Wild Russia Home PageNature Reserve ProfilesWild Russia PhotographersPublicationsAbout CRNCContact Us

Size:19,061 ha (191 km2), including 18,485 ha (185 km2) marine area
Buffer zone: 21,065 ha (211 km2)

Contact information:
Magomedov, Gazimagomed Magomedovich, Director
Russia 367010, Dagestan Republic
Makhachkala, ul. Gagarina, 120

Tel: (7-872-2) 62-85-07

Email: zapovednik@icc-mt.net

Kabardino-Balkarsky Zapovednik

Photo by Konstantin Mikhailov
© Igor Shpilenok

In Kizlyar Bay, a secluded nook in the Caspian Sea's northwestern shore, a nearly impenetrable broad band of tall reeds separates the water from the mainland.  A hundred species of birds -- coots, geese, herons, and pelicans to name a few -- congregate in these reeds along fertile coastal waters for nesting, wintering, and stopover during long migrations.  In the rich seawater offshore, millions of carp, herring, and other fish are spawned each year, helping to replenish populations of highly sought after commercial species.  A significant portion of this fertile bay is protected in Dagestansky Zapovednik, the only strictly protected area in Russia's Dagestan Republic.  Near the capital city of Makhachkala to the south, another much smaller section of the preserve guards the Sarykum Sand Dune, a miniature island of desert amidst the North Caucasus steppe.

Dagestansky Zapovednik Images
Dagestansky Zapovednik Facts

Dagestansky Zapovednik in Russian Conservation News journal:

Russian Conservation NewsDagestansky Zapovednik: Protecting Fish Stocks in the Northern Caspian Sea, RCN #36, page 20, 2004

Images of Dagestansky Zapovednik
Click on each photo to see a large version.

Photo by Konstantin Mikhailov
Igor Shpilenok

Rare Eastern white pelicans in Kizlyar Bay.

Photo by Konstantin Mikhailov
© Igor Shpilenok

A mallard tends her nest in Kizlyar Bay in spring.

© Igor Shpilenok

Mute swans nest in thickets of reeds along Kizlyar Bay.

Photo by Konstantin Mikhailov
© Igor Shpilenok

Reeds flanking Kizlyar Bay create safe refuge for nesting waterfowl.

Photo by Konstantin Mikhailov
© Igor Shpilenok

A common gallinule chick awaits its mother's return.


Photo by Konstantin Mikhailov
© Igor Shpilenok

Sarykum Sand Dune is an island of desert surrounded by steppes.

Igor Shpilenok

The blunt-nosed viper inhabits the sands of Sarykum Dune.

Igor Shpilenok

The top of Sarykum Dune is virtually bare of vegetation.

Dagestansky Zapovednik Facts:

AnimalsVegetationGeographical FeaturesConservation StatusReferences


The Kizlyar Bay of the Caspian Sea, with its rich coastal marine resources, attracts more than 100 species of birds.  The section of the bay protected in the zapovednik is an especially important thoroughfare for migration of waterfowl en route between nesting and wintering areas in the spring and fall.  Many migratory birds linger in the rich feeding grounds for long periods and a number of species spend the entire winter here.  Large colonies of common coots (Fulica atra), glossy ibises (Plegadis falcinellus), and Eurasian spoonbills (Platalea leucorodia) flock to the bay to nest.  Herons (Egretta garzetta, E. alba, Ardea cinerea) and greylag geese (Anser anser) nest in significant numbers along the reed-rimmed coast.  Several pairs of mute swans (Cygnus olor) have been found nesting on small islands in the bay.  The voices of numerous species of gulls, including black-headed and herring gulls (Larus ridibundus, L. argentatus), blend in a cacophonic symphony over the water.  Migrating great cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo), pintail (Anas acuta), and great crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus) gather here in large numbers.  Several rare and endangered bird species have been recorded in the zapovednik, including Dalmatian and eastern white pelicans (Pelecanus crispus, P. onocrotalus), greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber), little bustard (Tetrax tetrax), and great bustard (Otis tarda).

Kizlyar Bay is an important spawning ground for a number of commercial fish species such as sprat (Clupeonella delicatula caspia), pike-perch (Esox lucius), herring (Alosa saposhnikovi, A. brashnikovi), oriental bream (Abramis brama orientalis), common carp (Cyprinus carpio), Caspian roach (Rutilus rutilus caspicus), and other species, many of which are also important components in marine and freshwater food chains.  Approximately 75 million juvenile freshwater and anadromous fish are spawned here each year, all in an area of about five square kilometers.  Many species have adapted their spawning habits to the changing water levels of the Caspian.  When the water level is high they spawn along the coast; when the water recedes they spawn in areas of open water on pondweed (Potamogeton spp.) and other vegetation growing at depths of several meters.  The aquatic area of the zapovednik also serves as an important feeding and wintering ground for many species of fish, and is a vital route for fish migrating along the Caspian coast.  Sturgeon species (Acipenser guldenstadti, A. stellatus, A. nudiventris, A. ruthenus, Huso huso), highly valued around the world for their black caviar, pass through the reserve, though none spawn here.  Altogether, over 70 species and subspecies of fish rely on the marine protected area for feeding, spawning, and wintering.

Mammals frequenting the thick belt of reeds along the shore of Kizlyar Bay include wild boar (Sus scrofa), jungle cat (Felis chaus), and the introduced raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procynonoides), muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus), and swamp beaver (Myocastor coypus).  Corsac and red fox (Vulpes corsac, V. vulpes) and European hare (Lepus europaeus) inhabit steppe lands near the coast.  The marsh frog (Rana ridibunda) is the only amphibian found in this section of the reserve.  Reptiles include Renard's viper (Vipera ursini), grass snake (Natrix natrix), and the endangered spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca).

Nearly 180 km to the south, the Sarykum Sand Dune section of the zapovednik offers strikingly different scenery and wildlife.  The dune, looming 262 meters above the adjacent Caspian lowlands, is dominated by desert and semi-desert habitats.  Here, long-eared hedgehog (Erinaceus auritus), northern three-toed jerboa (Dipus sagitta), gray hamster (Cricetulus migratorius), and corsac fox are among the more common mammal residents.  Bird life is significantly less diverse on the dune than in Kizlyar Bay.  European nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) make sparse nests on the sand.  Lesser kestrels (Falco naumanni) and harriers (Circus aeruginosus, C. pygargus) keep watch for small reptiles as they soar above the dune, while large cinereous vultures (Aegypius monachus) circle high in the sky for hours on motionless wings.  Eurasian rollers (Coracias garrulus) take advantage of the abundance of insects and lizards and, occasionally, flocks of European and blue-cheeked bee-eaters (Merops apiaster, M. superciliosus) linger here.  Sarykum Sand Dune is the preferred habitat of a number of reptiles:  toad-headed agama (Phrynocephalus mystaceus) and rapid fringe-toed lizard (Eremias velox) are relict species found on the dune.  Blunt-nosed viper (Vipera lebetina) inhabits the foot of the dune, along with Northern viper (V. berus), sand boa (Eryx miliaris), and large whip snake and Dahl's whip snake (Coluber jugularis, C. najadum).  Green toads (Bufo viridis) are the most prevalent amphibian on the dune.  Invertebrate life in both sections of the zapovednik has been poorly studied. 


Coastal lowland valleys with a number of inlets flank the Kizlyar Bay section of Dagestansky Zapovednik.  The lowlands, which lie 28 meters below sea level, once lay at the bottom of the now diminished Caspian Sea.  Plant communities shift from desert and semi-desert vegetation inland to salt marsh, meadow-bog, and wetland ecosystems on the coast.  Rich marine vegetation and thick underwater meadows blanket the shallow sea floor.  Representatives of desert plant communities inland include frosted orach (Atriplex tatarica), sea-blite (Suaeda confusa), giant alkali grass (Puccinella gigantea), and Gmelini's leadwort (Limonium gmelinii).  Semi-desert vegetation covers a limited area, but includes bulbous bluegrass (Poa bulbosa), clasping pepperweed (Lepidium perfoliatum), feathergrass (Stipa capillata), and wormwood (Artemesia lerchiana).  Meadow-bog communities along the coast consist of broad belts of tall bur reeds (Phragmites communis), woodreeds (Calamagrostis epigeios), water mint (Mentha aquatica), and spiked loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria).  Narrow-leaved cat's tail (Typha angustifolia), bur reed, and common club rush (Scirpus lacustris) rim the shore.  Sea club-rush (Bolboschoenus maritimus) flourishes in shallow waters.  Further offshore, dense underwater meadows, which often blanket the sea floor completely, consist mostly of fennel-leaved pondweed (Potamogeton pectinatus) and, in deeper waters, also curly-leaved pondweed (P. crispus) and water milfoils (Myriophyllum spicatum, M. verticillatum).  Common floating pondweed (P. natans) and star duckweed (Lemna trisulca) float on the surface.  Rare plant species in the Kizlyar Bay section include water chestnut (Trapa natans), great fen-sedge (Cladium mariscus), floating fern (Salvinia natans), and common bladderwort (Utricularia vulgaris) -- the flowering stems of which rise above the water.

The Sarykum Sand Dune, a miniature desert island amidst a sea of steppe, hosts a vastly different array of vegetation.  The plant life on the dune has been well documented, starting from the observations of Soviet botanist A. Maiorov in the 1920s.  Today, the list of plants here includes 279 species.  An entire order of plant forms was discovered in the sands, including Karakugen milkvetch (Astragalus karakugensi) and the eremosparton shrub (Eremosparton aphyllum) -- plants that are characteristic of the deserts of Kazakhstan and Central Asia.  Maiorov concluded that these are relict species remaining from an ancient desert that once extended over a large area.  The top of the dune is virtually bare of vegetation due to the continuous movements of blowing sand.  Lower down, the first plants to take hold in the sands are wormwood (Artemisia arenaria), giant wild rye (Leymus giganteus), and ghost orchid (Epipogium aphyllum).  These plants are soon joined by oriental bugseed (Corispermum orientate), Colkhic sedge (Carex colchica), and annual kochia (Kochia laniflora).  Siberian wheatgrass  (Agropyron sibirica), drooping brome (Bromus tectorum), and bulbous bluegrass grow on less dense sands, as well as sea grape (Ephedra distachya) -- the only evergreen found here.  There are a number of mineral springs and swampy areas at the foot of the dune, due to the fact that the mountain of sand absorbs large quantities of moisture from the air.  Here bur reed, willows (Salix spp.), black poplar (Populus nigra), and other water-tolerant species are found.  Among rare species on the dune are sharp-lobed iris (Iris acutiloba), Shishkin's groundsel (Senecio schischkinii), and Karakugen milkvetch. 

Geographical Features

Dagestansky Zapovednik is situated on two territories in the Dagestan Republic of Russia's North Caucasus Region.  The Kizlyar Bay section of the reserve in the Tarumovsky District, which includes predominately coastal and marine habitat, covers 18,485 km and has a buffer zone of 19,890 km extending along its western and southern borders.  The Sarykum Sand Dune, located 180 km to the south of Kizlyar Bay in the Buinaksky District (and under 25 km from the capital city of Makhachkala), covers 576 ha.  Its buffer zone includes a one-kilometer wide strip of 1,175 ha around the core of the protected area. 

The Sarykum Sand Dune is a unique natural phenomenon -- a virtual island of desert amid of sea of steppe habitat.  The sand dune represents one of the last fragments of Asian desert that has been preserved west of the Caspian and is the largest such formation in all of Eurasia.  The southern flank of the dune connects with the foothills of the Kumtorkalinsky Range, while the northern and eastern sides gradually slope down to the lowlands along the Caspian.  Sarykum, which reaches 262 meters above sea level, is the highest of a 3,000 ha (30 km2) system of sand dunes.  The system gradually formed over the ages as a result of wind erosion of sands from neighboring mountains and sediments of ancient terraces of the Caspian Sea.  Sarykum in the Tartar language means "golden sands."  The loose sands on the upper parts of the golden dune are constantly in motion, stirred by strong winds blowing from the west and northwest in winter and east and southeast in summer.

The climate along the northwestern Caspian coast is affected by both marine and continental weather systems.  Most of the precipitation (averaging 366 mm annually) falls from September to November.  In Kizlyar Bay, temperatures soar to 35 degrees Celsius in July, while dipping to --35 degrees Celsius in January.  Winds, prevailing from the east and southeast, frequently make for rough waters in the bay.  The climate around Sarykum to the south is dry and warm, with the highest average temperatures (31.4 degrees Celcius) noted in August and the lowest average temperatures (--1 degrees Celcius) occurring in February.

While there are no rivers in the Kizlyar Bay section of zapovednik, the Kuma River flows into a narrow inlet just north of the reserve's boundary.  The salinity of Kizlyar Bay is dependent on waters flowing from the Kuma, the Volga, and less so from the Terek River, as well as wind patterns impacting marine currents and mixing in the water column.  The Shura-Ozen River flows through the Sarykum section of the zapovednik, beginning on the slopes of the Gimrinsky Range and flowing into the Caspian.

Conservation Status

The original plan for creating Dagestansky Zapovednik, drafted in the 1970s, called for setting aside five different territories with a combined area of 111,000 ha (1,110 km2), or five times the current size of the reserve.  Due to a number of complications -- from the failure to obtain agreement from landusers to deterioration of ecological conditions in the proposed areas, only two regions were included in the zapovednik when it was finally created in 1987 -- Kizlyar Bay and the Sarykum Sand Dune.  With a combined area of 19,061 ha (191 km2), the current territory of the zapovednik protects less than 0.19 percent of Dagestan and includes none of the spectacular high mountain landscapes of the Great Caucasus Range, occupying much of the southern part of the republic.  High mountain areas of the Guton Mountain Range and the lower reaches of the Samur River still require protection.  Efforts are underway to create the Upper Inkhelinsky Section of the zapovednik in the Akhvakhsky District.  Additionally, initial approval has been granted by the Kizlyar District Government to set aside over 100 ha of reasonably intact forest habitat along the coast, as well as part of Tuleny (Seal) Island in the bay for conservation of rare species of plants and animals. 

One of the greatest problems for conservation of Dagestansky Zapovednik is rampant poaching of rich fish resources in Kizlyar Bay.  Kizlyar Bay is the main commercial fishing region along Dagestan's Caspian coast.  Poaching impacts populations of spawning species, particularly carp and other large fish.  Sturgeon have virtually disappeared from the bay area altogether.  Poaching in fish wintering grounds markedly affects regeneration of a number of species.  The fight against poaching is complicated by the fact that the poachers are usually better equipped than the reserve rangers.  Some poachers even operate within the state fish inspection agency.  One way to help deter poachers would be to place sizable marine buoys around the perimeter of the marine area to make the borders of the reserve visible.  More radical measures are needed to halt poaching by enforcement agencies.

Human pressures also threaten the integrity of the fragile Sarykum Sand Dune ecosystem.   People in neighboring villages use lands in the dune's buffer zone for farming and livestock.  Industrial enterprises extract sand from areas adjacent to the buffer zone.


Krever, V., N. Zazanashvili, H. Jungius, L. Williams and D. Petelin.  Biodiversity of the Caucasus Ecoregion.  WWF Russian Programme Office, Moscow, 2001 (English).

Magomedov, G.M. "Dagestansky State Nature Zapovednik -- Present and Future,"Zapovedniks and National Parks of the Northern Caucasus. Kavkazsky Krai Publishing Agency, Stavropol, 2000 (Russian).

Sokolov, V.E., and E.E. Syroechkovsky (eds.).  Zapovedniks of the USSR:  Zapovedniks of the Caucasus.  Mysl Publishers, Moscow, 1990 (Russian).

Vronsky, N.V., A.M. Amirkhanov, 1990. "Dagestansky Zapovednik." Published on the website of the Biodiversity Conservation Center www.biodiversity.ru (Russian). 

Zabelina, N.M, L.S. Isaeva-Petrova, and L.V. Kuleshova.  Zapovedniks and National Parks of Russia.  Logata, Moscow, 1998 (Russian and English).

Text prepared by Laura Williams.

| Top | Home | Tour | Photo Gallery | Publications | About CRNC | Contact Us |

Brought to you by the Center for Russian Nature Conservation