The IBA occupies an impressive portion of the Zailiysky Alatau mountain range that is a frontier unit of one of the heaviest glaciated branches of the great Tianshan mountain range (Northern Tianshan mountain province).
The site lies in the highest part of the country, occupying all of the south-eastern flank of the Republic's territory. The southern border of the area lies at the converging massifs of the Zailiysky and Kungey Alatau, with the state border running along the ridge of the latter - the main part of the mountain belongs to Kyrgyzstan. Basically, the site runs north from this juncture, with the highest point being Talgar peak (4,979 m), towards that part of the Zailiysky Alatau range where the upper reaches of several major gorges are located (these gorges descend towards the semi-desert plains of the left bank of the Ily river). At lower levels, the Reserve covers the most substantial streams extending to within a few kilometres of the settlements of Talgar and Issyk.
The IBA occupies a wide range of contrasting hydro-thermal regimes and exhibits the characteristic vertical climate zonality of high mountain regions. The distribution of natural complexes follows the altitudinal gradient and contains several main habitat types with an array of ecotones and a mosaic of patches of montane formations of vegetation resulting from the intricacies of the relief. Elevated foothills lie at 1,200-1,800 m and have a generally smooth relief with occasional rock outcrops at the upper margins. In general, this montane belt fits the biogeographical zone of relatively moist cool upland slopes below the timberline dominated by large coniferous trees. This physical stratum exhibits the widest range of habitats varying from dry steppes through narrow riverine mixed forests and fruit tree thickets to deciduous forests giving way ultimately to conifer forest (Picea shrenkiana stands on the northern slopes, Juniperus sabina on the southern).
At heights of 2,700 m the fir tree belt is replaced by the sub-alpine zone that stretches up to 3,100 m. The soils of the exposed slopes support highly complex plant communities. The perennial herbage is intermixed with turf-forming grasses and allow, especially in the sub-alpine zone, the creation of an impressively tight sod structure in the upper layer of the soil. A plethora of tumultuous streams flow by the following river-beds: South-Eastern, Left, Middle and Right Talgars, and the Issyk and Southern Issyk. The northern part of the main mountain ridge contains 113 glaciers of various capacity rating, the southern one – 86. The grim aspect of gorges and canyons is enlivened by the presence of several small lakes created where there is obstructed drainage, more often than not by the side of a moraine. The biggest of these waterbodies, Muzkol, covers 4.65 ha.
The habitat complexes encompass a wide variety of biological stages and support about 172 species of birds, ten of which are included in the National Red Book. There are two major peculiarities about the local avifauna: the first remarkable part concerns the juxtaposition, though on a rather small scale, of bird populations from several bio-geographical zones, with the majority belonging to the Eurasian high-montane community; the second is the existence of vertical migrations of resident species, representing a behavioral adaptation in response to acute seasonal changes in climate. The heterogeneous nature of the bird assemblage is enhanced by the presence of two species of boreal origin (Surnia ulula and Aegolius funereus), though their biome-restricted status is regarded to be invalid in the given area on account of their obvious intra-zonal occurrence.
Non-bird biodiversity: Higher plants species number 1,100, of which 50 species are rare, including 26 listed in the Red Book of Kazakhstan. The invertebrate fauna is represented by 2,000 species of which insects number 600 species. Vertebrates number about 225 species of which 3 are fish, 2 amphibians, 6 reptiles and 42 mammals. Besides the common Capra sibirica sakeen, the area is renowned for such rare mammal species as Ursus arctus isabellinus, Martes foina eixleben, Uncia uncia shreber and Lynx lynx isabellinus, with the last two species being listed in both the National Red Book and by IUCN.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Disturbance by infrequent tourist outings, most often in the upper and middle portions of the gorges of the northern slopes.
Almaty State Nature Reserve provides protection of the typical montane natural complexes represented by the central section of the Zailiysky Alatau Range.
The reserve was established in 1931, when 15,000 ha of the territory were proclaimed to be off-limits to any industrial activities. From 1934, the protected area, renamed Almatinsky, expanded to include the contiguous territories of the Zalanash and Syoguy valleys which now cover 856,680 ha. From 1951 to 1961 nature protection activities were disrupted but resumed in earnest in 1964, within the boundaries of the current protected area of 71,700 ha. The headquarters of the Reserve are in the district centre of Talgar, 25 km from the regional centre of Almaty. The area of the Zapovednik is contained by the larger territory of Ele-Alatau. On the south, it is also bordering by two other protected areas.
A special appreciation for the access to all relevant information is expressed to Altyn Dzhanyspaev, a researcher and Almaty Reserve employee.
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Almaty State Nature Reserve. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 30/09/2022.