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Nature Reserve Nominated for UNESCO Status

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As part of “Ural River Park Project” (URPP) Italian experts arrived to Atyrau. The project was implemented at Ak Zhaik nature reserve by Bologna University “Alma Mater” Fund with the support from ENI.


Nature reserve was established 3 years ago, but it has already won popularity not only in our country, but abroad as well, says Talgat KERTESHEV, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) project coordinator on national strategy of biodiversity.  
The Ural River delta, among 19 wetlands of Kazakhstan, occupies nearly the first place in the ranking of importance. “Ak Zhaik” nature reserve is listed among the natural zones protected by the Ramsar Convention. To date in Kazakhstan only Tengiz-Korgalzhin Lake System is included into that list, besides our nature reserve. Ak Zhaik nature reserve participated in Global Environmental Facility (GEF)/UNDP project titled Complex preservation of globally significant wetlands as habitats of migrating birds.
Currently a new 3-year project Integrated Management of Biodiversity Information System in RoK has been launched by UNDP. Three pilot territories have been selected for participation including Ak Zhaik nature reserve.  
This is a very important project, – says Giovanni GABIANELLI, the professor of Bologna University and the coordinator of the project.  - It is implemented in several directions: scientific research and monitoring, ecotourism development and enhancement of nature reserve employees’ potential, and also preparation of nomination documentation for UNESCO to include Ak Zhaik reserve into the list of biosphere nature reserves.
The Bologna University is financing the video film about Ak Zhaik nature reserve which is necessary to include into the nomination documentation. The Italian partners of the program are also providing professional help to our specialists: the delta of the Po River, the park project of which has been developed by this University, according to its morphological structure is very similar to the delta of Ural River.
Last year in September all those who wanted to visit, had a chance to travel along several ecological tourist routes – both on land and water. Our colleagues from Bologna University helped us purchase bicycles, binoculars, cameras for tourists. The viewing tower has been built near the fish bypass channel, said Elemes RAKHMETOV, the director of Ak Zhaik nature reserve. – We hope the nature reserve will be a favourite spot for local and visiting tourists.
Nevertheless, the nature reserve has many unresolved issues. Poaching is one of them. Secondly, the access to wetlands is very difficult which becomes a big issue during fires. For example, this spring the reeds caught fire on the island of Peshnoy, the fire spread to the other side of the fish channel. In total the fire spread over 2 000 hectares. Another fire which happened on August 29 on the territory of the nature reserve destroyed another 2,500 hectares. According to nature reserve experts, the fire didn’t bring damage to animal or bird life.
One of the most complicated issues is the development of ecotourism: infrastructure development, opening of catering facilities, little souvenir shops, etc. Rakhmetov admits that the local people from Erkin-kala and Damba districts don’t yet see the benefits that the neighborhood with such nature reserve could bring them. Last year the visitors could only see the artistic skills of only one local ‘alasha’ carpet maker from a nearby village. And there are only two families from Damba and Erkin-kala that would open the doors of their guest houses to the tourists. 
However, the Italian partners also said that at the beginning it took many years and efforts before they had the park up and running.
When we just started the development of Po River Delta Park, the local people were not interested,  says Giovanni Gabianelli. – But now they are very happy, because the park has become a favourite vacation spot for people.

Ak Zhaik newspaper reference: Total area of the state Ak Zhaik nature reserve – 111,500 hectares. There are more than 460 species of vertebrate animals inhabiting its territory: 292 bird species, 76 species of fish, 20 species of reptiles and 48 species of mammals. This is an important place for nesting and molting of many migrating birds. The delta of the Ural River is the main place for spawning of sturgeon.

Photos by Z. ISKALIEVA and from AkZhaik archive
October 4 2012, 13:06

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