The lakes are located in Tohunsor Hollow at the base of the western slope of the Sypsynagash Depression. The area belongs to the Kamysty district of Kostanai Region. The nearest populated point, Urkash, is situated close to the northern boundary of the site; other major points of reference are the district centre, Kamysty, and regional centre Kostanai, situated further north at 80 and 223 km respectively. A section of the Bestau-Urkash-Denisovka (Ordzhenikidze) motorway crosses the site.
The IBA consists of a system of shallow closed waterbodies varying in mineralization from fresh through brackish to salty. The lakes’ hydrological regime is subject to a natural perennial cycle. Many lakes have substantial amounts of fringe vegetation. A moderately rolling plain surrounds the lake complex with a steppe landscape represented by various combinations of Artemisia-Stipa-Festuca herbage-grass complexes. There are also typical alkaline soil complexes scattered across the site. In years when water levels are high, large numbers of waterbirds nest and congregate on migration.
The lakes of the Tohunsor State Nature Preserve constitute the largest lake system within the Sypsynagash Depression. It includes Teniz (544 ha), Shukyrkol (237 ha), Alakol (1,076 ha), Kaiyndysor (561 ha), Uzynsor (357 ha) and Kuyssor (542 ha) lakes, plus the extensive Kindikty marsh and an assortment of smaller lakes and marshes. The northern slopes of the western part of the Sypsynagash Depression are drained by a system of short seasonal streams, the majority of which cease to flow in summer. The largest watercourse, the Karasu, flows continuously and discharges into Teniz lake. Two other permanent rivulets, the Ashchikarasu and Kindikty, feed the Kindikty marsh. The total catchment covers 600 km2. One of the largest waterbodies in the system is Teniz lake which is set in a steep sloping hollow with cliifs up to 12 m high. The maximum depth is 3.5 m. 30 species of alga have been discovered in water samples. The average width of the fringing vegetation is 20 m and consists mostly of Alisma plantago-aquatica, Polygonum viviparum and Scirpus lacustris. A few wet meadow-like spots have Carex melanostachya. The dominant humid area species is Calamagrostis epigios. On the margins of some scattered cliffs Rosa cinnamommea and Spiraea hypericifolia are present. Steppe vegetation dominates the watershed with Stipa pennata, St. capillata, Agropyron fragile, Artemisia marschalliana and Centaurea scabiosa being the main species. Patches of Nitraria shoberi and Tamarix sp can be found along the shore. In wet years, the lowland area of Kindikty is transformed into a vast marsh sustained by salty waters from the Ashchikarasu river. The edge of Kindikty is occupied by clumps of Tamarix bushes interspersed with Artemisia nitrosa and Puccinellia hauptiana associations.
The highly saline flat hollows of Uzynsor and Kuyssor are devoid of all tall emergent vegetation; instead their banks are overgrown by Salsola complexes giving way in drier areas to Atriplex-Artemisia associations. The salty waters of Kaiyndysor lake lie in a deep hollow (up to 20 m deep) with steep banks and a thin belt of reed along the shoreline. Further inland is meadow vegetation consisting mainly of patches of Elytrigia repens, Leymus angustrus and Puccinellia hauptiana, with Plantago salsa, Artemisia nitrosa, A. schrenkiana and Saussurae salsa. On the northern slope of the hollow, beside groundwater seepages, there is a scattering of small groves of birch. The steppe herbage-grass complexes (Festuca valesiaca, Stipa capillata, Artemisia marshalliana) cover the higher parts of the Hollow. During migration the shoals of the salty lakes attract large number of waders. The site contains a series of smaller lakes in hollows that appear to be completely overgrown by reeds. The landscape, on the whole, remains largely unmarred by any anthropogenic transformations, with the exception of the area around Urkash village.
Up to 2007 70 species of waterbird had been recorded, including Podicipediformes – 4, Pelecaniformes – 2, Ciconiformes – 3, Anseriformes – 20, Rallidae – 1, Charadriformes – 27, Laridae – 10 and Gruiformes – 3. Anseriformes are the most numerous. In early June 2000 they represented 66.9% of waterbirds on Teniz lake, with waders and grebes constituting 13 and 12.3% respectively. In the years of high water levels the most plentiful species is Fulica atra. Breeding by Cygnus cygnus, C. olor and Anser anser was confirmed by the frequent observation of broods of these three species. The site supports good breeding populations of at least 9 species of Wwders (Glareola nordmannii, Charadrius dubius, Vanellus vanellus, Haematopus ostralegus, Himantopus himantopus, Recurvirostra avocetta, Numenius arquata, Limosa limosa and Tringa stagnatilis). Boggy areas often hold colonies of gulls and terns including Chlidonias leucoptera, Ch. niger, Gelochelidon nilotica, Sterna hirundo, Larus canus and L. ridibundus. Breeding by Larus minutus and Larus cachinnans is suspected.
A noteworthy feature of the terrestrial avifauna is the high density of breeding populations Melanocorypha yeltoniensis and Melanocorypha leucoptera. Other breeding landbirds include Perdix perdix, Coturnix coturnix, and, to a lesser extent, Grus virgo and Tetrax tetrax. Nesting predators include Circus aeruginosus, C. macourus, C.pygargus and Asio flammeus.
In the 1970s the lakes of Tohunsor Preserve were considered to be one of the most significant stop-over sites for the large numbers of migrating geese, particularly Branta ruficollis. However, between 1980-1990 the migrating geese populations gradually abandoned their attachment to the site and developed the habit of concentrating on the wetland complexes of Kulykol and Batpakkol lakes. Between 2000-2007 the autumn concentrations of geese on Teniz, Shukyrkol and Alakol lakes numbered no more than 2.5-3,000 birds. Nevertheless, the Tohunsor Lakes continue are still important for migrating ducks of which the most numerous are Aythya ferina, A. fuligula, Anas platyrhynchos and Anas crecca. During spring migration the lake system attracts many species of northern waders in flocks of tens of thousands; the largest flocks are of Calidris alpina, Calidris ferruginea, Philomachus pugnax, Phalaropus lobatus, Calidris minuta, Calidris temminckii and Charadrius hiaticula. In late May 2001 flocks of Charadrius alexandrinus, Charadrius asiaticus and Charadrius leschenaultii were observed. Lake Tengiz annually attracts flocks of Pelecanus crispus in varying numbers. Glareola nordmanni is a regular breeding species, though the overall population has not yet been determined. Tetrax tetrax nests in grassy and wormwood-grass plots in the steppe; encounter rates in late May 2001 were 2.2 individuals per 10 km of inspected zone; in July 2006 this was 1.9 birds. Two pairs of Vanellus gregarius were encountered in May 2002 on the north-western boundary of the Preserve, and on July 12 2006, in the vicinity of Urkash village, a flock of 23 birds, including 13 juveniles, was observed.
Fourteen species included in the Red Data Book of Kazakhstan occur. Breeding species are Cygnus cygnus, Grus grus, and probably Oxyura leucocephala and Vanellus gregarius. The steppe has good populations of Grus virgo and Tetra tetrax. Grus grus, Anser erythropus, Branta ruficollis, Aythya nyroca, Oxyura leucocephala and Pelecanus crispus occur on passage. In 2002 there was a pair of Grus leucogeanus. Rare raptors include Haliaeetus albicilla and Aquila heliaca. Circus macrourus and Glareola nordmannii nest near the lakes. Aquila clanga is recorded irregularly.
Non-bird biodiversity: The fish population consists of only 2 species - Carassius carassius and Carassius auratus. Amphibians and reptiles are Bufo viridis, Rana arvalis, Vipera ursini and Lacerta agilis. Emys orbicularis is reported to occur in the Karasu river. Mammals include 25 species of which murine rodents are the most numerous and divers. In open steppe areas and semi-moist depressions there is Spermophilus major, Sicista subtili, Allocricetulus eversmanni, Microtus arvalis and Lagurus lagurus, plus Allactaga major and Spermophilus pygmeus. Within the area of the lakes' Meles meles, Cricetus cricetu, Arvicola terrestrus, Microtus oeconomus, Microtus gregalis and Apodemus sylvaticus are often found, with Ochotona pusila close to low bushes. Very common throughout are Ellobius talpinus, Erinaceus auritus, Lepus europaeus, Mustela nivalis, Mustela erminea, Mustela eversmanni, Vulpes corsac, Vulpes vulpes and Canis lupus. The lakes are occasionally visited by groups of Sus scrofa. A frequent visitor is Capreolus pygargus. Before the middle of the 1980s Saiga tatarica was common.
In the depression beside Kaiyndysor lake there are a few small stands of aspen forest which is very rare in the steppic landscapes of this region.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The principal factor affecting waterbird populations of the complex is the unstable hydrological regime. Though the poaching appears to be well-established, the impact of it is very low. Overgrazing and subsequent deterioration of lush vegetation occurs only in the vicinity of Urkash settlement. A substantial hazard for the integrity and balance of steppic ecosystems is fires ocurring annually and affecting the vegetation over significant areas.
At some moment in the future, a significant threat may be the realisation of current planning to develop the bauxite deposits that underlie the area stretching from Altynsarino to Urkash village. This includes the construction of a railway and associated infrastructure between these two points. Extraction is envisaged to be by strip mining. This would have a very negative effect on the ecosystem of the lakes.
Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
In 1999 and 2001 representatives of a WWF Project working group verified the state of the system’s ecological conditions and cursorily investigated biological aspects of the waterbird populations present in early summer. In June 2004 the site was visited with the aim of sampling wader feather. Since 2005, monitoring of migrating waterfowl in the region is being conducted within the UNEP/GEF Project “Development of Migratory Routes and Wetland Habitats with regard to Conservation of Grus leucogeranus and other Waterbirds in Asia”. There have been no special conservation projects. On the proposal of the working group of the GEF/UNEP/WWF Project “Econet – Central Asia” the Regional Agency of Forestry and Bio-resources Management issued an order (#12 of 14.3.2001) on the inclusion of the site into the List of Especially Important Wetlands of the Region.
The proposed IBA coincides with the Tohunsor(sky) State Nature Preserve (Zakaznik)established in 1984. This has recently (01.01.08) been assigned to the management of Naurzum State Nature Reserve (Zapovednk).
Habitat and land use
The region of the lakes is sparely populated. Moreover, during the period of economic recession in the 1990s a considerable portion of the working population left the area. One km north of Teniz lake there is Urkash village, with a population of 500 people; the other nearest populated point is Zhlshara which has just two families. There is no permanent population in the site. The nearest cultivated land is 10-12 km to the north and north-west of the lakes. Livestock-raising is also greatly reduced at present, and many former pastures and hay-fields are only being used to a small extent. Intensive grazing, with ensuing degradation of floral communities, only occurs within the environs of Urkash village and includes the northern shore of Teniz and the western shore of Shukyrkol lakes. Part of the site's border is formed by the Bestau-Urkash-Adayevka motorway. Traffic intensity is very low at the moment but may increase in the future. There is a very small amount of fishong on Teniz lake and there is some poaching.
BirdLife International (2019) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Tounsor Hollow Lakes. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 20/04/2019.