Besh-Aral Reserve

Nature reserves of Kyrgyzstan. History and pictures of Kyrgyzstan nature

The Besh-Aral Zapovednik (Bio-diversity Reserve) is situated in the Chatkal Valley of the Jalal-Abad Province 340 km from Jalal Abad, the Province center, and 25 km from Kanysh-Kiya, the Chatkal Area center. It represents a mountain region with undisturbed wild landscapes, turbulent rivers, picturesque alpine meadows and clear mountain air, and a great diversity of plants and animals.

The Reserve (with a total area of 63,200 hectares) was created to preserve the habitat and to restore the populations of several endangered species found in the Western Tien Shan, in particular the Menzbir's marmot and the Kauffmann and Greig tulips. There is a wide variety of both plants and animals, due to the varying terrain, remoteness and difficult access. (Although an ancient link of the Silk Road passed through the Chatkal valley, access is over either the Kara-Buura pass (3305m), or the Chapchim pass (2841m) on gravel roads that are often impassable during winter and spring.

The reserve occupies the mountain slopes of the western end of the Chatkal valley, and includes a number of landscape types - meadow-steppe, alpine-meadow-steppe, high mountain-steppe, mountain coniferous forest, and mountain deciduous forest. It is host to three state forests: the Ken-Bulun, Barkyrak and Arab.

Deciduous forests comprise trees such as walnut, apple, pear, almond, maple, hawthorn and also an undergrowth of shrubs such as honeysuckle, cotoneaster, Meyer's currant, laxative buckthorn, spirea and dog rose, to mention only a few. Woodlands of poplar, birch and willow are found on the floodplain along the river valleys, with an undergrowth of sea buckthorn, honeysuckle, willow, cotoneaster, dog rose, and the dove-coloured blackberry. Amongst the herbs growing here are liquorice, yarrow, St. John's wort, and many grasses.

The mountain coniferous forests comprise stands of juniper on the North facing slopes at elevations of 1,700 to 3,000m with trees between 4 and 7 m high, and also spruce, with an undergrowth of mainly honeysuckle, barberry, spirea and dog rose. Meadow-steppe species grow in the open areas; and shade-loving forest grasses and mosses under the juniper trees.

During the Soviet period the reserve was important for livestock breeding and large numbers of cattle were summered on the high pastures and for haymaking. The decline in the number of sheep grazing here since the fall of the USSR has been instrumental in the restoration of the biodiversity and the recovery in numbers of the Menzbir's marmot. Agriculture has not recovered since the demise of the Union - although fruit trees are reported to give good yields. The major areas of walnut and other fruit trees are in the western end of the Chatkal Valley, which is accessible only on horseback.