Deserts of Kazakhstan

Ustyurt Desert Plateau

Kazakhstan is the largest landlocked country in the world. Its area is about 2.72 million square kilometers, and the total length of the borders is over 13 thousand kilometers. Besides, it is the second largest state on the planet, which is located immediately in two parts of the world (the border between Europe and Asia passes through Kazakhstan). The large area of ​​the country with various climatic conditions and relief generally determines the diversity of its landscapes and natural complexes. The relief of Kazakhstan is characterized by great contrast: the lowest point of the country is located on the Caspian coast (the bottom of Karagiye depression, which is 132 meters below sea level), and the highest point almost reaches 7 thousand meters (Khan Tengri peak in the south-east of the country).

“Solonchak” or salt-flat desert in the Kaplankyr Valley

The climate of Kazakhstan is generally moderate-continental and quite arid. In summer, heat waves are often observed here, and in winter it is cold (up to -40° C). In early spring, climatic contrasts in Kazakhstan are especially noticeable: when snowstorms are still raging in the north of the country, almonds and apricots are already blooming in the south.

Deserts and semi-deserts occupy almost half of Kazakhstan. They stretch almost a continuous strip from the coast of the Caspian Sea to the mountain ranges of the eastern part of the country. Within Kazakhstan, there are presented deserts of various types, including rock, sandy, gravel, “solonchak” or salt flat and clay deserts. Deserts provide specific natural habitats for many plant and animal species, including rare and threatened. The deserts of Kazakhstan belong to the type of Central Asian northern cold deserts, which are designated by the WWF as one of the 200 ecoregions in the world.

Desert with cliffs of Ustyurt Plateau and rare vegetation

It is generally accepted that desert biodiversity is very poor, since many living organisms have a hard time surviving in extreme conditions with a lack of moisture and extreme temperature fluctuations in day and night time. However, many species of animals and plants have adapted well to life in such conditions. Among them are many specialized species and forms. Very few amphibians (for example, green toad) have adapted to life in the desert, but reptiles – lizards, snakes and tortoises – are perfectly adapted specifically to harsh desert conditions.

It would seem that the desert is an environment unsuitable for human life and wildlife here is not in danger. But this is not true! The northern deserts, like many other regions of the world, have suffered from the intensive development and penetration of people with technology even into their hidden corners. Many deserts hide mineral deposits in their bowels and they are actively developed by people for economic purposes. Development carries out with it the burden and destruction of fragile natural ecosystems, the declining of species and their habitats. Desert wildlife species are no exception. Many wildlife species are included in the IUCN Red Lists and national red books.​

Among the most famous species of animals – the inhabitants of the deserts of Kazakhstan, listed in the IUCN Red List and the Red Book of the Republic of Kazakhstan, there are such as the goitered gazelles Gazella subgutturosa, the Ustyurt urial Ovis vignei arcal, the onager Equus hemionus, the sand cat Felis margarita, the caracal Caracal caracal, the houbara bustard Chlamydotis maquenii, Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus, desert monitor Varanus griseus caspius, and many others.

In the deserts of Kazakhstan there are still many species that are not considered rare, but are clearly attractive for travel enthusiasts. You can see some of these animals below or on the link to our store: