Kyrgyzstan – Expansion potential of the protected area network in the Biosphere Reserve Issyk-Kul

The vast majority of Kyrgyzstan’s land area is located in the Tienshan Mountains (Chinese for “Heavenly Mountains”), severely limiting the area available for horticultural and agricultural use. This has led to extensive grazing practices, with summer and winter grazing at high and low elevations and a complex system of pasture rotation.

Located at an elevation of about 1,600 meters in the multifaceted high alpine country of the central Tienshan is the world’s second-largest high alpine lake, Issyk-Kul (“Hot Lake”). Its depth of 700 meters, slight salinity and the presence of multiple hot springs make it virtually impossible for the lake to freeze up in the winter. Due to this natural phenomenon, along with the enormous abundance of fish, this lake and its picturesque surroundings, embedded among the Tienshan’s 7000-meter-high peaks, represent an important resting area for migratory birds.

The ecological uniqueness of this habitat and its importance as an agricultural area used by the native population as well as a tourism hotspot led to its designation in the 1990s as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, with a claim to a largely ecologically sustainable regional development.

The Biosphere Reserve contains several core zones, whose combined area amounts to 3% of the total territory, in accordance with the UNESCO criteria, and where any human interference is forbidden. Many endemic species are tied to the Tienshan’s habitats and are strictly protected in the reserve’s core zones. About 4,000 plant species have been described from the Tienshan Mountains, with about 1,400 endemic to the region.

However, the five existing core zones do not representatively cover all of the region’s habitat types. As yet, no coverage exists for the dry-arid steppe areas in the southeastern part of the Biosphere Reserve, which extend from the coastline across the coastal foothills up to the alpine zone.

Therefore, it is the project’s goal to develop a study in cooperation with Kyrgyzstan’s environmental NGO BIOM, covering the following aspects:

  • Ecological characterization of the Kara Koo region through an analysis of the current state of research,
  • Preparation of an analysis of the threats facing the reserve,
  • Exact analysis of the protected areas within the Biosphere Reserve in regard to their representativeness,
  • Potential for a sustainable tourism development,
  • Development of an agenda for a potentially stricter protection status.


This study is funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation and the Federal Environmental Agency, within the framework of the Advisory Assistance Program for Environmental Protection in the countries of Central Asia, Central and Eastern Europe.


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Project coordination:

Sebastian Schmidt, email: