Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve

Site description (2006 baseline):

Site location and context
Akmola Region, Korgalzhyn district, nearest town Korgalzhyno (straight distance 25 km east, 5,350 inhabitants), capital Astana 145 km North East (about 600,000 inhabitants). The IBA includes the Tengiz-Korgalzhyn system of lakes which are representative examples of a shallow lake system with a mix of fresh, salty and brackish waterbodies characteristic of the north of Kazakhstan. The largest lakes are Tengiz, Isei, Sultankeldy and Asaubalyk. The Tengiz-Korgalzhyn Lake system is situated in the strong continental climate zone, still influenced by the Atlantic. Very cold winters and hot summers, with an average precipitation of only 267 mm falling mainly in summer, are typical. The average temperature in January is –17°C (winter min. -45°C) and in June it is +20°C (summer max. 41.5°C). The number of days with an average temperature below zero is 150 per year. The Korgalzhyn lakes are basically the vast delta areas of the Nura and Kulanuptes rivers forming a series of fresh and brackish water lakes. They have an average depth of only 1.6 meters (range 0.5 to 2.5m) and an area of 47,100 ha. The water level is stabilized due to dams in the reserve. Tengiz Lake is the largest lake in the Kazakh steppe zone and its size varies between 113,600 to 159,000 hectares depending on water supply. It has a maximum depth of 6.7 metres and a salt content between 22 and 127 g/litre. Two overlapping cycles of high and low water levels have been observed in the last century, being 7 and 40 years long. Once every 100 years Lake Tengiz dries out almost completely for one or two years. The Rivers Nura and Kulanuptes, plus precipitation falling on the surrounding 200,000 ha of land and waterbodies, contribute water to the lake system. It has no outflow but due to its vast surface area and shallowness evaporation is very high. The River Nura is the main contributor (approximately 50%). Even though some water is used for irrigation and industrial use, water from the Irtysh-Karaganda channel bringing drinking water to Karaganda compensates for losses from the River Nura and the lake system remains in a near natural state. Most of the lakes have extensive reedbeds but the great salt Lake Tengiz has mostly open shores without tall vegetation. The relief of the area varies little with a minimum at Lake Tengiz (304 m a.s.l) and a maximum of 329 m a.s.l in the east of the reserve. It is situated in the zone of immature chestnut soils formed from alluvial-deluvial loams. Solonez and Solontshak soils are dominant in the depressions of the Tengiz-Korgalzhyn lake system. In the west and south of the protected area the so called Kazak Rolling Hills are found - the typical steppe formations of flat plains. The site is proposed following the borders of the nature reserve with a 2 kilometre wide buffer zone. This consists of a 258,920 ha Core Zone (current area of the Nature Reserve), plus 94,421 ha of the Buffer Zone (2 km around the site), giving a total of 353,341 ha. The reserve border generally follows the shoreline of the Tengiz-Korgalzhin Lake system but in the north-east follows the recently added steppe area so that the peninsula between the Tengiz and Korgalzhin Lake system is included in the nature reserve.

Key biodiversity
The 335 bird species recorded at the site contain 112 species of waterfowl and waders breeding, moulting or resting (87% recorded of the whole of Kazakhstan).

Non-bird biodiversity: Lake Tengiz is situated in the Kazakh Steppe in the so called short grass steppe. The short grass steppe is characterized by the Sheep Fescue species (Festuca sulcata) and the aster species Galatella tatarica and villosa. Also characteristic of these steppes are small shrubs of Spirea hypericifolia and species of ephemeral bulb species such as Adonis wolgensis, Potentilla species and the rare Tulipa geseriana (Red Book of Kazakhstan). Characteristic also are salt communities with Halocnemium strobilaceum, Artemisia paucifora, Atriplex cana and Salicornia europaea. The vegetation at and around Lake Korgalzhyn comprises reedbeds with Phragmites australis, Typha angustifolia and Schoenoplectus lacustris. Lake Tengiz is lacking taller vegetation and is dominated by algae communities i.e. blue-green algae (Cyanophyceae) etc. Threatened animal species are Saiga tatarica (VU) with only single observations nowadays; Marmota bobak is common on unused steppe; Pond Bat (Myotis dasycneme, VU); Corsac Fox (Vulpes corsac; VU) etc.

Habitat and land use
The whole IBA is included in a strictly protected Nature Reserve and is used only for scientific and conservation goals; controlled small-scale tourism is allowed in a limited area.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The water quality of the area is badly influenced by untreated waste water from villages along the Rivers Nura and Kulanotpes and the industrial complex of Temirtau (“Iron City”) near Karaganda. Very high amounts of heavy metals were released into the river during Soviet times but, so far, remain restricted to the upper reaches of the river. The avifauna of the proposed IBA is relatively secure. Some threatened species (e.g. Anser erythropus and Branta ruficollis) might suffer from hunting in the neighbouring non-protected lakes, but there is no information available quantifying this threat. Future threats might be caused by the growing size of the nearby capital Astana. Water supply and sewage disposal might strongly influence hydrological and nutrient characteristics of the rivers and freshwater lakes in the area. If nutrient supply becomes higher, a conversion of freshwater lakes to reedbeds and swamps and thus significant changes in bird communities are to be expected. An analysis of these threats is necessary. In 2007, a start of small-scale oil exploitation is planned to the north of the IBA. Given the fact that primary steppe ecosystem are concerned, a significant influence on the bird fauna in the region as whole has to be expected.

Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
Integrated conservation of priority globally significant migratory bird wetland habitat: a demonstration on three sites (Government of Kazakhstan, UNDP, GEF) BirdLife International, RSPB, ACBK: Sociable Lapwing (Vanellus gregarius) Research and Conservation Project There are plans to establish a Biosphere Reserve with the current Zapovednik as a core zone. The proposed IBA will fit this reserve. A map of the planned reserve is available. Within the ongoing GEF/UNDP Project a full management plan for the nature reserve and adjacent water bodies has been developed and approved by the Committee of Forestry and Hunting in January 2007. The management plan involves stakeholder participation which has so far not been applied to any plans concerning the management of the reserve. The management plan addresses issues on the development of eco-tourism, scientific monitoring programme, effective protection measures, analysis and solution of conflicts between local communities and the reserve etc. The nature reserve has a scientific department which currently includes an ornithologist/ ichthyologist and a mammologist. Due to small salaries it is difficult to provide an attractive working environment for scientists working at the reserve. The scientists of the reserve are sometimes supported through international organisations. In 2004/05 the GEF/UNDP project was financing research by scientists of the Institutions of the Ministry of Education and Science and will continue its support till 2010. A GIS database has been established with a broad spectrum of information (Mammals, Birds, Insects, Benthos and Plankton and Hydrology). German and English ornithologists come regularly to the site to provide valuable information on the numbers of breeding and migrating birds. The reserve produces yearly reports on their monitoring work, sometimes accompanied by publications of the reserve's and visiting scientists.

Protected areas
The area is identical to Korgaldzinskiy Zapovednik (Nature Reserve with highest level of protection).

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve. Downloaded from on 30/09/2023.