The site consists of the group of waterbodies situated 90 km south-west of Astana and 20 km to the north of the Nura river, lying in the 5 km-wide strip of land next to the road connecting Korgalzhyn with Astana.
The lake group represents the eastern periphery of the Tengiz lake system. The waterbodies are arranged in two distinct clusters running east-north-east from Maly (Small) Tengiz lake for a distance of 30 km. The system consists of 6 major lakes, Zhumai, Baibota, Temirastau and Maishukyr, and the larger Saumalkol (7 x 1.8 km) and Kumkol (3.8 x 1.7 km). Though the edges of the wetland complex were ploughed long ago, the relative abundance of swampy areas and patches of waterlogged saline land limit further agricultural development. However, the land nearest the shore is being impacted by cattle- and poultry-rearing activities. Further inland of the shores, there are cultivated fields (mostly wheat), and some recently abandoned fields. A few fragments of steppe and semi-desert vegetation survive on the surrounding plain. The shores and shallows of the lakes support an exuberant growth of reed.
Autumn counts in 2004 recorded 23,000 waterbirds of 32 species. The commonest species was Anser albifrons (26.3%), counted as the geese returned to the lakes after foraging on the adjacent fields. Other common species were Fulica atra (16.3%) and Anas clypeata (3.6%). Of particular note was the significant number of Oxyura leucocephala (2.4 %) which was present in more than a half of the areas inspected. In 2005 the site was counted on three occasions: 29.06, 02.09 and 17.09.2005. 42,500 birds of 46 species of waterbird were counted. Although precise data on species composition and numbers at the site in spring is lacking, reports suggest that significant numbers of migrants also occur on spring passage. For example, in May the site is known to hold flocks of Phalaropus lobatus numbering tens of thousands of birds that are prone to linger for weeks. Significant numbers of other northern waders occur at the same time. Also in some years in early May, groups of feeding Phoenicopterus roseus can be found on the temporary areas of flooding. Within the lake system, one area that is of particular importance is the small seasonal lake situated at the outskirts of Maishukur. A small island in the middle of this lake, prone to drying up, is a regular nesting site for gulls including Larus ichthyaetus, L. cachinnans, L. genei, L. minutus and others. The importance of the lake system in general for autumn migrants is demonstrated by counts from autumn 2005. The most numerous species were Fulica atra (16,700) and Aythya ferina (16,500). Dabbling ducks were also common, the commonest being Anas platyrhynchos (about 2,000). Two key species were Oxyura leucocephala (1,500; with 2,270 birds on 01.08 05) and Cygnus cygnus (more than 500, including 3 broods).
Non-bird biodiversity: Typical dry steppe faunal communities are common in the surrounding areas, with wetland species around the lakes. The natural vegetation complexes have been preserved on a small portion of lakes’ environs, with Stipa, Festuca and Artemisia being the main species. Groups of Karagana and Spirea sp are not uncommon.
Habitat and land use
There is a moderate human population density overall, apart from around Maishukyr (central part of the site) and Zhanteke (eastern part) where rural economic activities are significant. Many adjacent areas and land at the periphery of the IBA are used for crops; with land unsuitable for cultivation (about 30% of the site) being used for high intensity grazing. There is also small-scale poultry-rearing around some of the settlements. Hay-making occurs in depressions and on the floodplain. The fish resources of some lakes support stable, small-scale, fisheries. There is seasonal hunting around the lakes, often with infringements of the rules or poaching.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The site’s ecosystems are subject to the set of hazards common to all steppe lake systems positioned in more or less agriculturally developed areas: fires, pollution by agro-industrial chemical effluents, overgrazing etc. Domestic chicken-rearing on the periphery of some waterbodies may cause additional disturbance and pollution.
The compilers express their sincere appreciation of the timely provision of expertly executed supplementary records on Zhumai lake by Scherbakov B.V, an employee of Ust-Kamenogorsk Regional Ethnography Museum and a professional ornithologist.