Big Balhan is a mountain island among endless plains of the Karakums. The richness of colours of natural landscapes leaves wonderful and bright impressions. Mountain trails lead from the stone bags through the gorges with steep slopes of screes to the spaces of huge plateau that crowns the range. The highest point of the Balkhan, the Arlan Mountain is located on 1,800 meters above the sea level. Mountain ranges sharply contrast with surrounding desert plains not only by the landscape and microclimate but also by biodiversity. The most valuable island structure of flora and fauna, each species of which is unique in its own way, is preserved there and it can rightly be considered as a message of past geological epochs. It is well known that more than four hundred species of vascular plants grow in the relatively specific arid flora of the mountain ranges of Balkhan (Great and Small).
The composition of fauna today includes more than 200 species, although its study in full is not yet complete, especially in remote, infertile and remote biotopes. A golden eagle, a bearded man, a black vulture, a peregrine falcon, a sparrowfruit, a cheglock nestle on the spurs of Balkhan. There are small flocks of white-winged and forest larks, black-headed ewers, stems, red-capped finch, juniper grosbeak. The world of reptiles is rich adorned by the cautious gray lizard, the fast lizard and the Central Asian cobra. The small number of argali and bezoar goat reflected on the state of the population - the leopard occupying the top of the ecological pyramid, and carnivorous birds-scavengers.
But a favorable feed base, the presence of shelters and a decrease in pressure from the leopard allowed increasing in the wolf and jackal population. There are foxes and corsac, badger, stone marten and weasel.
Various rodents like gerbils, voles and reddish pika, Afghan snapper, Kopetdag and gray hamsters are spread widely. The Indian porcupine and the Kopetdag dormouse, a rodent, prefer to climb trees like a squirrel, feel comfortable there. A steppe ferret, a striped hyena and very rarely a wild boar come to hilly and rocky foothills. There is a caracal and a red manul, the size of a domestic cat in less developed areas, among the exits of rocks. A cheetah disappeared from these places at the beginning of the last century, the and much earlier - kulans. Migration of saigas from Kazakhstan was observed in the severe winters in the north of the Great Balkhan.
The basis of the flora is composed of species common to Iran and Transcaucasia, because many relicts with a narrow distribution area have been locally preserved here in extreme conditions. For example, you can find the antiquities of the Jurassic period - a variety of ferns - here they are found in six species, and also other rare plants - the low-lying flock and barren onosma near the springs, in the cracks of rocks.
Soft-fruited kritmolistny - relict creeping shrub, decorated with fleshy orange-red berries, which are often called "Asian cranberries" grows in the thickets of the juniper. There are endemics-that is, Eugene's onion, nowhere to be found, Balkhan dolma, Balkhan and Korovin acantholimon and, rabbi hare, Galina's zipper, wormwood, Balkhan Astragalus, Balkhan bunny. Therefore, these plants has the word Balkhan in their scientific name. In addition to rare, there are many other ordinary interesting plants. The Zygophyllum, the Turkmen on the chalk hills and the Syr-Darya on the saline substrate, is noticeable component among ephemeral-wormwood thickets.
Kopetdag Solyanka, capers Radde and bindweed shrub are observed among the variegation on the gravel slopes. Mountain and desert vegetation form strange combinations. You can find saltwort and black saxaul in the vast areas of low mountains among the wormwood and saxaul can go up and up - right up to the rocky, shallow areas.
If you look carefully at the composition of plants, climbing the vertical profile of the mountains, you can observe how the desert complex is gradually replaced by semi-desert, then mountain areas - all in order, as if it were parts of the botanical garden. Only the shibliak is dominant - the specific tree and shrub communities along with the xerophyte hillocks at a dizzy height, closer to the precipitous edges of Balkhan. Canopy of Sitnikovi, the prickly goat's-wheat and sandy acacia of Konolly grow on the gravelly slopes of the lower reaches;the belt of the middle reaches are dominated by trees and thorn bushes . The karaginas with beautiful bright yellow flowers and a small half-shrub of reomuria are flaunting above. You can meet congestions of small-fruited and Turkmen cherries, cotoneaster and barberry, honeysuckle, conifers in shaded gorges under the shadow of steep cliffs. There are many fig trees in the gorges leading to the plateau, its thickets are located on steep rocky slopes, some trees huddle even in the cracks of the rocks. The heavily sparse stand of the Turkmen juniper is the most extreme xerophytic version of juniper trees, preserved in places remote from populated areas. The extensive woodlands of juniper take a leading role in the formation of the entire vegetation cover, some old trees reach a height of 16 meters.
The difference in altitude is visually estimated if to look from the height of the mountain peaks at the desert stretching below with a blurred distant horizon. To overcome the sheer cliffs of asymmetric rock ridges and heaps of stone blocks can only be achieved by a professional mountaineer who, unlike an unsportsmanlike researcher, botanist or zoologist, easily passes where the scientist cannot step. Probably, this remains one of the reasons for the presence of white spots in knowledge about the flora and fauna of the ecosystems of the Great Balkhan, which in the meantime is a real natural museum occupying 500 thousand hectares.
Source: Turkmenistan: the Golden Age Online Newspaper