Kyrgyzstan, in Central Asia, is blessed with beautiful, wild and mountainous landscapes, exceptional wildlife, a rich culture and a deeply generous and hospitable people. Their traditions are founded on the principles of co-existence with nature and a deep respect for the land.
Although forests account for a relatively small area of land in Kyrgyzstan, the country is notably home to significant tracts of globally important fruit-and-nut forest. Characterised by ancient walnut stands, these forests also harbour a wide variety of other fruit- and nut-bearing trees, including wild apple, pear, cherry, plum, pistachio and almond. Many of these species are the ancestors of today’s domesticated varieties, and are an important storehouse of genetic diversity.
However, this is also a country of change and of economic extremes, where the modest successes of market reforms in the capital city Bishkek contrast starkly with the crippling poverty in rural areas.
This poverty is forcing local people to use natural resources at a rate that is driving some species, such as the snow leopard, towards extinction. This overexploitation is destroying the delicate natural balance that their ancestors maintained for generations.
Kyrgyzstan’s fauna is diverse, and spreads across the mountains. Between 3,400 and 3,800 meters, the most common inhabitants are grey marmots, along with silver mountain voles and field voles. Brown bears roam in the summer, alongside wild rams, hares, and mountain goats. Above 3,800, one can still find marmots and voles, though they are less common. Here, birds are the most common animals, including red-bellied redstarts, alpine choughs, rock pigeons, partridges, and bullfinches. Birds of prey are also relatively common in the mountains, where golden eagles, falcons, hawks, and buzzards. These fearsome predators are sometimes used for hunting, and can be trained, though not domesticated. Up at higher altitudes, one can find mountain goats scaling steep cliffs and ledges. Kyrgyzstan’s animals include rarer species living in the mountains, such as Marco Polo sheep, red deer, lynx, and snow leopards. Marco Polo sheep have the longest horns of any sheep, with the longest horn every measured reaching almost 2 meters (6 feet). Snow leopards prefer to stay hidden, and are now listed as vulnerable because their habitat is disappearing.