Zorkul Nature Reserve (Lake Victoria)

Year of compilation: 2006

Site description
The IBA is situated 320 km from Horog. It is located between the southern Alichur and Vahan ridges at between 4,000 to 5,460 m above sea level and presents a wide valley near the border with Afghanistan. There is evidence of glacial cumulation in this valley. The landscape is typically Central Asian: mainly gentle slopes of alpine steppe with sparse vegetation. The main part of the IBA is Zorkul lake (also known as Victoria Lake) located at an altitude of 4,125 m above sea level. The area of the lake is about 3,900 hectares. It is freshwater. The maximum depth is 6 m. The lake’s surface is covered by vegetation. The list of submerged aquatic plants is 17 species. The lake has a potential fish production of about 46 tons per year. Many waterfowl breed on the islands of the lake, including Anser indicus. Land use in the reserve is prohibited. The buffer zone is partly used as pasture.

Key biodiversity
Zorkul Nature Reserve was establishd in 2000 based on the Zorkul zakaznik, which was created in 1972 to conserve Anser indicus in Tajikistan. At present Zorkul functions as an ornithological reserve. 110 species of birds have been recorded. These include 12 resident species, 21 nesting and more than 75 as migrants and vagrants. Resident species: Anas platyrhynchos, Mergus merganser, Aegypius monachus, Gypaetus barbatus, Gyps himalayensis, Aquila chrysaetos, Tetraogallus himalayensis, Athene noctua, Pyrrhocorax graculus, Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax, Corvus corax and Montifringilla nivalis. Many of these make local vertical migrations during inclement snowy winter. Nesting species include: Anser indicus, Tadorna ferruginea, Falco tinnunculus, Charadrius mongolus, Tringa totanus, Tringa hypoleucos, Larus ichthyaetus, Larus brunnicephalus, Sterna hirundo, Columba rupestris, Caprimulgus europaeus, Calandrella acutirostris, Riparia rupestris, Motacilla citreola, Motacilla alba, Prunella himalayana, Phoenicurus erythrogaster, Oenanthe isabellina, Oenanthe deserti, Carduelis flavirostris and Carpodacus rubicilla. Spring and autumn migrants include: Phalacrocorax carbo, Ardea cinerea, Anas strepera, Anas crecca, Anas acuta, Haliaeetus leucoryphus, Aquila heliaca, Porzana pusilla, Gallinula chloropus, Fulica atra, Charadrius dubius, Calidris minuta, Calidris temminckii, Calidris alpina, Philomachus pugnax, Gallinago solitaria, Limosa limosa, Tringa erythropus, Tringa nebularia, Tringa glareola, Tringa cinereus, Larus ridibundus, Coracias garrulus, Upupa epops and Sturnus vulgaris. Zorkul is one of the highest altitude protected areas in the world. The fauna of alpine regions is not rich, but very interesting bioecologically, especially the adaptation of breeding and resident species to severe alpine conditions. Many waterfowl and shorebirds breed in Zorkul, Chakankul and Kukjigit lakes. Anser indicus is a noteworthy species. At present this species is showing a tendancy to increase its numbers following establishment of zapovednik status. The state of the populations of other species is also improving year by year. This includes Charadrius mongolus, Larus ichthyaetus, Larus brunnicephalus and Sterna hirundo. Anas platyrhynchos is a common species. Its numbers start to increase from the beginning of October. 200 birds were recorded on the lake in 2003 (Abdulnazarov). Fulica atra was a rare migrant in the Pamirs in the 1970s (Abdusalyamov, 1971). Since the 1990s this species has become numerous on all of Pamir’s lakes and in Zorkul during autumn migration (Abdulnazarov, reports of Zapovednik Zorkul). There are rivers, lakes, meadows with adjoining marshes, arid semi-deserts, rocks and screes and a glacial belt in the site (Abdusalyamov, 1977). The IBA is located on the largest Eurasian-Indian birds flyway, from Scandinavia in the west to Taimyr in the east. It is a very important area for resting and feeding birds. Migrants cross the Hindukush in autumn when they move south and the Pamiro-Alay in spring when they move north. Nine species of birds included in the National Red Data Book have been recorded at Zorkul, including Gypaetus barbatus, Aegypius monachus, Gyps himalayensis, Aquila chrysaetos, Syrrhaptes tibetana which are residents, and Anser indicus, Falco peregrinus, Charadrius mongolus and Larus brunnicephalus which nest. As a result of its remoteness and difficulty of access, observation of the avifauna of Zorkul is poor.

Non-bird biodiversity: Fish: two mountainous Asian species - Schizopygopsis stoliczkai and Schizothorax intermedius - inhabit the rivers and lakes of Zorkul. Amphibians and Reptiles are absent. Mammals: there is a high level of diversity and endemism. Rodents include Marmota caudata, Microtus juldaschi and Alticola argentatus. Leporidae include Lepus tolai and Ochonota [macrotis] roylei. The wide valleys and gentle slopes provide habitat for Ovis ammon polii. Capra sibirica inhabits the rocky slopes. Carnivora include Uncia uncia, Felis lynx, Felis manul, Canis lupus, Vulpes vulpes, Mustela nivalis, Mustela erminea and Ursus arctos. National Red Data book species include: Ovis ammon polii, Uncia uncia, Felis lynx and Ursus arctos. Vegetation: as in other parts of the Pamir vegetation has a desert character and is divided into 4 zones. Nival zone - small areas on the crests of the southern Alishur ridge above 4,800 m above sea level. Frost-resistant plants include: Melandrium apetalum, Cerastium cerastoides, Ajania tibetica, Oxitropis immersa and Sibbaldia tetrandra. Upper alpine and lower alpine zones are located between 4,200 and 4,800 m above sea level. The sub-shrub Ajania tibetica dominates in more dry sites. Oxitropis immersa, Oxitropis poncinsii and Smelovskia calycina prevail in wet places. Desert formations are typical in the lower alpine belt with the dominant species being Krascheninnikovia ceratoides, Artemisia skorniakowii, and Ajania tibetica. Almost the same type of vegetation occurs in the subalpine zone (Stanyukovich,1949). Permanent grasses form more than 80% of the list of Zorkul marsh vegetation. Dominants are Stipa orientalis, Alopecurus mucronatus, Trisetum spicatum, Poa calliopsis, Poa pamirica, Poa relaxa, Poa tremuloides, Poa litvinoviana, Puccinellia hackeliana, Puccinellia humilis and Puccinellia pamirica (Stanyukovich,1949).

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The main threat is frequent flooding which inundates the nesting places of waterfowl, including Anser indicus. Animals also suffer during hard frosts. Waterbirds suffer from unexpected summer, early autumn or late spring frosts when extreme temperature drops can occur.

Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
Geological peculiarities of the Southern Pamir (where the IBA is situated) were first described in detail by V.D. Nalyvkin (1932). O.E.Agahanyants (1966) studied its physical characteristics. R.N. Meklenburtsev (1949), I.A.Abdusalyamov (1966, 1977) and R.L.Potapov (1966) made a large contribution to the study of the zoogeographical peculiarities of the Pamir. Investigation of Pamir’s avifauna was started by F. Stolichka when he first visited the eastern part of Pamir and Vahan. The most important contribution to the study of the avifauna of Pamir and Zorkul lake was made by the famous investigators N.A. Severtzov and M.A. Menzbier (1888, 1893), Sharpe (1891), Alcock (1897), Richmond (1886), N.A. Zarudny (1926), G.P. Dementyev (1935), R.N. Meklenburtcev (1936,1949), A.I. Ivanov (1940, 1969), A.B. Kistyakovsky (1950), I.A. Abdusalyamov (1961, 1964,1971, 1973, 1977), Abdusalyamov et all (2001), and A.G. Abdulnazarov (2003, 2005). Since 2000 investigations, biotechnological and nature protection activities have been started, counts are made regularly. It is planned to create an Transboundary Park with China, Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2007-2015. The northern border of the park will include the southern part of Pamir, where Zorkul is located.

Protected areas
The IBA is identical to Zorkul Nature Reserve.

Habitat and land use
The ecosystems of the IBA are in a good condition. All economic activities are prohibited in the nature reserve. Grazing is allowed in the buffer zone. Rangers and research officers work permanently in the nature reserve. The administration of the nature reserve has prepared documentation to prohibit economic activities in all zones.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Zorkul Nature Reserve (Lake Victoria). Downloaded from on 31/05/2020.