The IBA is located 450 km from the provincial centre of Horog and 140 km from the district centre of Murgab.
Almost all of the IBA, except Karakul lake, is situated at more than 4,000 m above sea level. Relief is varied. Plains alternate with hills and rocks in the north-eastern and southern parts of the territory. The Zulumtar range, 40 km in length and 30 km wide, runs from south to west in the southern part of the site. The highest peak of this range is 5,470 m. Karakul lake is tectonic in origin. The glaciers of the nearest ranges are the water sources for the lake. The Akdjilga, Karadgilga and Muzkol rivers and more than 20 permanent and seasonal springs, flow into the lake. The IBA includes Karakul lake, islands, marshes, wet meadows, peatbogs, and pebbly and sandy plains. Karakul is a closed, brackish lake. Its level is determined by the quantity of incoming water and evaporation. The area of water surface of the lake is 380 square km, the maximum depth is 238 m. Overgrowing of the surface of the lake is low. Pondweeds dominate in the littoral zone. This lake isn't important for fishing. The IBA lies within the Tajik National Park. It is included in the recreation and partial economic development zones and used as pasture. The only settlement is the small village of Karakul.
The lake's islands are the main places where waterbirds rest and nest.
There are many representatives of the Tibetan avifauna. More than 90 species have been recorded in the IBA - 10 are resident, 17 are nesting, the others are migrants and vagrants.
Residents: Anas platyrhynchos, Mergus merganser, Gypaetus barbatus, Aegypius monachus, Gyps himalayensis, Aquila chrysaetos, Pyrrhocorax graculus, Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax, Corvus corax, Montifringilla nivalis, Leucosticte brandti, Carpodacus rubicilla and others.
Nesting species: Anser indicus, Tadorna ferruginea, 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, Carduelis flavirostris and others.
Migrants: Ardea cinerea, Anas strepera, Anas crecca, Haliaeetus leucoryphus, Porzana pusilla, Gallinula chloropus, Fulica atra, Charadrius dubius, Gallinago solitaria, Larus ridibundus, Upupa epops, Sturnus vulgaris, Sturnus roseus and others.
The Karakul basin is a very favourable resting and feeding place for birds crossing the Alay mountains during autumn migraton. Neighbouring areas have inclement natural and climatic conditions. There are giant glaciers in the IBA.
Biotopes include: rivers and lakes, meadows with water-logged ground, arid semi-deserts with sub-shrubs and Acantholimon, rocks and screes, snow zone (Abdusalyamov 1961, 1977). Each biotope has its own bird community.
Eleven rare species occur that are included in the National Red Book - Gypaetus barbatus, Aegypius monachus, Gyps himalayensis, Aquila chrysaetos, Tetraogallus tibetana and Syrrhaptes tibetana are resident; Anser indicus, Charadrius mongolus and Larus brunnicephalus nest; and Neophron percnopterus and Burhinus oedicnemus are migrants.
Non-bird biodiversity: Fish: there is only species (Nemachilus) in Karakul lake and the Karadjilga river which is a autochthonous species and doesn't have any value for fishing.
Mammals: have a high level of diversity and endemism. Rodents are represented by 3 species - Marmota caudata, Microtus juldaschi and Alticola argentatus. Leporidae include Lepus tolai and Ochonota roylei (macrotis) (Abdusalyamov, 1961,1962; Odinashoev, 1987). Ovis ammon polii and Capra sibirica are to be found in the western and northern parts of the IBA. Predators include Uncia uncia, Canis lupus, Vulpes vulpes, Mustela nivalis and Mustela erminea.
The vegetation of Karakul as in other parts of Pamir has a desert character and can be divided into 4 belts.
Nival belt, situated above 4,800 m above sea level. Here the frost-resistant plants Ajania tibetica, Melandrium apetalum, Cerastium cerastoides, Oxitropis immersa, Sibbaldia tetrandra and others occur.
Upper alpine and lower alpine belts are located between 4,200 and 4,800 m above sea level. The sub-shrub Ajania tibetica dominates in more dry sites. The cryophytes Oxitropis immersa, Oxitropis poncinsii and Smelovskia calycina prevail in the wet places (Stanyukovich,1949). Desert formations are typical in the lower alpine belt with the dominants being Krascheninnikovia (Eurotia) ceratoides, Artemisia skorniakowii and Ajania tibetica. Almost the same type of vegetation is found in the subalpine belt. Permanent grasses are dominant in the marshes. Among them are Puccinelia pamirica, Trisetum spicatum, Stipa orientalis, Alopecurus mucronatus, Poa calliopsis, Poa pamirica, Poa relaxa, Poa tremuloides, Poa litvinoviana, Puccinellia humilis and others.
Habitat and land use
At present some ecosystems of the IBA are in a satisfactory condition. Valley areas are used as pasture. The waterbodies are not valuable for fishing. The IBA borders with the Badahshan hunting farm in the south-west but the hunting zone is not included in the IBA boundaries.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The main treat is floods which happen frequently. As Karakul is a closed lake, its level rises quickly and eventually vast areas, islands and shore, get flooded. Wildlife often suffers from hard winter frosts. Waterbirds sometimes suffer from unexpected summer, early autumn and late spring frosts, when the temperature falls rapidly to very low levels.
Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
The geological peculiarities of Pamir were first described in detail by V.D. Nalyvkin (1932). O.E.Agahanyants (1966) studied 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 Pamir.
Information on the biology and ecology of Pamir’s animals and plants in the IBA are presented in the publications of Severtzov and Menzbier (1888, 1893), Sharpe (1891), Meklenburtcev (1936, 1949), Ivanov (1940, 1969), Dementyev (1935), Abdusalyamov (1961, 1964,1971, 1973, 1977) and others.
Rangers of the Tajik National Park and staff of the Committee on Nature Protection of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region are working in the IBA permanently.
The IBA is located in the Tajik National Park. It is included in the zones of recreation and tourism.