The Uly Balkan mountain massif is located in the west of Turkmenistan and the IBA covers the Uly Balkan ridge. The northern border follows the largely inaccessible steep ridge between the Daanata and Balguyi wells, continues to the top of Arlan mountain, goes down a ridge on the southwest to the top of the Shakuli ridge (in the neighborhood of Djebel). The western border runs from the foot of Shakuli mountain to the top of Garaburun mountain (in the neighborhood of Balkanabat). The southern border follows the tops of the Garaburun and Inergyzyl ridges to the steepest eastern part of the ridge. The eastern border runs northeast along the bottom of the ridge as far as Danaata well. Uly Balkan is composed of limestones and sandstones. The northern slopes are steep, the southern cut by gorges and numerous courses of dry streams (up to 40-50 m deep). The plateau-like hilly surface of the ridge is broken by gorges which run in all directions. The highest mountain peaks are Arlan (1,883 m) and Chilgezat (1,408 m). The soils of the slopes and valleys are typical (300-700m) and less dark (800-1,800 m) sandy-loams (sierozems). The desert areas (below 800m), semi-desert and mountain-steppe landscapes are dominated by mountainous xerophytes and very rare open juniper forest.
The site has an exceptionally dry and extreme continental climate. The average annual temperature in the neighborhood of Djebel is +16C (maximum in August +31C, minimum in December +4C) In the mountains at 1,600 m in the beginning of summer temperatures range from +35C in the afternoon to +5C at night. The annual temperature variation is 27C. The average annual rainfall at the bottom of the ridge is no more than 143 mm, at the top 300-400 mm. In the winter there is a significant amount of snow which lasts for 3-4 months.
The princple water source is atmospheric precipitation, the majority (c76%) falling during the winter-spring season. The hydrographic network is very poor nand consists mainly of temporary streams, small springs (Arlan, Daderday, Unbelmez, Berkcheshme, etc.) and outflows of underground waters at tectonic breaks. There are many caves with depths up to several tens of metres. In the foothills there is a system of karst wells (Danaata, Balguyi, Gashaguyi, etc.).
There are no permanaent settlements in the IBA, though there are facilities used by farmers associations and the forestry company Gek Gushak. Cultivated landscapes are virually undeveloped.
129 species have been recorded in the IBA: residents - 23, nesting - 69, wintering - 17, passage – 105 and non-breeding – 3 species. The largest group is Passeriformes. Typical Falconiformes are Aquila chrysaetos, Gypaetus barbatus and Aegypius monachus, all with stable populations. Bubo bubo is also typical and there is one recent (and first) record of Falco peregrinus. Falco cherrug and Falco naumanni have not been recorded recently and may now be absent from the site. There are passage records of Aquila heliaca (12.06.1948 and 11.09.1995) but there were no observations during IBA fieldwork from 11-26.05.2007.
Non-bird biodiversity: The fauna of Uly Balkan and Kopet Dagh have the same origin. Amphibians - 1 species, reptiles - 19 species and mammals - 35 species. Insectivores - 3, Predators - 13, Artiodactyla - 2 , Lagomorpha - 1, Rodenta - 14 and Chiroptera - 1. Red Data Book of Turkmenistan (1999) species: Hyaena hyaena, Panthera pardus, Felis manul, Carpa aegagrus, Ovis vignei, Hystrix indica and Jaculus blanfordi.
The flora of the IBA contains 475 species from 67 families. Ten families represent 62.5% of the species composition. In the low-mountain and the bottom part of the middle mountains Artemisia-Salsola desert communities are dominant, with black saxaul (Haloxylon aphyllum). Juniper-steppe communities are observed from 600-800 m. Typical stipa steppe (Stipa holosericea, S. capillata, S. sareptana, S. arabica, S. lessingiana, etc.) is found from 1,400-1,800 m. Juniperus turcomanica occurs throughout. Ten species of plants are listed in the Red Data Book of Turkmenistan (1999) including Anogramma leptophylla, Cheilanthes pteridioides, Juniperus turcomanica, Cleome turkmena, Reseda dshebeli and Malacocarpus critmifolius.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The main threat leading to a loss of habitats for birds is the over-consumption of natural resources (poaching, extensive livestock grazing, cutting of trees and bushes, fires, hay preparation, collection medicinal of plants etc). Uncontrolled hunting of Alectoris chukar and Ammoperdix griseogularis negatively influences the number of golden eagles. Hunting of Ovis vignei threatens the disappearance of Gypaetus barbatus and Aegypius monachus and is becoming one of the principal causes of a reduction in numbers of leopard.
The uneven distribution of water sources and the large number of domestic animals have led to desertification around wintering sites, watering places and springs.
Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
The first proposal to protect the nature of the unique Uly Balkan hills was by G.S.Karelin after the first complex expedition to the area in 1836. Subsequent expeditions, organized by the zoologist M.K.Laptev in the 1920-1930s, confirmed the necessity of maintaining protection of the local populations of Ovis vignei and Carpa aegagrus. Extensive research of the fauna of Uly Balkan by G.S.Shukurov from 1940-1949, allowed him to propose, once again, immediate creation of "an island among the desert" protection area. Today the nature protection problem of Uly Balkan is included in the Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan for Turkmenistan (2002) and reflected in the National Action Plan on Environment Protection of the President of Turkmenistan Saparmyrat Turkmenbashy (2002). The scientific and technical justification for the creation of Balkan Reserve has been prepared, however in the absence of a schematic map and management plan for the prospective reserve, this has not yet been implemented.
Habitat and land use
The list of habitats is typical for the arid region of Central Asia with steppe, deserts and saltmarshes (solonchaks).
Agricultural use is dominated by livestock (sheep, camel).
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Uly Balkan. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 31/03/2023.