Ustiurt Preserve is a national nature park that is found in the southwestern region of the Ustiurt plateau within the Mangystau Province. The reserve is home to several rare animals such as the cheetah, gazelle, jackal, fox, ferret, and hedgehog. Other animals freely roaming and playing in the area are caracal (which hunts on hares, rodents and tiny birds), sand cat, Pallas cat, wolf, fox, corsac, weasel, steppe polecat, badger, Saiga antelope, and Ustiurt mouflon sheep. Some of the animals here have made it to Kazakhstan’s “Red Book” of endangered species, such as the Ustiurt mouflon, long-needled hedgehog, karakul lynx, Persian gazelle, short-toed eagle, Egyptian vulture, Saker falcon and golden eagle. There are 261 species of plants, 27 species of animals, 111 species of birds, 44 species of mammals, 17 species of rodents and plenty of reptiles. In 1982, people thought the cheetah and the lynx-like caracal have completely disappeared in Kazakhstan, but Ustiurt Preserve proved them wrong.
In addition to the rich flora and fauna, the national reserve also features a number of ancient monuments, which include Horezmhahs Road. Ancient caravan tracks are found over the vast plateau that connects Khiva with Emba and Volga. There are also ancient cities, fortresses and cemeteries with fascinating mausoleums. Many of the tombs have remained uninvestigated until today, adding to the mystical charm of the plateau. Also found within Ustiurt are ancient burial sites that have dated all way to the 4th century. Researchers now believe that the burial area was used by nomadic tribes during the Sacae-Massaget period.
Mangystau Province offers different tour routes that showcase ancient cities and roads. Particularly, the “Journey along the Great Silk Road” tour passes along Ustiurt’s stunning rock formations and boulders, as though giant sentries or mythical animals are watching over anyone who would pass by. The Silk Road is the ancient trade route that connected Europe and Asia and allowed the exchange of goods, linen (silk in particular), wares, crafts and other commodities, as well as cultures and traditions. Ancient traders from China, Central Asia and Europe traveled in caravans along this road, while unknowingly establishing civilizations and new cities. The Kazakh towns of Sarytash, Ketyk, Kabakly, Sherkala and Alta in Mangystau were borne from the Silk Road trades.
The huge country of Kazakhstan connects Asia and Europe. It shares borders with Russia, China, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and the Caspian Sea. This former Soviet state is so vast that some of its regions are arid desert while the others are freezing snowcapped mountains and glaciers. It is this vast landscape that gives rise to biodiversity and a number of national nature parks all over the country. Kazakhstan is famous for its wide open feather-grass steppes, mountains, canyons and lakes, as well as endemic animals, many of which are found in the Ustiurt-Mangystau area.
Ustiurt Preserve and Mangystau Province are often referred to interchangeably. Ustiurt was established in 1984, covering a wide area that is as huge as 223,000 hectares. Occupying a portion of Ustiurt Plateau, the nature park has no natural and permanent water source, except drain-less basins such as the huge Barsakelmes basin.