Zarafshan State Nature Reserve

Site description (2008 baseline):

Site location and context
The Zarafshan State Nature Reserve is situated in the south-eastern part of Samarkand region. Its extends from the Chapan-Ata mountain upstream along the right bank of the Zarafshan river to the Pervomayskaya dam. The nature reserve consists of two separate parts, the distance between them being 300 m. The width of each part is 100-140m and the average length is 47 km. The site is located 4 km from the Djambay railway station, 3 km from the most major road in Uzbekistan running from Tashkent to Termez, and 15 km from Samarkand. The nature reserve is located in the eastern part of the Zarafshanskaya depression (the middle part of the Zarafshan river basin) and belongs to the Zarafshan climate area of the subtropical belt. The climate is typical of the continental subtropics with large variations in daily and annual air temperatures and a pronounced periodicity in atmospheric precipitation. The site consists of a plain sloping to the riverbed. The plain is crossed by a mixture of old and active riverbeds, levees and dams. The most widespread soils are alluvial- flood lands and inundated-alluvial. The hydrological network of the nature reserve is formed by the Zarafshan river and its channels. There is a irrigation canal on the right bank in the protected zone. Water levels in the Zarafshan are highest in summer (June-July) and lowest in winter (January-February). During floods excess water from the right bank channel drains though canals into the river. At this time approximately 30% of the nature reserve is flooded. When water levels are low, about 70% of the site has very little water. Soils on all of the area are well drained, and only in a few small depressions is there underground water and swamps. Tugai forest vegetation is well developed. The richest and most vegetated area is located in the north-western part of the nature reserve where underground waters are not more than 2 m below the surface. In spite of its small size, the landscape of the nature reserve is very varied. 868 ha of the lower area are covered with tugai forest. There are widespread tree-shrub biotopes, meadows and marshy-meadows, and wetland habitats are represented by brooks, old canals and fire-prevention ponds, overgrown by hygrophilous vegetation, scattered throughout the forest zone. The Zarafhan river, cliffs on the left bank, pebble beaches and arid areas are also of interest.

Key biodiversity
The avifauna includes 218 species (Marmazinskaya, Fundukchiev, 2004). 14 of them are residents, 51 breeding, 57 wintering and 96 migrants. Residents: Phasianus colchicus zerafschanicus, Columba livia, Streptopelia decaocto, Alcedo atthis, Dendrocopos leucopterus, Galerida cristata, Acridotheres tristis, Pica pica and Parus bokharensis. Nesting: Tachybaptus ruficollis, Nycticorax nycticorax, Accipiter badius, Falco tinnunculus, Gallinula chloropus, Columba palumbus, Streptopelia turtur, Athene noctua, Asio otus, Otus scops, Otus brucei, Caprimulgus europaeus, Merops apiaster, Coracias garullus, Upupa epops, Hirundo rustica, Oriolus oriolus, Turdus merula, Luscinia megarhynchos and Remiz pendulinus. Migrants: Phalacrocorax carbo, Ph. pygmaeus, Ciconia nigra, Anser anser, Tadorna ferruginea, Anas querquedula, Anas clypeata, Netta rufina, Aythya fuligula, Mergellus albellus, Pandion haliaetus, Pernis apivorus, Milvus migrans, Circus macrourus, Circus pygargus, Сircaetus gallicus, Aquila heliaca, Haliaeetus albicilla, Falco peregrinus, Coturnix coturnix, Grus grus, Grus virgo, Burhinus oedicnemus, Himantopus himantopus, Sterna caspia, Sterna albifrons, Motacilla citreola, Motacilla cinerea, Motacilla alba, Motacilla personata, Phoenicurus phoenicurus, Saxicola torquata, Muscicapa striata, Carpodacus erythrinus and others. Wintering: Tachybaptus ruficollis, Egretta alba, Ardea cinerea, Anas platyrhynchos, Anas crecca, Circus cyaneus, Circus aeruginosus, Accipiter gentilis, Accipiter nisus, Buteo lagopus, Buteo buteo, Fulica atra, Gallinago gallinago, Tringa ochropus, Scolopax rusticola, Asio otus, Corvus cornix, Troglodytes troglodytes, Erithacus rubecula, Phoenicurus erythronotus, Parus rufonuchalis, Parus flavipectus, Turdus atrogularis, Turdus merula, Fringilla coelebs, Fringilla montifringilla, Emberiza citronella and others. Vagrant: Neophron percnopterus, Aegypius monachus, Gyps fulvus, Bubo bubo, Apus melba, Corvus corax. Scientific reports indicate the presence of Crex crex in the 1980s. 26 species are included in the Red Data Book of Uzbekistan. There are separate records of Ardeola ralloides, Phoenicopterus roseus, Hieraaetus pennatus, Aquila nipalensis and Chlamydotis undulata. The nature reserve and adjoining farmlands are the main habitat of Phasianus colchicus zerafschanicus – a restricted range endemic included in the National Red Data Book. The Zarafshan river is a flyway for many birds of prey, Anseriformes, Gruidae, Columbiiformes, Ciconia nigra and others. The forest part of the nature reserve is a wintering area for Egretta alba and Ardea cinerea, some species of Anseriformes, buzzards and small raptors, Scolopax rusticola, Asio otus, some species of Turdus, and many Passeriformes. Columba palumbus, Asio otus and Otus scops breed in the floodplain forest. Two colonies of Nycticorax nycticorax, located in the tugai forests along the Zerafshan, are protected by the nature reserve. Therefore the Zarafshan nature reserve plays a large role in the conservation of regional biodiversity and the last of the Zarafshan river valley tugai forest complex. Acridotheres tristis – an invasive species – is common in the nature reserve and is thought to be threatening the survival of native species.

Non-bird biodiversity: Zarafshan nature reserve is the only place in the Zarafshan river valley where tugai forest has been preserved. In spite of its small size the nature reserve has a high diversity of biotopes, vegetation and animals. The fauna includes 2 species of Amphibian, 18 species of Fish, 10 species of Reptile and 24 species of Mammal. Agrionemys horsfieldi (RL) can be found here. Lutra lutra seistanica (RDBUz) was recorded in thickets of dense tugai vegetation along the irrgation canal. Two groups of 10 Cervus elaphus (RDBUz, RL) were reintroduced into the tugai forest in August 2005 and October 2007, as part of the Bokhara Deer conservation progamme. The vegetation includes a special complex, peculiar to this region, formed in the tugai. The flora includes about 300 species and is very varied because of the very heterogeneous soils. There is tree tugai, shrub tugai, grassy tugai, floodlands, land above the flood plain and desert habitats. Salix songarica, S. wilhelmsiana, Hippophae rhamnoides, Elaeagnus angustifolia and Tamarix sp prevail among trees. Populus prunosa, Populus diversifolia and Crataegus turkestanica are more rare. Because of the site's proximity to mountain ranges about 100 ha of Hippophae rhamnoides thickets is preserved here - a habitat which is not found in such amount in other tugai forests. When forestry was carried out on the area now covered by the nature reserve, several species were introduced and these are now well established. These species are Platanus orientalis, Ailanthus sp., Gleditschia sp., Morus nigra, Morus alba, Populus alba, Juglans regia, Cydonia oblonga, Malus domestica, Armeniaca vulgaris, Cerasus mahaleb, Robinia pseudacacia, Vitis vinifera and Fraxinus sp. Crocus korolkovii (RDBUz) and Colchicum kesselringii (RDBUz) are included in the National Red Data Book.

Habitat and land use
There is mature tugai with large amounts of dead and dying trees, and secondary tugai with an understorey of willow, Populus diversifolia and Elaeagnus angustifolia formed on fire sites following fires in 1994-2000. The tree-shrub biotopes are the nesting places of Phasianus zerafshanicus, Columba palumbus, Streptopelia turtur, Otus scops, Asio otus, Dendrocopus leucopterus, Luscinia megarhynchos and many others Passerines. Sparse Tamarix-Salix associations with wormwood dominating the lower layer is typical for drought-prone areas with little underground water. In these areas large numbers of Upupa epops, Coracias garrulus and Merops apiaster are recorded. The last two species breed in cliffs on the left bank and use the areas for feeding. There are 73 ha of abandoned orchards and vineyards gradually being recolonised with natural tugai vegetation. 15 ha of plantations of Robinia pseudacacia, Platanus orientalis, Juglans regia, Fraxinus lanceolata, Gleditsia triacanthos and Populus alba are located among the tugay vegetation. Dendrocopus leucopterus, Parus bokharensis and others species visit these biotopes. Meadows, mainly grass, associations develop in areas prone to flooding. These meadows can be found as glades among oleaster thickets and as separate large areas. Watering places are distributed evenly throughout the forest zone and provide habitat for hydrophilous animals. Marshy meadows, old canals, fire-prevention ponds, overgrown with reed, cattail, sedge, horse-tail and algae, and with an abundance of insects, small fish and frogs are the habitats of Ixobrychus minutus, Rallus aquaticus, Gallinula chloropus and Alcedo atthis. During floods large semi-permanent pools appear which are often used by waders. These pools, together with other water biotopes, are the watering places of pheasants and small raptors. These wetland habitats have a mosaic or ribbon-like distribution on the nature reserve. The Zarafshan river has 2 branches, joined during floods. There are many creeks and former riverbeds which attract Nycticorax nycticorax, Egretta alba, Ardea cinerea, Tringa ochropus, Actitis hypoleucos and ducks (Anas platyrhynchos, Anas crecca, Anas clypeata) for feeding and resting. Islands in the river are covered with Calamagrostis sp., Erianthus sp., young growth of willow, oleaster and sea-buckthorn. These support large numbers of small Passerines and Phasianus colchicus zeravshnicus is frequent. Burhinus oedicnemus has been recorded on sandy spits, Hirundo rustica is common above the river in spring-summer, and Apus melba sometimes appears. Tall willow trees are used by large flocks of Streptopelia turtur and birds of prey (Buteoninae, Circus cyaneus and Circus macrourus, Accipiter nisus, Falco peregrinus) for resting during migration and in winter. Lands not covered with forest consist of wide pebbly river banks, pebbly islands and semi-desert areas. Pebbly and arid areas are used for resting by many migrating birds. Haliaeetus albicilla, Ciconia ciconia, Ciconia nigra, Pterocles orientalis, Burhinus oedicnemus, Chlamydotis undulata and some species of Oenanthe have been recorded here. Sterna hirundo, Charadrius dubius and Larus ridibundus use the pebbly islands in spring and summer. There are loess cliffs on the left bank of the Zarafshan river which are used by breeding Merops apiaster, Coracias garrulus, Columba livia, Apus apus, Corvus monedula, Acridotheres tristis and Hirundo daurica.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Because of its small size and location in a densely populated area, the Zarafshanskiy nature reserve is under strong anthropogenic pressure. Regulation of the flow of the Zarafshan river causes some waterbodies to dry out. Such areas lose their biodiversity very quickly. Dogs, attending cattle, hunt for rodents, hares and pheasants, and destroy their nests. They are also carriers of disease and can compete with predators inhabiting the nature reserve. Herders also cause additional disturbance. Storage of vegetation, brushwood collection, tree felling, collection of Erianthus sp. and reed by local people leads to the destruction of biotopes. Collecting fruits of sea-buckthorn, rosehip, haw, oleaster, wild plum, walnut and apple takes place in summer-autumn and reduces the amount of food available to birds and other wild animals. Extraction of sand and pebbles from the riverbed of the Zarafshan river in the protective zone of the nature reserve leads to pollution of the air by exhaust fumes and pollution of the water by diesel. Vehicles exporting the sand and pebbles often return with garbage which is dumped on the banks and in the river. Fires happen from time to time because people enter the site illegally and allow fires to get out of control. During fires vegetation, pheasants and their eggs and other wildlife of the tugai perish. Poaching of pheasants and waterfowl in the nature reserve and its protection zone is recorded. Destruction of tree-shrub vegetation and others infringements of the nature reserve's regime lead to a series of negative impacts on the site such as dramatic changes in and pollution of biotopes and a decrease in biodiversity. The climate is also becoming more arid.

Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
More than 30 student degree projects have been carried out in the nature reserve. The "Chronicle of nature" is compiled annually. The "Supporting of conservation of Cervus elaphus in natural habitats" programme has been ongoing since 1996 with financing from the French National Center of Scientific Researches (CNRS), INTAS, McArthur Foundation, LHF (large herbivores of Eurasia) and WWF. Under the current programme open-air caged group of Bokhara Deer have been established, and 10 individuals were reintroducted into the tugai forest in August 2005 and October 2007 with the purpose of creating a population of these animals in the Zarafshan nature reserve.

Protected areas
The IBA covers the Zeravshan Nature Reserve.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Zarafshan State Nature Reserve. Downloaded from on 28/09/2023.