AMONG SAND WAVES
Despite the fact that "Amul - Hazar 2018" rally-raid participants were so engrossed in their race, the unique beauty of the Karakum desert nature did not escape their attention. The environmental component of the competition was very important, as it was held under the motto "Eco Race". Such caring attitude to the natural environment permeated the whole ideology of the competition that Turkmenistan has never held before. Part of the route of "Amul - Hazar 2018" rally-raid ran along the border of the unique protected area known as the Repetek State Reserve.
One has to drive seventy kilometers along Turkmenabat - Mary road to get there. It is better to do so no later than April, when frequent rains ensure the blossoming of the eye-pleasing red poppies, lilac locoweed and emerald grass that look like a colorful carpet covering the desert. All these flowers intermingle with green sprouts of young branches of black saxaul. In total, the Reserve accounts for 26 families, 85 kinds and 120 species of vegetation. However, not all of them return to life after winter. There are withered trees with sloping thin trunks whose fall is imminent. Having outlived its time, Saxaul gradually decays, dissolves in sand and becomes part of it. There is no place for sadness, as this process reminds us of the ongoing eternal life cycle.
In addition to the country's largest saxaul forests, there are giant sand dunes devoid of vegetation that change the relief, resembling an immense sea with tidal waves. Standing there, one can feel the greatness of nature to which we all belong. The landscape in other places is similar to the curls of the karakul wool or small ripples on still waters. There can be also seen sand dunes with a lone proud sandy acacia.
As is known, the Reserve was initially established as a sandy-desert research station in 1912 with the assistance of the famous traveler, Peter Semenov-Tien-Shansky. A photo in the Reserve's museum provides evidence of the importance of this unique place. It depicts a historical document issued in 1914 for the graduate of the St. Petersburg University, Boris Orlov, who "was sent to the station of Repetek as an observer to study loose sands", which is certified by the stamp of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society. Thus, this station provided the foundations for establishment of a reserve in 1927 that is now the Repetek State Reserve.
Repetek turned 90-year old last year. It occupies only 34,6 thousand hectares (excluding the reserve area). In this comparatively small area, one can find almost all forms of sandy reliefs natural not only to the Karakum desert but also all other deserts of the world. Having complemented this picture with the Reserve's rich flora and fauna, one can understand why the world famous scientists want to visit this place. Many of them visited the Reserve in different years, including geologist and geographer Vladimir Obruchev; soil scientist Vasily Dokuchaev; geneticist Nikolai Vavilov; mineralogist Alexander Fersman; geomorphologist, founder of the wind theory of the sandy relief Boris Fedorovich; founder of the Institute of Deserts, Flora and Fauna of Turkmenistan Agadzhan Babayev. Famous English zoologist Gerald Darrell also was there and shot a popular science film.
Scientist Nikolai Drozdov, who later became the host of popular TV program "The World of Animals", also happened to visit the Reserve. He travelled through Repetek in 1974, as evidenced by the museum's picture depicting him together with the long-term director of the Reserve, Suvhan Veyisov. "Mecca of Deserters" still attracts and amazes visitors with its uniqueness. This spring, it was visited by German scientist Julian Schlubach that may yet result in new international cooperation.
It should be recalled that 39 years ago UNESCO granted Repetek the status of biosphere reserve for the results achieved in protecting and complex study of the desert ecosystem and included it in the relevant international network.
"According to the long-term plan, our employees have been conducting scientific research and working to preserve the sandy-desert ecosystems and their inherent biodiversity by maintaining them in their natural state, head of the scientific department of the Reserve Nurulla Tachnazarov said. We also support training of personnel for protection of nature, conduct environmental education activities. Another area of work is reproduction of the most rare and valuable species of animals in semi-free conditions in the open-air cages. For example, a family of seven gazelles has been recently transferred to the Badkhyz Reserve."
Indeed, the Karakum fauna is rich. There are more than 200 species of birds. The author of these lines was lucky to make a photo of the Turkestan serpent eagle from the family of hawks during one of the visits. The bird built a nest on a saxaul tree, next to the desert sparrows, who felt quite safe in such close neighborhood. A serpent eagle feeds on reptiles only, and the Reserve accounts for 22 species of them. So, there is plenty of food for parents and their only two-month old chick. Allowing me to approach some twenty meters closer, the bird took off lazily and, spreading his wings (whose swing can reach one and a half meters), slowly flew to the distant thickets.
Speaking of birds, it is worth mentioning that a couple of pheasants has been born recently in an open-air cage in the Reserve. This situation is unique for Repetek, because only tugai forests along the banks of Amu Darya are known to provide a habitat for this bird. It turns out that the eggs were found in the nest exactly there. A turkey hatched the chicks, and the grownup birds will be released to the lakes in ... the desert (?!). Such remote lakes can be also found in the Karakum desert, in the territory of the Yeradzhi Reserve, which is part of the Repetek Reserve.
Getting there is even more difficult. One has to cover dozens of kilometers into the depth of the desert in the northern part of Lebap province. An all-terrain vehicle will be required, as a track dodges in the middle of barkhans, going up and down sharply with some intervals. The flora of this area boasts more than 120 plant species.
As for the local fauna, it is not quite natural to the Karakum desert. Some inhabitants are common, such as golden eagles, lizards, jackals, foxes and snakes. Other representatives of the animal world live only in Yeradzhi, in three interconnected lakes with a total area of 90 thousand square meters. There are 11 varieties of fish alone, including carp, catfish, pike-perch, asp and others. Muskrat and nutria live on the banks of the lakes, and wild boars come to the lakes to drink water. The world of birds is even richer. There are many cormorants, gulls, ducks of different species and herons. In spring and autumn, this place is visited by mute swans, pink flamingos, gray goose, curly and pink pelican and other migratory birds, who quietly feed and gain strength in safety ahead of the long journey.
So, why are there lakes in the Karakum desert? The fact is that they are manmade. The main left-bank collector was built in Lebap province in parallel to Amu Darya river. Following the washing irrigation, wastewater flows to this collector by gravity from the fields. In the lower part of the collector, wastewater first falls into two large lakes, and then it flows along the ducts into the Yeradzhi lakes.
"In such a long distance, water becomes much cleaner, as it is filtered by plants and warmed up by the sun, inspector of the Reserve Atajan Kurbanov said. It is not by chance that so many breeds of fish multiply in this water, and greater number of animals appear along the banks. And, as is known, the birds inhabiting this area are the most mobile, efficient and reliable indicator of the state of natural environment. Habitats or wintering places that are natural for them can be considered ecologically safe. After the Yeradzhi lakes, water goes to the channel, which was specially built during the independence years, which leads beyond Lebap to the Turkmen Lake."
The very fact that seven years ago these areas were declared a reserve and included in Repetek means a lot. After all, a vast area of 30 thousand hectares with its diverse and rich flora and fauna was taken under the state protection. Moreover, under the National Forest Program of Turkmenistan, the employees of the Reserve select seeds from the highest and branchy bushes and trees and plant tens of thousands of seedlings of unpretentious desert plants in various areas, including Yeradzhi.
It remains to add that Repetek became the first protected area in the territory of modern Turkmenistan more than a century ago, and there are now nine reserves in the newly independent state. It means that these amazing and beautiful in their own way areas will be preserved in their original form for future generations...