It is well known that the development of linear infrastructure has many adverse impacts on animals. For the first time, we found the problem of mass death of reptiles and other vertebrates in permanent deep trenches used for fencing agricultural land in the southeast of the Turkestan region of Kazakhstan in 2019, when 365 reptiles were found during a double survey of a trench about 10 km long in May and June of 2019. Five species are doomed to death from hunger and dehydration in the absence of human help in these deep trenches of artificial origin.
A preliminary analysis of the legislation of the Republic of Kazakhstan (KZ) showed that the use of permanent trenches for fencing agricultural land, leading to the mass death of animals and damage to land, is a violation of the Environmental Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On the Protection, Reproduction and Use of Wildlife”, as well as the Land Code of Kazakhstan. Repeated publications in the media and appeals on this matter to various state authorized bodies of the Republic of Kazakhstan in 2019-2020, unfortunately, did not bring the desired result and did not become a reason for taking real measures, although we raised the problem and contacted with several mass-media, which highlighted the problem of impact on wildlife from new trenches.
Due to the limitations associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, new data were obtained only in May 2021 during an international zoological expedition organized by the Kazakhstan Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity (ACBK) as part of a project for the study and protection of gazelles supported by the SOS program (IUCN Save Our Species). The expedition was attended by specialists-zoologists from Kazakhstan, Russia, and Germany. As a result of a thorough survey, carried out on May 19-21, 2021, on a section of a trench arbitrarily selected from space images, which encloses the land of a farm at the junction of the borders of the Saryagash and Keles districts of the Turkestan region with a length of about 7 km (the total length of this trench is 36 km), we found 272 individuals of reptiles, including about 180 Central Asian tortoises – Testudo horsfieldi, 30 Sheltopusiks or Pallas’s Glass Lizards Pseudopus apodus, 40 Steppe Runners Eremias arguta (Near-threatened -NT- globally), 15 Dwarf Sand Boas Eryx tataricus and 1 Spotted Whip Snake Hemorrhois ravergieri. At the time of the survey, 20 reptiles had already died, and the remains of 7 foxes, 3 domestic sheep, and 1 foal were also found, which also fell into the trench and could not get out of it. All living reptiles were removed from the trench and released by us in suitable habitats at a distance of at least 5 km from the nearest trenches.
According to our updated estimates obtained using GIS, the total length of such trenches in the southeastern part of the Turkestan region (south of the city of Chimkent) is more than 500 km, thus, the number of reptiles that die in trenches annually can reach tens of thousands of individuals.
Thanks to the organizational support of the akimat (regional administration) of the Turkestan region, the problem of illegal use of trenches for fencing agricultural land this time caused a wide public response: a film crew from the regional television arrived at our place of work in the trench, accompanied by 15 volunteers to help save animals, and also employees of the District Land Committee. Later we met with a representative of the territorial inspection for the protection of wildlife. After our meeting with representatives of the Land Committee, they promptly began to issue demands for the elimination of trenches to tenants of land plots, who had taken the land in the lease for agriculture production. If they will not implement the rehabilitation measures destroying trenches, sanctions are possible up to the termination of land lease agreements. As a result, already in June 2021, the process of liquidating tranches began, which was confirmed by our personal observations and was highlighted in the media.
Thus, in 2021, as a result of the successful interaction of biologists, the leadership of the regional akimat (regional administration), state authorized responsible bodies, and the media, the real actions were started to eliminate the problem of illegal use of permanent trenches for fencing agricultural land in the south of the Turkestan region. It is obvious that for a comprehensive solution to the problem of mass death of animals in trenches, it is necessary to continue monitoring the situation in the Turkestan region and in other regions of Kazakhstan, to widely introduce the practice of rescuing animals from trenches before their elimination and, possibly, to amend the legislation of the Republic of Kazakhstan, including a direct ban on the use of permanent trenches for fencing agricultural land.
According to unconfirmed data, such illegal use of trenches for fencing farmland is practiced not only in the Turkestan region of Kazakhstan but also abroad. Therefore, zoologists collect any reliable information on this issue.
Dr. Mark Pestov just recently came back home after the expedition to the Turkestan Region of Kazakhstan. Mark is a zoologist – herpetologist. He studies the life of cool-blooded animals – amphibians and reptiles. Several last years Mark is involved in studies and conservation of animals in Kazakhstan deserts. This is a story from Mark about new threats for wild animals that recently appeared in the deserts of Kazakhstan and the ways to solve them. All illustrations used in this review were provided and taken mostly by Mark Pestov. His contact details are firstname.lastname@example.org