Lake Bakhtegan, Lake Tashk and Kamjan marshes

Year of compilation: 1994

Site description
The site lies in the eastern Zagros Mountains, 50-160 km east of Shiraz, and includes two very large salt-lakes, Tashk and Bakhtegan, in an internal drainage basin at 1,525 m, the intervening steppic plains and hills (to 2,597 m), and a large area of permanent freshwater marshes and seasonally flooded plains along the lower Kur river to the west (Kamjan Marshes). Lake Tashk is fed by overflow from the Kamjan Marshes at its west end and by a large permanent spring at Gumoon in the north-west. Lake Bakhtegan receives the bulk of its water from the main channel of the Kur which enters at the west. The two lakes are normally separated by narrow strips of land but may be joined during very wet winters to form a single expanse of water covering up to 136,500 ha. After several years of low rainfall, on the other hand, both lakes may dry out completely except in the vicinity of the main springs (e.g. Gumoon Spring at the north-west corner of Lake Tashk and Sahlabad Spring on the south shore of Lake Bakhtegan). Both lakes have an extraordinary range of salinities. In January 1992, the lakes were almost fully flooded, following several years of above-average rainfall. The lakes are oligotrophic and support a submerged vegetation of various algae, Chara, Ruppia and Althenia. Fringing vegetation consists of Tamarix, Suaeda, Cressa and Salicornia, and the area between the lakes comprises sparsely vegetated mountain ranges with some Pistacia woodland and steppic Artemisia plains.

Kamjan Marshes (29°40'N 53°05'E) formerly comprised c.10,000 ha of permanent and seasonal freshwater marshes, mainly reedbeds. Drainage of the wetland for rice farming began in 1967, and much has now been converted to agriculture. However, although the marshes have been extensively modified by the drainage canals, 5,250 ha of wetland remains, including expanses of wet mudflats, Phragmites and other emergent aquatic vegetation along canals, and large areas of rice fields. Furthermore, a large portion of the reclaimed land remains uncultivated because of a shortage of water for irrigation and because of the high salt content of the soils. Some irrigation canals are already silting up, and parts of the drained land are reverting to marsh. In addition, new marshes have developed at the mouths of the three main drainage canals where they enter the western ends of Lake Tashk and Lake Bakhtegan. The marshes are dominated by Carex, Phragmites, Chenopodiaceae and grasses. Livestock are grazed in the marshes and around the lake margins.

Key biodiversity
See box for key species. The hills and plains support a breeding bird fauna typical of the semi-arid eastern Zagros, while Lake Tashk and Lake Bakhtegan regularly hold huge numbers of waterfowl in winter (e.g. 120,000-140,000 surface-feeding ducks and 50,000 Phoenicopterus ruber in January 1992). The large wintering population of P. ruber apparently constitutes the bulk of the Lake Uromiyeh breeding population. Several Aquila clanga are present in winter. A wide variety of waterfowl occur on migration, and several species breed, including Marmaronetta angustirostris. Pelecanus onocrotalus occasionally appears in large flocks, and is known to have bred in the 1960s.

Despite the changes which have occurred at Kamjan Marshes, the area continues to provide ideal feeding habitat for a variety of waterfowl, notably Ciconia ciconia, Plegadis falcinellus and Limosa limosa. These marshes also constitute an important feeding area for large numbers of ducks which roost by day on Lake Bakhtegan and Lake Tashk.

Other notable landbirds include Apus affinis, Melanocorypha bimaculata, Anthus similis, Phoenicurus erythronotus, Sylvia nana, Lanius isabellinus, Rhodopechys githaginea and R. obsoleta. At least 220 species have been recorded in the Bakhtegan Wildlife Refuge, which comprises almost the whole of the site except for Kamjan Marshes.

Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals: Canis lupus (V), Ursus arctos (rare), Caracal caracal (rare), Panthera pardus (rare), Gazella subgutturosa (rare), Capra hircus aegagrus (rare) and Ovis ammon (rare).

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Lake Bakhtegan, Lake Tashk and the intervening hill ranges were first protected as the Bakhtegan Protected Region (310,438 ha) established in 1968. This status was upgraded to Wildlife Refuge in the early 1970s, and the size increased to 327,820 ha. However, the reserve does not include either the Gumoon springs area or most of the marshes at the mouth of the Kur. Kamjan Marshes are also unprotected. In 1975 both lakes and the Kamjan Marshes were designated a Ramsar Site (108,000 ha), including also the Gumoon area and all the marshes at the delta of the Kur but excluding the terrestrial portion of Bakhtegan Wildlife Refuge between the lakes. A proposal to upgrade part of the Wildlife Refuge to National Park has recently been approved by the relevant ministries and is likely to be implemented in the near future. The National Park would include the greater portion of the two lakes and a range of hills to the north of Lake Bakhtegan.

It has been recommended that Kamjan Marshes be designated a buffer zone for the Wildlife Refuge. The use of fertilizers and pesticides should be carefully controlled, and all or part of the area closed to hunting. Parts of the marsh which prove unsuitable for agriculture, such as the large saline areas in the east, should as far as possible be restored to their former condition and might be given special protection, e.g. as part of an enlarged Bakhtegan Wildlife Refuge. Negotiation with the Ministry of Power and local authorities may be necessary to ensure that an adequate supply of water is available to maintain the most important areas of marsh during dry years.

The construction of a large storage reservoir on the Kur (Dorudsan Dam) in the 1970s, and various other irrigation projects in the upper reaches of the river, have reduced water inflow to the lakes. In 1981, the Ministry of Jihad started a major programme of drainage in the Kamjan Marshes to provide land for agriculture (principally rice, wheat and cotton). Three large canals were constructed through the marshes, two to the north of the Kur river, emptying into Lake Tashk, and one to the south, emptying into Lake Bakhtegan. The entire marsh is now criss-crossed with canals and ditches, and much of the vegetation has been destroyed. As much of the water entering Lake Tashk and Lake Bakhtegan passes through Kamjan Marshes, agricultural activities in these marshes could have a profound effect on the quality of the water entering the lakes. Most of the spring-fed marshes at Gumoon have also now been drained for agriculture or converted into fishponds.

There are plans to construct an all-weather road through the centre of the Refuge linking villages to the east of Lake Tashk with the asphalt highway to Shiraz from the west end of Lake Bakhtegan. This would include a causeway across the low-lying flats between the lakes, and could have a significant effect on the overall hydrology. It would also greatly facilitate access to the central hilly portion of the Refuge, an area which has been remote and relatively undisturbed. Some poaching occurs at the west end of Lake Bakhtegan, and improved access to the interior of the Refuge could make this problem serious.

Data-sheet compiled by Dr D. A. Scott, reviewed by Dept of Environment.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Lake Bakhtegan, Lake Tashk and Kamjan marshes. Downloaded from on 26/11/2022.