The site is situated on the north-western outskirts of the Betpak-Dala desert region, 100 km north-north-east of the district centre of Zhezkazgan.
The landscape is a combination of rough, eroded clayey plains and sands. The area includes the western fringe of the sand dunes of the Karakoiyn and Zhetikonyr sand massifs extending in a latitudinal direction from an area of alkali soil depressions at the foot of the moderately high Betpak-Dala plateau escarpment to the region enclosed by a large bend of the Sary-Su river. The area represents the distinct frontier zone of prolific sands and clayey semi-desert plain and the narrow strand of alkaline land covered with a patchwork of Lasiagrostis splendens, supportinging on its verges a belt of sparse Elaeagnus and Haloxylon forest.
The area’s main importance is the high breeding population of Aquila heliaca. During the mid-April 2007 survey, 10 nests were found and it is estimated that the total population is 15-18 pairs. One extensive area of wetland in the northern part of the site held 2 pairs of Circus macrourus but total numbers for the site are unknown. Beside one derelict cattle farm building 6 pairs of Falco naumanni were found breeding. Buteo rufinus is present, but the overall numbers are thought to be low (<3 pairs - only one nest found and one additional bird seen). At the edge of the sands a pair of Tetrax tetrax was seen once. In the heart of the sand massifs there are large coveys of Perdix perdix.
Habitat and land use
Gas transportation infrastructure runs throughout the site.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
There are three threats to breeding raptors along the western edge of the Karakoiyn and Zhetikonyr sands: cutting of Elaeagnus-Haloxylon stands; the disruption of cattle grazing leading to a reduction in rodent prey; and collisions/eletrocution with the powerline running beside the gas pipeline. During the 2007 survey, in addition to local breeding species (Buteo rufinus, Falco naumanni, Falco tinnunculus, Circus macrourus, Aquila heliaca and Bubo bubo), several dead migrant raptors were also recorded: Buteo lagopus, Buteo buteo, Accipiter gentilis (3), Milvus migrans (7), and vagrant visitors Aquila nipalensis (15), Haliaeetus albicilla (2) and Aquila chrysaetos. It is interesting (and depressing) to note that several raptors were only recorded as corpses beneath the poles of the powerline.