The site consists of a group of waterbodies 80 km to the south-west of Astana and just to the east of Korgalzhyn village, 15 km to the south of the motorway connecting these two points.
The lakes form part of the eastern periphery part of the Tengiz lake system and consist of Zhanybekshalkar, Uhyalyshalkar, Zhylandyhalkar and Shiyshalkar Lakes, arranged in a line stretching 25 km, along the course of the Nura river not far from the point where it enters Tengiz lake. Although the edges of the wetland complex were long ago damaged by ploughing, the relative abundance of swampy areas and patches of waterlogged saline land, especially in the environs of Shiyshalkar, hampers further encroachment and the land around the shores of the lakes are still largely intact. Away from the lakes there are numerous cultivated fields, predominantly wheat, though some are abandoned. Rarely the surrounding plain retains sparse dry steppe and semi-desert vegetation. The shores and shallows of the lakes sustain an exuberant growth of reed.
Autumn counts in 2004 recorded 23 species of waterbird. The commonest species were Fulica atra and Anser albifrons (65.7%). Congregations of Podiceps cristatus and Phalacrocorax carbo were found on the fish-rich waters of Zhanybekshalkar lake, known to be the site of a small-scale fishing industry. The majority of the local Casmrodius albus population was concentrated in the large reedbeds of Shiyshalkar lake. The most impressive record was more than 600 Cygnus cygnus. In 2005 the lakes were visited twice by ornithologists (01.07 and 07.09.05). At these times, 7,800 individuals of 40 species of waterbird were counted, and the most numerous species was Aythya ferina (about 2,500 birds), followed by Fulica atra (1,400) and a combined flock of Anas platyrhynchos and A. clypeata (1,200 birds). The satisfactory state of the local fish populations was indicated in 2005 by the presence on the lakes of 240 Pelecanus crispus.
Non-bird biodiversity: The typical dry steppe faunal communities are supplemented in the areas of the shoreline depressions and marshes by wetland complexes. The natural vegetation complexes have been preserved on a small portion of the lakes’ environs: Stipa, Festuca and Artemisia are the main species. Groups of Karagana and Spirea sp are not uncommon.
Habitat and land use
Despite a rather moderate density of human population concentrated, mostly, in two settlements positioned near the centre of the site (Yhyaly and Sadyrbai), the degree of rural economic activities is significant. Many areas adjacent to the lakes and on the periphery of the IBA are used for crops; those areas rejected for cultivation (about 20% of the site) are used, at moderate intensity, for grazing. The hay-mowing occurs in the depressions and floodplains. The fish resources of Zhanybekshalkar lake provide for the stable functioning of a small-scale fishing industry. Other lakes are assigned to various hunting societies and on their shores there has been erected an array of recreational facilities and hunting is practiced intensively, often with blatant infringements of the rules.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The site’s ecosystems are subject to the hazards common to all steppe lake systems positioned in a more or less agriculturally developed landscape: fires, pollution by agro-industrial chemical effluents, and overgrazing mostly due to the restricted quantity of available grazing. In 2005 ploughing was resumed in many areas directly abutting the shores of Zhylandyshalkar lake, and fishing pressure on Shiyshalkar lake was increased by 2 additional teams of fishermen. The implication of such developments seems to be very unfavourable for the welfare of the local ecosystems.