The IBA includes a large part of the Altyn-Emel National National Park, situated in the desert zone of South-East Kazakhstan. It includes desert and semi-desert stony- and clay plains, xerophytic rocky spurs of the Dzhungarskiy Alatau range - Sholak, Digeres, Matay and Kalkany mountains - the famous "Singing Dunes" with surrounding sands, as well as part of the waterbody and shores of the Kapchagay reservoir and Ily river. The western border of the IBA is the border of the Park, the northern the watershed of the mountains, the eastern the Bastchi-Araltobe road, and the southern the middle of the Ily river and water reservoir.
There are plots of saxaul scrub on the plains, groups of trees near game-keepers houses and in mountain gorges, and Asiatic poplar groves along the Ily river. Most of the area is open, with scarce grassy vegetation. Besides the Ily river, there only a few water sources – springs and small rivers in gorges disappearing where they meet the plains. The climate is typical continental, with cold winters, but the southern mountain slopes are usually warmer and free from snow creating suitable conditions for a number of wintering bird species.
The site holds a combination of desert, dry rocky mountains and wetland avifaunas. Up to 280 species can be observed here, including up to 160 breeding species. In 2003-2004, 76 species were recorded during a short survey in July. Birds of prey are represented very well: Falco cherrug, Haliaeetus albicilla, Aquila chrysaetos, Buteo rufinus, Circaetus gallicus, Falco naumanni, F.tinnunculus, F.subbuteo etc. Due to the large number of ungulates, scavengers are common - Gyps himalayensis, Gyps fulvus, Aegypius monachus, Gypaetus barbatus, Neophron percnopterus. Typical species for desert areas are: Coracias garrulus, Hippolais rama, larks, Oenanthe isabellina, Oenanthe deserti, Sylvia nana, Emberiza bruniceps, Rhodospiza obsoleta; for mountains: Alectoris chukar, Oenanthe pleschanka, Sitta tephronota, Emberiza buchanani, Emberiza stewarti, Monticola saxatilis, M. solitarius, Sylvia curruca etc. The complex of waterbirds is typical for Middle Asia wetlands.
Non-bird biodiversity: The territory plays a great role in the conservation of ungulates - Gazella subgutturosa (up to 5,000), Ovis ammon (about 220), Capra sibirica (3,100), introduced Equus hemionus (more than 1,100). Canis lupus, Vulpes vulpes, Erinaceus auritus, Lepus tolai, rodents - Rhombomys opimus, jerboas etc. are common. Common reptiles are: Trapelus sanquinolentus, Phrynocephalus helioscopus, several Eremias sp., snakes - Psammophis lineolatum, Agkistrodon halis, Erix miliaris, Elaphe dione.
The vegetation of the plains consists of short Graminea, Artemisia sp., Astragalus sp., Nanophyton sp., Salsola sp.; of bushes - Haloxylon persicum, Salsola arbuscula, Calligonum aphyllum, Halimodendron halodendron. In the mountains: Festuca sulcata, Poa sp., other herbs; of bushes - Spirea sp., Ephedra strobilacea, Caragana frutex, Rosa sp.. Near water: Salix sp., Elaeagnus sp.; along the Ily river – Asiatic poplar (Populus diversifolia) groves.
Habitat and land use
The main use of the territory is nature protection. Some areas near villages in the eastern part of the IBA are used for pasture (less than 5% of the territory), and there is one resident fishermen's group at one point on the shore. The famous “Singing Dunes” and ancient burial site at “Besshatyr” are visited regularly by tourists, but their movement is strictly limited with defined roads. There is limited licensed hunting of ungulates.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Pasture activity is limited to defined areas. Disturbance by tourists is limited. General protection is quite good as it is impossible to visit the area without a permit. For birds, real threats don’t exist.
Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
The Scientific department of the Park conducts planned monitoring research under programs approved by the Committee of Forestry and Hunting of the Ministry of Agriculture. Annual surveys of ungulates are conducted with the participation of staff of the Institute of Zoology (Almaty).
The IBA includes a large part of the Altyn-Emel National Park.