The Tigrovaya Balka nature reserve is situated in south western Tajikistan. It includes part of the Vakhsh valley north from the junction of the Vakhsh and Pyanj rivers. It is a large flat area with three river terraces. The Vakhsh valley portion of the IBA is situated at an altitude of about 325 m above sea level. Some sites on the left bank border with the Kashkakum Sands and rise to 530 m. The highest area is the Hoja-Kaziyon mountains which are 1,000-1,200 m above sea level and are situated in the west of the reserve. In the south-eastern part of the reserve there are mobile sand-dunes. There are several habitats in the IBA: floodland forest, freshwater bodies and marshes, semi-deserts, takirs and solonchaks.
The hydrologic network is created by the Vakhsh and Pyandj rivers and their tributaries. At present the flow of the Vakhsh river is regulated by the Nurek and Baypazin hydro power stations. Tugay forests are supported by surface and underground flows only. The maximum depth of lakes in the former riverbed is about 1-2 m, rarely 5-6m. There are about 40 lakes in the zapovednik. All are overgrown with dense aquatic vegetation. The water of these lakes has a mineralization of 1.92-4.67 grammes per litre. The water supply of the lakes is primarily the result of flooding, when the lakes connect with the river temporarily, and also as the result of filtration when river water levels are high. Many floodplain lakes have reduced in area due to use for irrigation and hydro-electric building on the Vakhsh river.
Agricultural development of the Vakhsh and Pyandj valleys started in the 1930s. Saxaul bushes were uprooted in the Kashkakum desert over a period of several years. Tugay forests suffered significant exploitation. Uncontrolled hunting and fishing resulted in decreasing numbers of many animal species.
There are more than 160 species of birds in the zapovednik. Seventeen of them are included in the Red Data Book of Tajikistan (1988). The summer avifauna of the zapovednik is rather poor. There are about 70 breeding species.
The avifauna of the tugay woods is the richest and most varied. These areas support Columba eversmanni, Coracias garrulus, Upupa epops, Dendrocopos leucopterus, Parus bokharensis, Passer domesticus, Passer ammodendri, Nycticorax nycticorax, Ardea cinerea, Aegypius monachus, Circaetus gallicus, Remiz coronatus, Cercotrichas galactotes and Lanius phoenicuroides. Phasianus colchicus bianchii is an endemic species with a narrow distribution in south-western Tajikistan. The ecological condition of the zapovednik, poaching and similar events which happened in 1990 near the site reduced the number of this species almost to extinction.
Lakes half-overgrown by reed and cattail are rich in birds. Tachybaptus ruficollis, Podiceps cristatus, Anas platyrhynchos, Anas clypeata, Marmaronetta angustirostris and Aythya nyroca breed.
The lakes of the zapovednik are a wintering place for about 50 species of bird. Phalacrocorax pygmaeus, Aythya ferina, Aythya fuligula, Anas strepera, Anas crecca, Anas platyrhynchos, Bucephala clangula, Mergellus albellus, Mergus merganser, Egretta alba and Egretta cinerea winter on non-freezing lakes. Anas strepera, Anas crecca, Anas platyrhynchos, Bucephala clangula, Mergellus albellus and Mergus merganser are common. Egretta alba and Egretta cinerea occur in shoreline reedbeds. Many waterfowl winter on the lakes of the left bank part of the zapovednik, with Fulica atra and Aythya fuligula forming almost half the overall number of birds.
The avifauna of the sandy and loamy semi-deserts of the zapovednik is comparatively poor. Scotocerca inquieta, several species of birds of prey and the very rare Chlamydotis undulata are found in the sandy desert. In gramineous-halophytic desert there are Buteo rufinus, Galerida cristata and a few Falco naumanni. The semi-desert of the Hodja-Kaziyon foothills is also not rich in species. Athene noctua is a common inhabitant. Steep slopes of gullies are occupied by Falco tinnunculus, Columba livia, Columba eversmanni, Merops apiaster, Merops persicus, Coracias garrulus, Neophron percnopterus, Gyps fulvus, Falco cherrug and Corvus corax. Small flocks of Ammoperdix griseogularis feed on foothill trails. In addition to several Oenanthe species, Sitta tephronota and Scotocerca inquieta occur in gorges.
Resident species include: Phasianus colchicus, Ammoperdix griseogularis, Aegypius monachus, Alcedo atthis, Athene noсtua, Dryobates leucopterus, Pica pica, Sitta tephronota, Parus major, Podiceps cristatus, Tachybaptus ruficollis, Falco cherrug, Circus aeruginosus, Anas platyhynchos, Fulica atra, Rallus aquaticus, Remiz pendulinus, Himantopus himantopus, Pterocles orientalis, Corvus corax, Corvus corone, Acridotheres tristis, Passer ammodendri and Galerida cristata. Local populations of some of these make southerly autumn migrations.
Typical nesting birds include: Nycticorax nycticorax, Ixobrychus minutus, Aythya nyroca, Falco naumanni, Neophron percnopterus, Circaetus gallicus, Burhinus oedicnemus, Charadrius dubius, Sterna hirundo, S.albifrons, Streptopelia turtur, Cuculus canorus, Merops persicus, Upupa epops, Coracias garrulus, Caprimulgus europeus, C.aegyptius, Otus brucei, Oriolus oriolus, Passer domesticus, Acrocephalus arundinaceus, Hippolais caligata, Sylvia mystacea, Cercotrichas galactotes, Oenanthe picata, Saxicola caprata, Luseinia megarhynchos and Hirundo rustica.
Tajikistan takes part in the international monitoring of wintering waterbirds. The results of recent waterbird counts are: January 2003 – 7,447 individuals, January 2004 – 28,829, January 2005 – 45,869, and January 2006 – 30,466.
Typical wintering species include: Tachybaptus ruficollis, Podiceps cristatus, Podiceps nigricollis, Phalacrocorax carbo, Phalacrocorax pygmaeus, Botaurus stellaris, Ergetta alba, Ardea cinerea, Anser anser, Anas penelope, Anas strepera, Anas crecca, Anas platyrhynchos, Netta rufina, Aythya ferina, Aythya nyroca, Aythya fuligula, Mergus merganser, Haliaeetus albicilla, Circus aeruginosus, Circus cyaneus, Buteo buteo, Gallinula choropus, Fulica atra, Grus grus, Himantopus himantopus, Vanellus vanellus, Limosa lapponica, Tringa totanus, Tringa stagnatilis, Larus ichthyaetus, Larus ridibundus, Larus cachinnans, Larus argentatus and Alcedo atthis.
Non-bird biodiversity: Fish: Pseudoscaphirynchus kaufmanni, P. hermanni, Barbus brachycephalus brachycephalus and Aspiolucius esocinus are included in the Red Data Book of Tajikistan (1988). There are almost only Cyprinidae in lakes in the former riverbed (Cyprinus carpio, Barbus brachycephalus brachycephalus, B. capito conocephalus, Rutilus rutilus, Alburnoides bipunctatus, Gobio gobio, Aspiolucius esocinus, Silurus glanis). Cobitis taenia is sometimes found.
Amphibia: Bufo viridis and Rana ridibunda.
Reptiles are more diverse. Sauria includes 22 species. Among them 8 inhabit only the zapovednik - Alsophylax tadijkensis, Crossobamon eversmanni, Phrynocephalus mystaceus galli, Phrynocephalus sogdianus, Eremias grammica, Eremias nigrocellata, Phrynocephalus reticulatus and Teratoscincus scincus rustamowi. Snakes include 12 species and 3 of them (Boiga trigonatum melanocephala, Echis multysquamatus and Naja oxiana) are recorded only in the south-western part of Tajikistan. The desert parts of the zapovednik are the most rich in reptiles. Lizards include Teratoscincus scincus scincus, Crossobamon eversmanni, Agama sanguinolenta, several species of Phrynocephalus and Varanus griseus caspius and snakes Echis multysquamatus and Taphrometopon lineolatum.
Tugay inhabitants: Eumeces schneideri, Ablepharus brandti, A. grayanus, Lycodon striatus, Coluber ravergieri, Elaphe dione and the venomous Naja oxiana and Vipera lebetina inhabit the floodland bush with tall vegetation. In deserts Naja oxiana lives in places with shrubby vegetation, in foothills and low mountains it keeps to southern slopes with wood-shrubby thickets. Natrix tessellata may be found in all lakes, channels and the Vakhsh river. Agrionemys [Testudo] horsfieldii is common in the foothills of the right bank of the Vahsh river.
The herpetofauna of the foothills and low mountains is rather poor. Agama lehmanni, Pseudopus [Ophisaurus] apodus apodus and others inhabit here. Varanus griseus caspius dwells in all landscape zones of the zapovednik but prefers fixed sands and semi-desert foothills. Boiga trigonatum melanocephala is a threatened species.
Development of the Vakhsh valley has deprived many species of reptile of their natural habitats which has led to a reduction in their number and distribution. 21 species are included in the Red Data Book of Tajikistan (1988). At present the number of rare and globally threatened species has risen sharply.
Mammals: there are 45 species of mammal in the zapovednik. Rare and threatened species include: Panthera [Felis] pardus, Gazella subgutturosa, Cervus elaphus and the extinct Panthera [Felis] tigris virgata. The continued prescence of Panthera [Felis] pardus is doubtful as it has not been recorded in the Hodja-Kaziyon foothills for a long time. Insectivores include Hemiechinus auritus and Crocidura suaveolens. Crocidura suaveolens is a rare endemic species of south Tajikistan. Typical predators in the tugay are Canis aureus and Felis chaus. As a result of anthropogenic pressure the number of predators is very low. Felis chaus is under the threat of extinction, its number in the zapovednik is not more than 25-30 individuals. Hyaena hyaena has become rare in recent years. Other predators are Canis lupus and Vulpes vulpes. Lagomorphs are represented by Lepus tolai. Hystrix indica may be found in foothills and tugays. It is rare and low in numbers. Rodents: Allactaga elater, Meriones libycus and Meriones meridianus inhabit desert; Mus musculus and Nesokia indica live in tugays; Ellobius tancrei in foothills; Spermophilopsis leoptodactylus is sometimes found in the Kashkakum desert. Typical hoofed animals of the tugay are Cervus elaphus bactrianus and Sus scrofa. Cervus elaphus bactrianus is the most typical species of floodland forests in Central Asia and undoubtedly is common in the zapovednik. At present deer may only be found in the zapovednik. Gazella subgutturosa prefers half-fixed sands in the Kashkakun desert. A small population of Ovis vignii occurs in foothills, the right bank of the Vakhsh river, the Hodja-Kaziyon foothills and gently sloping hilly mountains with sparse growth of pistachio trees.
Vegetation: woody vegetation consists of poplar, oleaster and poplar-oleaster associations. Poplar forests formed by almost pure associations of Populus pruinosa, sometimes with a small admixture of Populus ariana, covers about 25% of the general area of tugays in the zapovednik.
Herbs are luxuriant only on the borders of forests. Typical species are Glycyrrhisa glabra, Erianthus ravennae, Imperata cylindrica, Alhagi canescens, Cynanchum sibiricum and Trachomitum scabrum. Poplar-oleaster forests occur in small patches. Halophytes develop on salt soils of the zapovednik where subterranean water is close to the surface. Tamarix hispida, Halostachys belangeriana, Lycium ruthenicum and Suaeda microphylla are the most common species. Herbage is formed by Aeluropus litoralis, Salsola orientalis, S.micranthera, S.dendroides, Artemisia ferganensis, Zygophyllum oxianum, Alhagi canescens and others.
Desert vegetation occurs in the Kashkakum sandy massif. It is represented by the shrubs Haloxylon aphyllum, Calligonum griseum, C.microcarpum and Salsola richteri. In some places Zygophyllum gontscharovoii, Aellenia subaphylla, Hammada leptoclada and other shrubs occur. There are many ephemerals in early spring when the soil is rich in water. These include: Carex physodes, Poa bulbosa, Astragalus, Vulpia, Trisetum cavanillesii, Trigonella geminiflora, Anisantha tectorum and Artemisia scoparia. Vegetation of Buritau peak and the Hodja-Kaziyon mountains consists of short grass semi-savannas. Light forest of pistachio covers a very small part of the zapovednik. Pistacia vera and Amygdalus bucharica are common in this association. Meadows make up 18-19% of the tugay with Calamagrostis and Aeluropus litoralis associations. Grassy marshes are formed by associations of Imperata, Erianthus and Calamus. Lakes are usually surrounded by reed. Rush doesn't form large thickets. There is not much cattail in the lakes. Myriophyllum and Potamogeton pectinatus dominate among submerged vegetation, Najas also occurs.
Tugay forest is formed by hygrophilous and heat-loving deciduous salt-resistant trees and shrubs: Populus pruinosa , Elaeagnus angustifolia, Tamarix ramosissima and others. At present the tugays occur as small sections on river floodlands in the south of Central Asia but were formerly widespread.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
A serious threat is the absence of flooding in spring and summer as a result of regulation of the flow of the Vakhsh river, which may lead to lakes drying out.
Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
Planned research on biodiversity is carried out by specialists of the zapovednik and staff of some research institutes of the Sciences Academy of Tajikistan.
The IBA is idential to the Tigrovaya Balka Nature Reserve.
Habitat and land use
All habitats of animals and plants are protected.
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Tigrovaya Balka Nature Reserve. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 13/06/2021.