Sorbulak Lake System

Year of compilation: 2004

Site description
The IBA is a system of sewage reservoirs situated in natural depressions of the Karaoi plateau, in the semi-desert zone, 80 km north of Almaty. It includes Sorbulak lake itself (formed in 1975-1985) and the line of small lakes with semi-running water with dykes and channels in the Zhamankum hollow. The maximum length of Sorbulak lake is 35 km, width up to 15 km, depth 22 m. The total length of the small lakes in the Zhamankum hollow is about 25 km, maximum width up to 3 km, average depth about 2 m. The lakes have indented coastlines, with many capes, spits, coves and a number of islands of different size. The water is fresh, but with a very high concentration of nitrates. In the second half of the summer it becomes brackish due to evaporation and drying out. It is an IBA for breeding, migrating and wintering waterbirds.

Key biodiversity
About 300 species of 18 orders have been recorded. Most typical are Anseriformes (28 species) and Charadriiformes (more than 50 species). In some years, the site held the largest SE Kazakhstan breeding colonies of the following species: Larus ridibundus - 8,000 pairs, Sterna nilotica - 2,500 pairs, Phalacrocorax carbo -5,000 pairs, Glareola pratincola - 140 pairs and Himantopus himantopus - 70 pairs. On the coast, Tadorna tadorna and T.ferruginea breed - up to 100 pairs or more. At the end of the summer moulting flocks of T.ferruginea number up to 20,000. On passage, large numbers of wildfowl have been recorded including Anas platyrhychos (up to 50,000), Anas acuta (35,000), Netta rufina (15,000) and Fulica atra (40,000). In some winters, Mergellus albellus numbers reach up to 12,000 and Anas platyrhynchos 20,000. During passage, large numbers of passerines - up to 50,000 or more - concentrate in the water fringe vegetation. These include Sturnus vulgaris, Sturnus roseus, Hirundo rustica, Hirundo rupestris, Motacilla sp etc.

Non-bird biodiversity: Around the lakes, there is typical semi-desert vegetation with low bushes (Salsola, Calligonum, Rosa, Spirea etc.) and grass. In the lakes, there are up to 10 species of fish, the most common are Carassius auratus and Cyprinus carpio. There are two species of amphibians Rana ridibunda and Bufo viridis, 8 species of snake, and one tortoise Agrionemis horsfieldi. Of mammals, there are fox (Vulpes vulpes), desert fox (Vulpes corsac), wolf (Canis lupus), and a number of rodents, the most common being Spermophilus fulvus.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
During the last 10 years, the number of farms around the lakes increased by 4-5 times. The numerous cattle damage the coastal biotopes, and the number of breeding ducks has decreased sharply. Illegal fishing is a serious threat eg use of motor boats, nets, disturbance of birds, especially in winter when the extent of open water is reduced. Illegal hunting (there is no effective protection) and an unstable hydrological regime are also dangerous.

Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
In 1976-1986, the birds of the lakes were studied by the Institute of Zoology of the Academy of Sciences of Kazakhstan. Complex ichthyological, entomological and parasitological researches were carried as well. The PhD thesis "The formation and dynamics of the avifauna of sewage water-reservoirs in the desert zone of south-east Kazakhstan" (1986) was prepared. The scientific recommendation for prohibiting hunting and fishing, and for the creation of "quiet zones" were submitted to the Wildlife Protection Department of Almaty Region. In 2003-2004, regular surveys were carried out in accordance with the IBA programme. In 2002-2004, the Hunters & Fishers Union carried out a GEF/UNDP Small Grant Program for the protection of one of the lakes, harmonizing local community interests and nature protection. Extensive propaganda regarding waterfowl protection was organized, as well as elaboration of an effective management system for the lake. But illegal fishing and hunting continues at the IBA.

Protected areas
The lake system is a protected sanitary zone under the management of the Almaty Water-management Department. In reality, although a protected regime exists formally it is very often violated.

Habitat and land use
100% of the terrestrial part of the IBA is used by local farmers as grazing for sheep, goats, cows and horses. Some areas are used for vegetables. Fishing is widespread but mostly illegal - legal fishing is permitted on a small scale at Sorbulak lake only (for fish-meal for livestock).

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Sorbulak Lake System. Downloaded from on 04/08/2021.