The Lower Amudarya State Biosphere Reserve was established in Uzbekistan in 2013, and included the territory of the former Baday-Tugay National Reserve and some areas of Beruni and Amudarya districts of Karakalpakstan that had been transferred to the reserve, which made its total area equal to 68,717.8 ha. The reserve is situated in the lower course of the Amudarya, on its right bank, at the foothills of the Sultan-Uizdag Range. The territory has the form of an egg, elongated from southeast to northwest. The reserve’s southern border is formed by the Amudarya River and the Taldyk tugai (riparian forest), while in the north and northwest it is bordered by the Kokdarya, the Amudarya’s tributary. The territory of the Amudarya Reserve includes a closed area (11,568.3 ha) which is protected with particular care. The principal goal of the Amudarya Reserve is to ensure conservation, reproduction and rational use of the sylvan resources of the Amudarya River delta, as well as to carry out scientific research and monitoring and help the economic development of the region and the preservation of cultural values. The reserve’s buffer zone is 6731.4 ha in area and is used for conservation, reproduction and restoration of natural objects and complexes. The lands of the buffer zone are owned or rented by other land owners, users or tenants.
The climate in the reserve is sharply continental. The winter is the most severe and characterised by the lowest temperatures in Uzbekistan. The temperature range is very wide, with the maximum of +44.4 °C and the minimum of lower than –30 °C. The average annual precipitation does not exceed 100 mm and falls as rain or snow. The total solar radiation amounts to 150 kcal/cm2. The autumn is rather short and features little precipitation.
The territory of the reserve is a home for 167 species of plants. A large portion of the riparian forests is covered with climbing plants, such as the Chinese clematis (Clematis orientalis), Cynanchum sibiricum, Asparagus persicus and Cuscuta lehmanniana. The tugai is poor in undergrowth, which is represented by but a few species of the early Tertiary period, such as Erianthus, Calamagrostis and Imperata. The reserve’s wetlands feature the common reed grass, Glycyrrhiza glabra, Apocynum scabrum Russan, the common plantain and ribwort plantain. The saline areas are occupied by Halostachs belanyeriana, Aeluropus littoralis, Suaeda, Tamarix and, in some places, the camel’s thorn.
The animal world of the reserve is quite typical of tugai riparian forests.
The waters of the Amudarya and Kokdarya bordering the territory of the reserve are inhabited by over 20 species of fish, with the shovelnose, barbel, bream, asp, European carp, wels, grass carp and silver carp being the most valuable from the economic aspect.
At present 13 reptiles are known to populate the territory of the Amudarya Reserve. The transitory zone between the riparian forest and the surrounding desert features the steppe tortoise and steppe agama. Ablepharus deserti can often be encountered among the fallen leaves of the Asiatic poplar in the riparian forest. At twilight Cytropodion caspius can be seen among the ruins of clay buildings preparing for hunt. Eremias velox, Eremias lineolata are also quite common for the reserve. Comparing with lizards, snakes are not so numerous. The dice snake lives near the Kokdrya river, among large stones and tree roots. Psammophis lineolatus can be seen among thickly growing willow trees, while the riparian areas covered with grass feature Elaphe dione. Two other snakes, the spotted desert racer (Coluber karelini) and Elaphe guttata are known to live under the walls of the medieval fortress Jampyk-kala.
Multiple places suitable for nesting (trees, shrubs, thick grass cover, steep banks and sand banks on the Amudarya) attract various bird species to the reserve. The forest is a good place for passing migratory birds, where they can rest and find much food. A total of 91 species of birds have been recorded in the Amudarya Reserve, with 39 nesting birds, 16 non-migratory birds, 18 wintering birds and 18 passing migratory birds. The non-migratory birds include the long-legged buzzard, common and lesser kestrels, Phasianus colchicus chrysomelas, the rock dove, laughing dove, little owl, long-eared owl, white-winged woodpecker, crested lark, magpie, carrion crow, jackdaw, cinereous tit (Parus cinereus), Parus bokharensis, the common myna (Acridotheres tristis) and tree sparrow. In spring they are joined by a large number of birds that arrive to build nests in the reserve, among which are the black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), roody shelduck, mallard, serpent eagle, black kite, shikra, peregrine falcon, stone curlew, white-tailed lapwing, stilt, black, common and little terns, yellow-eyed pigeon, turtle dove, cuckoo, striated scops-owl, Egyptian nightjar, kingfisher, common and blue-cheeked bee-eaters, roller, hoopoe, black swift, sand martin, Eurasian golden oriole, white-crowned penduline tit, common swallow, nightingale, olivaceous and Sykes’ warblers, lesser whitethroat, rufous-tailed scrub robin, masked, black-headed and yellow wagtails and shrike. In winter time the reserve is a nesting area for such northern birds as the merlin, goshawk, sparrow hawk, common buzzard, short-eared owl, black and horned larks, hooded crow, thrushes (mistle thrush, fieldfare, redwing and blackbird), waxwing, starling, reed bunting and Eurasian hawfinch. In cold winters the chukar partridge, a typical mountain dweller, flies to the reserve from the Sultan Uizdag Range. There are a number of birds which stop in the area for a short rest on their way to the north early in spring. They include the spotted flycatcher, redstarts (common, black and rufous-backed redstart), European robin, Siberian chiffchaff, greenish warbler, whitethroat, rock sparrow, chaffinch, brambling, siskin and rosefinch. Phasianus colchicus chrysomelas is a true pride of the Amudarya Biosphere Reserve.
The mammals of the reserve are represented by 58 species. The insectivorous mammals include the eared hedgehog and piebald shrew. The whiskered bat, common pipistrelle and parti-coloured bat comprise the order Chiroptera, while the lagomorphs are represented by the tolai hare. The pest rat, house mouse and midday gerbil are representatives of the rodents inhabiting the area. Among the predators the commonest are the jackal, which hides in the thickest parts of the forest, and the badger, also preferring areas thickly covered with trees or shrubs. If you are lucky enough, you can encounter a jungle cat near a river. The wild boar and Bactrian deer comprise the ungulate fauna of the reserve.
The Bactrian deer once populated the Amudarya basin and the lower Syrdarya region. The human activity led to a great shortage of the deer population and to its disappearance from the wild nature by the early 1970s. In May 1976 three specimens (two females and a male) were brought to the Baday-Tugay Reserve from the Ramit Reserve (Tajikistan), which became the first step towards the restoration of the animal’s population in Uzbekistan. They were placed in net-walled pens built for the purpose. In December 1979 nine more deer were brought. All of the deer brought acclimatised and bred. After being kept in the pens for some time, some part of the animals were released into the riparian forest. Now the total number of the deer living in the wild is about 400 specimens. The deer has started to spread to the neighbouring riparian forests, both on the right and on the left banks of the Amudarya. Today the Amudarya Reserve contains the world’s largest population of the Bactrian deer, which makes it globally significant.