Topic: Environment & ecology
A UNIQUE RESERVE ON THE POLE OF HEAT
The Karakum desert may seem lifeless and dismal only to a man who has never been there. It is felt particularly strongly in Repetek, one of the most interesting and life-rich areas of the Karakum desert. The diversity of vegetation and animal life, magnificence of Repetek landscapes captivates even the experienced traveler. Not surprisingly, it is here that the first reserve in Turkmenistan was established almost eight decades ago. In 1979, on UNESCO's decision, the Repetek Reserve gained the status of the biosphere preserve and thereby was included in the list of the internationally recognized models of natural ecosystems.
The unique nature of this region attracts many scientists' attention. Such eminent specialists as geneticist Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov and founder of the contemporary soil science Vasiliy Vasilyevich Dokuchaev used to work in the Reserve. A Russian scientist and fiction writer, Vladimir Afanasyevich Obruchev, famous for his novels "The land of Sannikov" and "Plutonia" was here, and dozens of other outstanding scientists and men of arts stayed in the Reserve. Early last century, the famous geographer and traveler Pyotr Petrovich Semenov Tyan-Shanskiy was charmed by these places.
It can't be otherwise. Repetek is a place where on the relatively small territory one can see practically all forms of the Karakum's sandy landscape which, by the way, are natural to other big and small deserts of the world. It turns out that the sandy landscape can be dune-like, ridge-like and hilly. It is impossible to enumerate all possible variations. Part of the reserve carrying clear and resembling name "Repetek Sahara" is particularly striking. Once you are there, you lose the feeling of reality. It is so eye-catching. Dunes rise around in quaintly stark waves with their tops crowned by the thinnest yellow muslin - thousands of grains of sand disturbed by a blow of wind and stylishly lightened by bright sun rays. One can roam for hours in this fantastic realm of sand as if painted by an impressionist artist. No matter how big the dunes are, but this is exactly the way the restless wind moves them from one place to the other at its whim, sorting out these sand hills by each grain of sand. So, coming back to this place later, one may not recognize a seemingly well known landscape.
It is truly amazing that connoisseurs can find their way out in this vast desert, not only among moving sands, but in the wide-spread saxaul forests. The grove "Yaman tokay" located not far from "Sahara" is one of them. Like in other groves, ordinary trees, large enough and not so high, with branchy tops grow here. However, under the canopy of these crowns you will not find a habitual forest shade. Instead of leaves, saxaul has delicate green twigs. Thanks to them, the tree can easily stand the heat of summer, which sometimes warms the sandy surface up to 80 degrees Celsius. It is nothing else but a natural stove. It is not by chance that Repetek is ranked among the hottest parts of the planet and called a "pole of heat". In the summer, it is a scorching heat here!
Spring is quite different. It is a time when the desert gets rid of the winter numbness and takes on the splendid emerald clothing. It doesn't look like a desert at this time of the year. It is more like a blossoming garden. Bright red poppies, yellow flowers of gipecuum are scattered, as if by one's generous hand, in great number on the green carpet of sandy sedge, ilaka, under the canopy of transparent saxaul forest. Tidy bushes of astragalus seem violet due to the abundance of flowers emitting unrepeatable fragrance. Delicate rosettes of fresh ferule, as if created by skilful hands of lace-makers, are all around. The bushes of kandym, full of yellow flowers that by the summer turn to the bright fluffy balls, the plant's fruits, grow here as well. Like many other desert plants, kandym has no leaves. Instead, it has green twigs. The local rhubarb is quite a different plant. Its leaves sometimes grow to big sizes, up to a meter and a half. Another amazing tree of the desert is sandy silvery acacia, a slender 6-7 m high tree reminiscent of a weeping willow, but not a green one. It dares to grow among free-flowing dunes and is not afraid of being buried under the thickness of sand.
Scientists found out that the Karakum is the most reproductive desert of our planet. Interestingly, the higher the temperature is, as high as 50-60 degrees Celsius, the more effective is the functioning of its ecosystem. The fact that almost four hundred species of mushrooms, the lower and higher plants, more than half of the Karakum desert vegetation, grow here attests to the richness of flora of the Repetek Reserve.
The animal life of Repetek is also rich and diverse. There are almost 1.5 thousand species of invertebrates - beetles, butterflies, spiders and other small creatures. Among them are the ones that became of invaluable use for science. For instance, one of local darkling beetles was lucky to take part in ... the space travel. The astronaut beetle stood the test of flight, provided scientists with valuable information necessary for assessing the possibilities of long interplanetary expeditions. Poisonous insects of Repetek deserve special attention. A small and seemingly ordinary spider, karakurt, with venom 8-10 times stronger than that of cobra, turns out to be the most dangerous insect as compared to menacing scorpion, phalanx and tarantula.
Repetek is home to over 90 per cent of species of birds, reptiles and mammals, over 250 species of vertebrate animals, inhabiting the Karakum desert. Among reptiles one can come across a tortoise, a living fortress, a sandy and big-eared toad agama and a gecko, a fan of night adventures. There is also an opportunity to get acquainted with a dozen of snake species, almost half of the number of species inhabiting Turkmenistan. A pride of the reserve, Central Asian cobra, a beautiful and noble snake always warning a careless traveler of its presence, is also among them.
When facing a cobra as well as a phoorsa it is necessary to be careful and observe the "rules of etiquette", for they are poisonous. Repetek is also home to such an "imposing" reptile as a grey giant lizard. By the way, it is the biggest lizard in the country. Taking into consideration its menacing appearance, it is deservingly called a "crocodile of the desert".
Over 200 species of birds can come across in the very heart of the burning Karakum. A surprising fact is that among them are waterfowl attracted by reservoirs formed in the sandy quarries in the outskirts of Repetek. Such birds as saxaul jay, which is ideally adapted to the conditions of dry climate, cannot do without the desert. However, the birds of prey are rightfully considered the most imposing and famous birds of Repetek. A golden eagle, one of the largest eagles in the country, has become the decoration of the Reserve. A saker falcon and long-legged buzzard also impress with their menacing appearance. Watching a pigeon-size kestrel, a small but very deft hunter, is also interesting. A long-eared owl and a horned owl become the masters of skies at night.
Gnawing animals as cheek-weeds, gophers, jerboas are the most numerous among the mammals in Repetek. It is they that leave flowery patterns-rebuses on the sand restlessly unraveled by environmental specialists.
A tolai hare, one of the typical inhabitants of the desert, is frequently come across. There are also predators as a sand cat and a fox - a character of fairy tales. A rare desert predator, caracal (lynx), lives in the reserve too. It is an intelligent and reticent animal. To see it in the desert is a great luck. Gazelles, slender and long legged antelopes and a real decoration of the fauna of the country, are one the rarest and beautiful inhabitants of Repetek. In 2001, a special farm was set up to breed and rear the gazelles in the reserve.
The Repetek Reserve of the Ministry of Nature Protection of Turkmenistan is one of the numerous astonishing and wonderful natural corners of the Karakum, a land of bright sun, "golden" dunes and saxaul forests. This world-second desert has preserved its exceptional individuality and originality till nowadays, in many respects due to the centuries-old ability of the Turkmen people to live in harmony with the nature of the native land.
Today that traditions are being revived and environmental scientists are concerned with preserving the virgin beauty of Repetek, we would like to believe that decades and hundreds of years later the journey to the fairytale Turkmen desert will still be a real discovery for everyone.
Turkmenistan Analytic Magazine