The site is identical to the Arys-Karaktau State Reserved Zone of republican importance. It includes the eastern border of the Kyzylkum desert with sand dunes, as well as clay (partly with salty soils) plains on the left and right banks of the Syrdarya river, with desert vegetation and relatively small plots of riparian forests. The site consists of two parts - Karaktau (309,167 hectares, left bank) and Arys (94,833 hectares, right bank). The Karaktau part is more important in the breeding season. The most important bird species is Houbara Bustard.
The avifauna is typical for Middle Asia deserts and includes more then 200 species (about 100 breeding). The typical species for sand dunes with saxaul and other bushes are: Emberiza bruniceps, Sylvia curruca, Hippolais rama, Hippolais languida, Scotocerca inquieta, Sylvia nana, Lanius excubitor pallidirostris, Lanius phoenicuroides, Corvus ruficollis, Cercotrichas galactotes, Streptopelia turtur, Buteo rufinus etc.; typical of the plains are: Calandrella pispoletta, Melanocorypha bimaculata, Chlamydotis undulata, Pterocles orientalis, Burhinus oedicnemus, Merops persicus, Coracias garrulus, Charadrius leshenaultii, Charadrius asiaticus. The species included in the Red Data Book of Kazakhstan are: Aquila heliaca, Circaetus gallicus, Aquila chrysaetus, Aquila nipalensis (non-breeding), Grus virgo, and a number of migrating species.
Non-bird biodiversity: Typical mammals: Rhombomis opimus, a number of jerboas and other rodents, Lepus tolai, Vulpes vulpes, Vulpes corsac, Canis lupus, Meles meles, Gazella subgutturosa (this is rare because of poaching). Reptiles: Agrionemys horsfieldi, several species of Eremias, Trapelus sanguinolentus, snakes - Psammophis lineolatum, Agkistrodon halis, Elaphe dione, Coluber ravergiery, Eryx miliaris, Varanus griseus. Amphibia: Bufo bufo, Rana ridibunda.
Vegetation. On the sand dunes: saxaul (Haloxylon persicum) with other bushes - Salsola richteri, Ephedra strobilacea, Calligonum aphyllum, C. leucocladum, Acanthophyllum elatius, Ammodendron conollyi. Along the foothills of small low mountain groups: Salsola arbuscula, Arthemisia sp., Astragalus squarrosus, Salsola rigida, Ammothamnus lehmannii, Ferula assa-foetida etc. On the clay plains: arthemisia-ephemeretum formations. Towards the Syrdarya river valley: plots of salty desrt with Halocnemum strobilaceum, Limonium, Halostachys, Tamarix karelinii, Halimocnemis, Suaeda, Petrosimonia, Anabasis salsa, Halocnemum, Alhagi kirghisorum, Karelinia caspica. Along the Syrdarya river there are areas of riparian forest ("tugai") with turanga (Populus diversifolia), Elaeagnus angustifolia, E. orientalis, Salix wilhelmsiana, S. songarica, Tamarix hispida, T. ramosissima, Halimodendron halodendron, with lianes - Clematis orientalis, Cinanchum sibiricum, Calystegia sepium.
Habitat and land use
A large part of the area is used for pasture, mainly low intensity sheep grazing. There are several "ranchs" here. A number of artesian wells are used for drinking water by wild and domestic animals.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
In some places, locals illegally cut saxaul as firewood. Illegal hunting of gazelles, hares etc. exists, too. Every year (by government permit) limited falconry hunting of Houbara is conducted by one hunting party from UAE, and real control of the number of birds hunted is very difficult.
Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
Research into the breeding biology of Houbara Bustard, as well as of some other species, was done here in 1986-1988 (B. Gubin, S. Sklyarenko, Institute of Zoology, Almaty, Kazakhstan). In 2001-2006, annual surveys of Houbara were carried in the breeding and post-breeding periods by the same persons.
The territory is identical to the Arys-Karaktau Reserved Zone.