The area is a medium-sized massif of hilly ranges in the southern part of the Kazakh uplands. The ranges are rough with numerous granite intrusions. The floor of every valley or gulley is filled with woody or shrubby growth. The densest stands of forest are found in the moist bottoms of gorges and along the river valleys at the foot of the hills. The main tree species is aspen. Birch, willow and bird cherry are common in the northern half of the site; the southern parts are conspicuous for their homogeneous aspen forests. The exposed upland plains support both semi-desert and dry steppe floral associations. Petrophyte steppe complexes are restricted to the granite-dominated terrain. The inter-range depressions often contain heavily waterlogged plots of land.
The Ortau uplands are one of the most important Kazakh breeding areas of Falco cherrug, with a regular and relatively stable population. Additionally, there are substantial breeding numbers of Aquila chrysaetos, Circaetus gallicus and Ciconia nigra. There are also important, though localised, populations of Hieraaetus pennatus and Lyrurus tetrix. Other numerous species are Falco tinnunculus, Accipiter nisus and Asio otus. Tadorna ferruginea breeds along the rocky banks of the river valleys, and almost every granite outcrops holds breeding Falco naumanni. Harriers, especially Circus macrourus, nest semi-colonially throughout the scattered scrub of the mountain slopes and along the watercourses.
Non-bird biodiversity: Ovis ammon is regularly seen in good numbers in all upland areas.
Habitat and land use
There is planning to divide the management of the area between 4 hunting facilities: Kihik-Kyzyltauskoye, Shunakskoye, Kyzyltauskoye and Ortauskoye.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The major threat is uncontrolled fire that can affect large areas of forest. Such fires are also damaging the steppe on the slopes and even the patches of elfin-woodland, consisting of prostrate forms of Junipers, growing on the granite intrusions. Over the last 20 years fires have reduced the forests of the area to about 10% of their former extent. About 65% of the present-day forests are represented by dead standing aspen groves scorched by previous fires. These deadwood stands are continuing to be decimated by wind and logging. Several of the key prey species of breeding raptors - rabbits, hares and black grouse - are also being affected by these fires, as are harrier nests. Trapping of Saker has also been recorded.