Huge protected area for the endangered Saiga Antilope

Kazakhstan designates new 500,000 ha native steppe ecosystems as protected area “Altyn Dala”

Kazakhstan is home to large tracts of steppe grasslands with a system of migratory mammals, mainly Saiga antilopes, which is unique in the world. Thanks to immense efforts by the government of Kazakhstan, the conservation of this little protected ecosystem is well on its way.

A large piece of steppe habitat has now been added to the world’s map of protected areas. On 26th November the government of Kazakhstan has officially signed the designation documents for the new protected area “Altyn Dala”.

“Altyn Dala” is especially important for the critically endangered Saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica), which uses the area as calving ground and summer pasture. The new protected area plays therefore a crucial role for the conservation of this unique species, which had declined in numbers due to poaching in the 1990-ies, when the population was diminished by more than 95%. Now the population is slowly recovering despite newly increasing poaching.

The full name of the protected area is State Nature Reservat “Altyn Dala”, it consists of three clusters with a total size of 489,766 hectares, encompassing wetlands, sandy areas, and wide steppe landscapes. It preserves significant parts of the ecosystems typical to the region, which were so far little represented in the national protected area system of Kazakhstan, as well as worldwide.

State Nature Reservat is a strict protection category, allowing only some ecotourism, research, and traditional land-use outside a large core zone without any human activities.

This nature reserve is a big step forward for the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative (ADCI), which was initiated by the Committee of Forestry and Hunting of the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Kazakhstan (CFH) and is supported by the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). The ADCI is implemented by the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK). The ADCI aims at creating a network of effective protected areas in Central Kazakhstan in order to protect steppe and semi-desert ecosystems and especially the Saiga antelope as a key species.

During the last two years, major support has been provided by the GEF/UNDP project “Steppe conservation and management” for getting the final documents and signatures for the designation of the reserve.