The site is situated 50 km to the north of Almaty and comprises the middle section of the Ili river corresponding to the first 30 kms starting at the point where it discharges from the Kapchagay Hydroelectric Power Station.
The river is bordered on both sides by ranges of dry, low, rocky mountains. The concave northern slopes are often covered with patches of xerophyte bushes including Spiraea sp., Cotoneaster sp. and Cerasus sp. The river valley proper is a flat and narrow terrace (up to 500 m in width) with loams and sands underlying a typical South-Kazakhstan plains semi-desert landscape. There are frequent and lengthy belts of sparse riverine forest (tugai) consisting, predominantly, of Elaeagnus sp., Populus diversifolia, Salex sp., Halimodendron argenteum and Tamarix sp. Five elongated islands covered with thick tugai thickets and fringed with reeds gives the corresponding segments of the river a more conspicuous wild feel. In winter, owing to the turbulence created by the escaping waters from the power plant, the river does not freeze along the full length of the canyon.
The avifauna, including passage species, totals 200 species. Most of the nesting species are typical of the fauna of stark arid rocky hills; with such species as Alectoris chukar, Aquila chrysaetos, Neophron percnopterus, Falco tinnunculus, F. naumanni, Riparia rupestris, Oenanthe pleschanka, Emberiza buchanani and Sitta tephronota. Water and/or tugai-dwelling species include Anas platyrhynchos, Phasianus colchicus, Circus pygargus, Haematopus ostralegus, Charadrius dubius and Motacilla feldegg. The site also has several desert and semi-desert species such as Athene noctua, Melanocorypha bimaculata, M. calandra, Eremophila alpestris, Calandrella brachydactyla, Emberiza bruniceps, and Oenanthe isabellina. The most numerous species in the breeding season is Sturnus roseus, the largest colonies of which often containing tens of thousand of individuals.
Non-bird biodiversity: The dense tugai is frequently augmented by a prolific growth of Clematis orientalis, a species common to the region.
Habitat and land use
A significant portion of the cliffs on the right bank of the river (about 3 km long) is being used as a training area by contingents of the National Agency of Extraordinary Situations. A small area of land in the lower reaches of the canyon is occupied by a military base. AFormerly a small fraction of both sides of the river was used for growing watermelons (Cucurbitaceae plantations). A few small-scale livestock facilities are distributed rather evenly along the floor of the canyon. In warm seasons the banks of the river are exploited intensively by groups of holidaymakers and fishermen. Throughout the autumn-winter period, the furthest reaches of this fragment of the Ili river are subject to vigorous hunting activity.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The largest threat to the local wildlife is disturbance from recreation and sporting parties who often damage the riverine forest in their quest for firewood. There are also periodic fires linked to recreational activities.
In view of its comaparativly compact size, variety of habitats, rugged terrain and accessibility, the is appears very convenient for establishing some form of protection regime. It also appears very promising for implementing conservation efforts for restoring populations of species such as Felis manul and Ovis ammon.