Status and Trends of Biodiversity
Kazakhstan, with its vast territory almost the size of Western Europe, is endowed with an enormous diversity of mountain ecological systems due to the high altitude zones. It has a great diversity of natural conditions, ecosystems and species. Four major ecological systems can be defined: forest (2% of country), steppe (28%), desert (32%), and mountain (7%). The rest is pastures (8%), fallow lands (4%), and agriculture land. Over 6 000 species of higher vascular plants, 5 000 species of mushrooms, 485 species of lichens, 2 000 species of sea weeds, 178 mammal species, 489 bird species, 12 amphibian species, and 104 fish species can be found in Kazakhstan. Mushrooms have very high endemism with 3 endemic genus and 124 endemic species. Fossil flora and fauna are also very rich: the Chu-Iliski mountains contain the oldest fossils discovered on Earth – 420 million years –and are an important witness to earth’s flora beginnings. Many species are endangered, mostly due to habitat destruction and hunting. The Red Data Book of Kazakhstan lists 125 species of vertebrates (15%), 96 species of invertebrate, 287 species of higher plants (4.8%), and 85 species of insects. Rare hoofed animals, despite the improved quality of protection, are still declining, and the situation is generally critical for many species. These include the Tran Caspian argali (ovis vignel argali), the Kazakhstan argali (ovis ammon collium), saigas (antelopes) and gazelles. Poaching is the main cause of this rapid decline. It comes either from poor local communities with little choice for food, but also from better off groups and senior officials.
Number and Extent of Protected Areas
Protected areas currently cover 14.8 million ha, or 5.44% of land surface in Kazakhstan. They consist of 9 natural reserves, 4 national parks, 60 reserve plots, 24 nature memorials of the republican jurisdiction, 3 zoological parks, 5 botanical gardens, several dendrological parks, 3 water lands recognized to be of international importance in accordance with the Ramsar Convention, and 150 water cavities that have state significance. The best-represented ecosystems are the mountains (The Aksu-Dzhabagly and Alamatinsky reserves). The steppe lakes ecosystems are less well represented (Kurgaldzhinski and Nurzumskyi), but the worst represented ecosystems are the desert and semi-desert, which cover more than half of the territory of Kazakhstan. Only a small part of the diversity of the desert ecological system is represented in the Ustyurtskyi and Barsakelmeskyi reserves.