The Lakes lie on the left bank of the Ubagan river valley 30 km from the point where it joins the Tobol river. Administratively they are in the Mendykary district of Kostanai Region, 35 km to the north–east of the district centre Borovskoe and 105 km to the north-east of the regional centre Kostanai.
Teniz (or Tenghiz) and Karakamys (Sarykamysh) are freshwater lakes with an unstable hydrological regime and varing area - up to 129.3 km2 in years of extensive flooding. At this time, the lakes extend up to 22.8 km in length and 10.1 km in width. The average depth is 1.2 m, the maximum 2.8 m. The lakes are subject to periodic natural fluctuations with periods of drying out and reflooding - between 1931-1933 the lakes were reported to have been reduced to negligible puddles. When water levels are high, the low-lying parts of the flood valley become waterlogged and transform into marshes and flooded meadows. The lakes are surrounded by profuse dense reed growth together with Scirpus sp. and Typha sp.
Teniz lake is located in a distinct, elongated hollow with fairly tall, steep slopes on the eastern side and smooth slopes on the western banks. The western and southern shoreline is varied, and the entire lake is surrounded by reedbeds from 30 to 100 m in width. The open water of the central part of the lake is free from vegetation and, when windy subject to a considerable swell.
On the west side Teniz Lake is flanked by a variety of meadows giving way, close to the shore, to boggy sedge-covered (Carex omskiana) areas. Where there are alkali soil patches the low dense reedbeds are often accompanied by Saussurea salsa. The majority of the drier land is taken up by Feather-grass-Fescue steppe (Stipa capillata, Festuca valesiaca Stipa zalesskii, Seseli ledebourii,) with scattered patches of Spiraea hypericifolia.
The marshy banks of Karakamys Lake are covered with a mixture of Carex acuta, C. disticha, C. acutiformis and Scolochloeae festucacea. On the south-western parts of the shore the steppe flora also support halophytic species including Artemisia nitrosa. Along the northern shore there are occasional stands of Salix viminalis and S. cinerea, and 1 km further inland, scattered small birch groves. The land to the south of the lakes support a variety of flood-meadows, marshes and seasonal lakes during the times of spring flooding and in wet years.
Much of the land on the eastern side of the lake has been reclaimed for crop production and this extends close to the shore.
The Teniz-Karakamys lakes support 57 nesting species of waterbird. A preliminary field appraisal at the site in June 2000, recorded a total of 12-15,000 breeding waterfowl and shorebirds, with Karakamys being especially important. In years of high water, the available breeding habitat can double in extent. In June 2004, at the southern, shallow end of Lake Teniz, 27,000 waterbirds were counted. Ducks constitute 36.6% of the breeding waterbird community with very high numbers of Aythya ferina, Anas querquedula, Anas clypeata, Anas platyrhynchos and Anas strepera. At Teniz Lake Anser anser constitutes 14.4% of the nesting birds. Also common, though less numerous, is Cygnus olor. Gulls and terns constiture 22.5%: on Teniz Lake there is a large mixed colony of Larus ridibundus, L. minutus, Chlidonias leucoptera and Ch. niger. The most numerous breeding wader is Vanellus vanellus; other species are: Tringa totanus, T. stagnatilis, Limosa limosa, Numenius arquata, Himantopus himantopus and, possibly, Recurvirostra avosetta.
60 waterbird species occur on passage, mostly ducks and swans. As the lakes are situated to the west of the main goose flyway that follows the Ubagan-Ishym lakes only occasional, small flocks reach Teniz-Karakamys. By contrast waders Calidris minuta, Calidris alpina and Philomachus pugnax always occur in large numbers. Spring passage is brief but autumn migration extends from the end of August until the end of October.
The lakes support 14 species included in the Red Data Book of Kazakhstan. It holds the most northerly colonies of Pelicans in Kazakhstan, estblished in 1995. In 1998 there were 130-160 pairs of Pelcanus onocrotalus and 40 pairs of Pelecanus crispus. Other important breeding species are Grus grus and Larus ichthyaetus. Breeding by Oxyura leucocephala, Cygnus cygnus and Aythya nyroca is suspected. Grus virgo, Tetrax tetrax, Haliaeetus albicilla and Aquila heliaca breed in the surrounding area. On passage Branta ruficollis and Aquila clanga are regular, and Pandion haliaetus occasional.
Non-bird biodiversity: The bulk of the local ichthyofauna is represented by 3 species: Carassius carassius, Carassius auratus and Phoxinus percnurus. The commonest amphibians are: Pelobates fuscus, Rana arvalis and Rana temporaria; the reptilian fauna is represented by Lacerta agilis, Natrix natrix, Vipera berus and Lacerta vivipara.
The mammal fauna consists of 39 species. In years of high water levels there is an obvious increase in the numbers of Arvicola terrestris and Ondatra zibethica. Other common rodents are: Apodemus sylvaticus, Micromys minutus, Microtus oeconomus, Apodemus agrarius, Clethrionomys rutilus, Sicista betulinaand, Spermophillus major, Sp. erythrogenus, Microtus arvalis, Lagurus lagurus, Cricetus cricetus, Phodopus sungorus, Ellobius talpinus and, in saline areas, Аllactaga major. Common insectivores are: Erinaceus europaeus, Sorex araneus, S. minutus, Crocidura suoveolens; infrequently Erinaceus auritus, and, possibly, Neomys fodiens. Ungulates are represented by Capreolus pygargus, with a small resident population, and visiting individuals of Alces alces. Lepus europaeus is ubiquitous, while Lepus timidus is restricted to wooded areas. Mustelids are represented by Mustela nivalis, Mustela erminea, Mustela eversmanni, Meles meles, Mustela sibirica and Martes martes, and larger predators consist of Canis lupus, Vulpes vulpes, Vulpes corsac and Nyctereutes procyonoides.
In the Teniz-Ubagan watershed there are a few plots of relict steppe landscape with an assortment of rich-herbage-motley-turf-grass associations consisting mostly of Stipa zalesskii, Festuca valesiaca, Phleum phleoides, Filipendula stepposa, Veronica spuria and Onobrychis sibirica.
Habitat and land use
Despite a significant exodus of the labour force, at the time of the disruption of the former system of economic relationships in the region, the area remains quite heavily populated. In 1999, 4,866 people resided within a 30 km radius of the lakes, including 160 residents of Talapker settlement situated on the north-eastern shore of Teniz Lake. Before the impact of the economic crises of the mid 1990s there were large scale pastures and hay fields around the lakes but then cattle numbers crashed but are now gradually increasing again. Local crop production is also showing signs of recovery, with former abandoned land in the Teniz-Ubagan watershed now being cultivated.
At the regional level, Lake Teniz is regarded as a valuable asset of the fishing trade, though the performance of the fisheries is dependent on the particular phase of the water regime. In recent years catches appear to have been stable. At the appropriate time of year, the lakes are used by local and visiting hunters.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Formerly, the lakes were subject to steady pollution by pesticides and fertilizers trickling into the system from the neighbouring fields, and from discharges from cattle-raising facilities. However, after the aforementioned economic crises, these hazards were temporarily suspended and the ecosystem is currently recovering. However, it is likely that these problems will return, together with overgrazing, as cattle numbers increase. Fishing causes very significant disturbance to breeding birds, especially the use of motorboats. Many waterbirds also drown in fishing nets. In autumn there is hunting of game birds and, less regularly, musk-rat trapping. Deliberate or accidental reed and steppe fires are also a problem for nesting and roosting birds.
Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
In 2000, specialists from Naurzum Reserve, in collaboration with experts from the Botanic Institute worked on a WWF Project, directed at the development of the Network of Protected Important Wetland Territories of Kostanai Region, studying the species’ composition and numbers of nesting or moulting birds and the general condition of the lake habitats and vegetation. In 1996-2004 and 2007 there were observations conducted by teams from the Institute of Zoology, Naurzum Reserve and a group of Finnish specialists.
Following the proposal of the WWF Project working group, on the order of Kostanai Regional Committee of Forestry and Hunting of the Ministry of Agriculture (# 12 of 14.03.2001) the Teniz-Karakamys lake system has been included into the list of important wetland territories of the Region. In 2006 the System was proposed for inclusion on the national list of potential Ramsar sites. Furthermore, within the Regional GEF/UNEP/WWF Project “Econet – Central Asia”, a national group of experts has prepared and submitted to the State Committee of Forestry and Hunting of the Ministry of Agriculture the Scheme of Ecological Network of Kazakhstan Republic. The Scheme’s clauses contain a recommendation of declaring Karakamys Lake as a State Preserve.
At present the site is unprotected. Nevertheless, it has been included in the list of Objects of State Nature Heritage (national government decree №416 of 03.05.2005), and in the roster of waterbodies of the National Nature Preservation Fund (decree №932 of 28.09.2006).