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2020 †N1-2(178-179)
There is a place in the Karakum desert where one can lose touch with reality because of the spectacular view of giant sand dunes frozen in a bizarre shape with their crests crowned with the finest yellow muslin. These are thousands of sand grains disturbed by the blowing of winds and illuminated spectacularly by the bright strong sunlight. One can wander for hours in this fantastic realm of sand created by the brush of an artist-impressionist. However large the dunes may be, restless winds move the sandy mountains from place to place at their whim by sifting them literally grain by grain. So, having returned to the same place after a while, one may not recognize a once well-known area. Repetek is a unique place in Turkmenistan, where in a relatively small area one can see almost all forms of the Karakum sandy relief, which, by the way, are inherent in other large and small deserts of the world. It turns out that the sandy landscape can take the shape of dunes, ridges and hills. It is impossible to recite all possible variations. Particularly striking is the part of the natural reserve known under the sonorous and well-deserved name of Repetek Sahara.
One can't help but wonder at the experts' ability to navigate in this vast desert, not only among the moving sands, but also in the vast saxaul forests. One of them is the Yaman-Tokai grove located near Sahara. It may seem that it is populated by ordinary trees, quite large, albeit not tall, with spreading crowns. However, the canopy of these crowns cannot provide the common forest twilight, as saxaul has open green branches instead of leaves, making it easier for the plant to withstand the burning summer sun that may heat the sand surface sometimes up to 80oC... This is a natural stove, no more, no less. No wonder Repetek is ranked among the hottest spots on the planet. People call it the "heat pole." This place is known for scorching heat in the summer!
The Karakum desert may seem lifeless and dull only to those who have never been there. This is clearly evidenced by the Repetek Nature Reserve, one of the most interesting and life-rich places of the Karakum desert. The mixed character of flora and fauna, splendor of the landscape of Repetek will amaze even a seasoned traveler. It is not surprising that this is Turkmenistan's first nature reserve which was established almost one hundred years ago. And in 1979, UNESCO decided to award the Repetek Nature Reserve the status of biosphere and thus recognized it as a universally accepted standard of natural ecosystems.
The uniqueness of this area of the Turkmen nature attracts many scientists. Specialists such as outstanding geneticist Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov and founder of modern soil science Vasily Vasilievich Dokuchaev worked in this reserve. Vladimir Afanasievich Obruchev, Russian scientist and science fiction writer, known for his novels "Sannikov Land" and "Plutonium", as well as dozens of other prominent figures of science and art also visited Repetek. Famous geographer and traveler Pyotr Petrovich Semenov-Tyan-Shansky was also fascinated by this place at the beginning of the last century.
The desert looks very different in spring. This is a time when it dresses up in a magnificent emerald outfit, having cast off its winter numbness. At this time of the year, it cannot be called a desert, but rather a flowering garden! Bright red poppies, yellow flowers of the hypecum are scattered en masse as if by a generous hand on a green carpet of sand sedge - ilyaka - under the canopy of the transparent saxaul forest. Neat bushes of astragalus look purple because of the abundance of flowers exuding the unique aroma. Laced rosettes of a young ferule lie everywhere, as if created by skillful hands of lace-makers. There are bushes of Kandym strewn with yellow flowers that turn into bright fluffy fruit balls by the summer. Like many other desert plants, Kandym does not have leaves, they are replaced by green twigs. Turkestan rhubarb is another story. The leaves of this plant sometimes grow very big, up to one and a half meters. Sandy acacia, a slender tree up to 6-7 meters high, somewhat reminiscent of a weeping willow but rather silver than green, is another amazing inhabitant of the desert. It dares to grow among loose dunes, not afraid to be buried under the multi-meter thick sand.
Scientists have proved that the Karakum is the most productive desert of our planet, and, paradoxically, the higher the temperature - up to 50-60o - its ecosystem functions more efficiently. The richness of the Repetek Reserve flora is not least evidenced by the fact that there grow almost four hundred species of mushrooms of lower and higher plants that make up more than half of the entire Karakum flora.
The fauna of Repetek is rich and diverse. Invertebrates alone, such as bugs, butterflies, spiders and other small animals account for almost one and a half thousand species. Among them are those that have already brought invaluable benefits to science. For example, one of the local black beetles had a chance to participate in a space trip. The astronaut beetle withstood the test of flight. As a result, scientists obtained the unique information for assessment of the feasibility of long interplanetary expeditions. The poisonous insects of Repetek deserve special attention. It appears that it is not supposedly formidable scorpion, phalanx and tarantula but a small and unremarkable spider - karakurt - armed with poison 8-10 times stronger than that of a cobra that is the most dangerous of them.
Repetek accounts for more than 90 percent of the species diversity of birds, reptiles and mammals living in the Karakum and more than a quarter of thousands of vertebrate species. As for reptiles, one can find a turtle - an amusing living fortress, a sandy and eared toad agama and a gecko that loves night adventures. Here one can also get acquainted with a dozen species of snakes, almost half of those living in Turkmenistan. Among them is the pride of the nature reserve - the Central Asian cobra, a beautiful and noble snake that always warns an inattentive traveler about its presence.
If one happens to see a cobra, as well as a sandy eph, it is important to observe certain caution and "rules of etiquette", because they are poisonous. In Repetek, there is also a "prominent" reptile such as a gray desert monitor. By the way, this is the largest lizard in the country nicknamed "desert crocodile" for its formidable appearance.
One can find more than 200 species of birds in the heart of the sultry Karakum. It is amazing that among them there are even water birds attracted to ponds in the sand pit in the vicinity of Repetek. There are some birds that can't live outside the desert, including, for example, a saxaul jay that ideally adapted to arid climate. However, the birds of prey are rightfully considered the most representative and prominent birds of Repetek. A golden eagle, one of the largest eagles in the country, became the decoration of the nature reserve. Equally impressive in their formidable appearance are a saker falcon and a long-legged buzzard. Seeing a kestrel is very interesting. This is a small, pigeon-sized, but very dexterous feathered hunter. Night predators, such as a long-eared owl and a little owl are the "rulers of the sky" at twilight.
The most numerous of the mammals in Repetek are rodents - gerbilles, gophers, jerboas. Their traces in the sand form ornate patterns-rebuses that environmental experts tirelessly unravel.
One can often see a hare, one of the typical inhabitants of the desert. There are also predators, such as a sand dune cat, an elegant mottled polecat and a fox, the chief character of many folk tales. Gazelles, slender long-legged antelopes, who are the real decoration of the country's fauna, are perhaps one of the rarest and most beautiful inhabitants of Repetek. In 2001, a special nursery was built in the reserve for breeding and keeping gazelles.
The Repetek Nature Reserve of the Ministry of Nature Protection of Turkmenistan is one of the many amazing and beautiful natural areas of the Karakum desert, the country of bright sun lights, "golden" dunes and saxaul forests. This is the second desert on the planet that has preserved its exceptional individuality and originality largely due to the inherent ability of the Turkmen people to live in harmony with the nature of their home land from time immemorial. And today, when traditions are being revived, and scientists and environmentalists take care of the original beauty of Repetek, people want to believe that a trip to the fabulous Turkmen desert will still present many discoveries for everyone in decades and hundreds of years to come.


©Turkmenistan Analytic magazine, 2005