Ustyurt on the border with Kazakhstan. It mainly serves for the protection of the Saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica). Within the framework of an UNDP/GEF project, measures have been implemented to increase the effectiveness of the protected area as well as its enlargement. Based on an existing protected area (IUCN category IV), the first Complex (landscape) Zakaznik of Uzbekistan was designated by the government in 2016. It covers 628,300 hectares with a protection zone of 219,800 hectares.
An overview of the protected areas of Uzbekistan gives this map.