Europe and Central Asia
3 Aug 2016

Western Tien-Shan declared World Heritage Site

Sary-Chelek Lake in the Sary-Chelek State Biosphere Nature Reserve. Photo: Ushakov V.
Sary-Chelek Lake in the Sary-Chelek State Biosphere Nature Reserve. Photo: Ushakov V.
By Sergey Sklyarenko and Maxime Paquin


After several years of collaborative work with regional governments and environmental experts and NGOs, the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK), BirdLife’s partner in Kazakhstan, is proud to announce that Western Tien-Shan was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List!

Western Tien-Shan is a transnational site located in the Tien-Shan mountain system, one of the largest mountain ranges in the world. It spans over three countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

On 17 July 2016, during the World Heritage Committee’s 40th session in Istanbul, Turkey, Western Tien-Shan was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List to protect its biodiversity. This is Kazakhstan’s second natural site to be declared a World Heritage Site, while it is Kyrgyzstan’s and Uzbekistan’s first.

Western Tien-Shan covers 467,550 ha at an altitude ranging from 700 to 4,503 m. It spans over three Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs): the Aksu-Dzhabagly State Nature Reserve, the Kenshektau Mountains and the Bashkyzylsay Unit of the Chatkal Mountains Biosphere Reserve. The nominated property includes the Aksu-Dzhabagly and Karatay Reserves, the Sairam-Ugam National Park (all located in the Republic of Kazakhstan), the Padisha-Ata, Besh-Aral and Sary-Chelek Reserves (all located in the Kyrgyz Republic), and the Chatkal Biosphere Reserve (located in the Republic of Uzbekistan).


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Tien-Shan brown bear Ursus arctos isabellinus in Taldybulak gorge. Photo: Shakula V.F.

Incredibly biodiverse, Western Tien-Shan showcases a wide array of landscapes, ecosystems, fauna and flora. It is home to a considerable number of endemic species and communities, as well as a large number of wild, rare and threatened species. Close to half of its species are endemic to Central Asia. Among the vertebrates found in the region, we find 61 species of mammals, 316 species of birds, 17 species of reptiles, 3 species of amphibians and over 20 species of fish. Almost all of these species are reported as occurring in Western Tien-Shan. This World Heritage Site also supports 14 species of flora and 18 of fauna listed as globally threatened by the IUCN. For the full list of rare and endemic species, refer to the nomination dossier.

The next step for the conservation of all parts of the property is the signing of a memorandum between Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan for the joint management of Western Tien-Shan, with the establishment of an international Steering Committee and the elaboration of a common Management Plan. The World Heritage Committee published a resolution asking for the definition of the borders of the property. Together with IUCN experts, ACBK plans to participate to both activities and to promote the new World Heritage Site, in collaboration with other BirdLife partners.


Saryaigyr gorge in autumn. Photo: Kenbay T.


The nomination work was done by the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK – BirdLife in Kazakhstan, Sergey Sklyarenko) together with the Forestry and Wildlife Committee of the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The government of Kazakhstan was responsible for the compilation of the nomination dossier, the final editing, the translation, and the design. Additional support was provided by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB – BirdLife in the United Kingdom), who provided the technical expertise of Chris Magin and Geoff Welch as well as financial support for the translation of the nomination dossier into English. In total, more than 20 experts from governmental and non-governmental organizations were directly involved in the elaboration of the dossier, with very valuable support of the World Heritage expert Alexey Butorin. This work was actively supported by the Kazakhstan National Commissions for UNESCO and the local UNESCO Office together with World Heritage experts.

The governments of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have been working on the nomination since 2006. The nomination dossier was also supported by WWF and Kyrgyz ecological groups Biom and Aleine. The dossier was also partly based on the results of the UNDP/GEF project for Western Tien-Shan. Assel Utegenova and Satybaldy Burshakov, from Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, also played key roles during the final stage of the nomination.

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe.