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Rare species in danger of extinction

The number of rare and vanishing species from the Caspian Sea and its coastal zones, as listed in national Red Books.
Azerbaijan Iran Kazakhstan Russia Turkmenistan
Flora 50 12 40 8
Insects 20
Amphibian 2 17 0 0
Reptiles 3 2 8
Birds 41 30 31 45 24
Mammals 14 8 5 18 2
Fish 6 3 5 5 4

Note: The Table is prepared on the basis of materials from the National reports on the state of biodiversity. Empty cells mean that there is no available information

Plant specie and wetland conservation of the Samur River considered to be important issues. The increase in economic development along coastal areas and the Samur-Divichenskoy lowland plain, as well as increasing recreational loads, has lead to the degradation of unique intra-zonal habitats. Twenty rare species of plants have been identified, characteristic of zonal dry steppe and desert communities, in Kalmykia and the low-land territory of Dagestan. These species are spread on marine terraces of various levels with particular geological characteristics. Anthropogenic interference, which has greatly increased over the past decade, is the biggest threat to many plant species. Unlimited cattle grazing, economic development, ploughing of land as well as land reclamation all contribute to the succession of the steppe and desert ecosystems, characteristic of zonal communities, to communities of little specie richness and low productivity. Rare and endemic species are poor competitors and are therefore at risk of extinction.

The change in sea level of the Caspian Sea effects the population of such plant species as Aldrovanda vesiculosa, Nelumbo caspica, Diandrochloa diarrhena, Marsilea aegyptiaca, Trapa natans. All of them inhabit the Volga Delta at the territory of the Astrakhan Nature Preserve.

In Kazakshtan, Rubia cretacea has been classified to be critically endangered specie, Aldrovanda vesiculosa as an endangered specie, and Linaria cretacea as vulnerable specie. [The National strategy, 1999]. Aldrovanda is an aquatic plant, which lives in the Ural River. Rubia and linaria can be found on outcrops of chalky soil, on the banks of the Emba River and along Ust-Yurt. All these species were considered to be rare even in the 1960s. Most of these species were discovered between 1990-1996, however species were collected in single samples and little is known about their natural habitat. In order to learn more about their different habitats, further field research would be necessary. Other species suggested to be in need of protection include the Convolvulus persicus, Stipa pseudocapillata, Artemisia gurganica, Linaria leptoceras [Safronova, 1996].

Insects In Kazakhstan there are close to 100 rare species of coleoptera, which make up 20% of the local coleoptera populations, however not all of them are included in the Red Book. Only 20 of these rare insect species are included in the Red Book of Kazakhstan (1991). These rare species inhabit northern regions of the Caspian Sea (Kuznyetsov, Martynova 1954).

Enthomology data for other coastal areas of the Caspian Sea are absent.


The Islamic Republic of Iran is the most amphibian rich country of the five surrounding countries. Twenty species of amphibians have been found to live along the Iranian coast, 85% of which are included in the list of endangered species. In other Caspian countries the variety of amphibians is low. Many amphibians are killed for consumption as they are considered a good source of protein, in particular the Rona specie.

Human activity has had a negative impact on the habitats in which amphibians live. Land reclamation and the drainage of wetlands cause the most damage to these natural habitats. Pesticides and herbicides are also problematic as they can pollute the environment in which amphibians live thus creating ecological problems. Some species are highly sensitive to contamination and are sometimes used as indicator species in order to guarantee the cleanliness of the water.


The Red books of Russia and Kazakhstan include 8 (21 %) reptile species living in the region; of these eight, four are also included in the Appendixes II and III of the Bern convention. The majority of the rare species (7) live in Dagestan.

The rarest taxons, which are at the brink of extinction, are the East-Caucasian sub-specie of the Mediterranean tortoise (Testudo graeca ibera) and western python (Eryx jaculus). The Mediterranean tortoise lives in the dry steppes and in semi-deserts of Dagestan and they may even live in mountains up to an altitude of 1100 meters. The western python can be found only at the south of Dagestan, in the steppe or in mountains up to the elevation of 1500 – 1700 meters.

The Coluber caspius is a snake that lives in river bank cliffs composed of stones and clay as well as in ravines located in steppe, desert or on banks of water bodies. In Kazakhstan they can be found only between the Volga and Ural rivers.

The Elaphe quatuerlineata is a rare snake, the populations of which are rapidly diminishing. This snake can inhabit various landscapes (dense fixed and semi-fixed sands, clay or even stone deserts). Sometimes, they can be found in urbanized areas and even inside houses. This specie is sometimes trapped by poachers and sold as pets.


Very few mammals live along the coast of the Caspian Sea; howevr, of them more than 35 species are included in the national Red Books as rare species and or in danger of extinction, requiring special protection. In the Republic of Kazakhstan species in these categories include the marbled polecate (Vormela peregusna), stot (Gasella subgutturosa) and the saigak (Saiga tatarika).In Azerbaijan, they include the small horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros), porcupine (Hystrix indica), marbled polecate (Vormela peregusna), otter (Lutra lutra), steppe cat (Felis libyca), lynx (Felis lynx), seal (Phoca caspica) and chamois (Gasella subgutturosa). In Turkmenistan, the chamois (Gasella subgutturosa) and otter. In Russia there are 18 species categorized as endangered, including the musk-rat (Ondatra zibethicus), European mink (Mustela lutreola) and Caucasian otter (Lutra lutra meridionalis ognev). Out of 19 species of mammals living at the Iranian coast 8 species are registered as endangered. The wolf (Canis lupus), hyena (Hyaena hyaena) and Caspian seal (Phoca caspica) are classified as rare species. These animals are threatened due to the deterioration of their natural habitats.

The main factors, which effect habitats and lead to their distruction, are deforestation and hydrological disturbances which affect rivers in particular. An indirect result of these factors is an imbalance within the trophic pyramids, due to the reduced number of certain species.

Population sizes of rare species may vary for different reasons. The marbled polecate (Vormela peregusna) population size varies according to food availability, in particular rodent and sand mouse population sizes. Population sizes of chamois has been effected by hunting as well as the destruction of their habitat for cattle grazing. Until the 1930s, there were 200 thousand chamois in Kazakhstan alone, today they there are 50 thousand left, half of which live in the Mangistauskaya region. In the Buzuchi peninsula, numbers are thought to range between 16-20 thousand (Red Book of Kazakhstan, 1996). Others have been spotted in the sandy dunes in the Djarda peninsula in Turkmenistan as well as in Azerbaijan, where the chamois is also included in the Red Book.

The number of weasels living in the Volga Delta, has been negatively affected by fluctuations of water levels. Anthropogenic interference has also been a reason for the population decline. Hunting of weasels was prohibited back in 1920.

The European mink (Mustela lutreola) is a very rare specie which is in danger of extinction. It can be found living in the Volga delta. Anthropogenic interference has lead to a decrease in the population size of the European mink as has the introduction of its close relative, the American mink (Mustela vison), which occupies the same ecological niche and has been found to be a stronger competitor than the European mink.

The otter (Lutra lutra) is another specie included in the Red Book of Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. However, otter hunting is allowed both in the Astrakhan region as well as the Volga delta, although certain quotas have been imposed. The Caucasian otter (Lutra lutra meridionalis ognev) is a rare sub-specie and lives in Dagestan in the Terek and Sulak rivers.

The Dziggetai (Asinus hemionus) from Turkmenistan is a rare animal, which belongs to the horse family and lives in on east coast of the Caspian Sea. It became extinct in Kazakhstan during the 1930s, and was re-introduced to the Barsakelmes island in the Aral Sea in 1953. In 1991, it was re-introduced into the Aktay-Buzachynsky Natural Reserve located on the Tub-Karagan peninsula.


In Kazakhstan, 31 species of birds living along the coast or coastal areas of the Caspian Sea are included into the Red Book of Kazakhstan. The majority of them live in aquatic and coastal ecosystems, examples of which include the pink pelican (Pelecanus rufescens) (up to 2 thousand) and Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus), yellow heron (Nyctanassa violacea), Greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) (up to 35 thousand), and white-tail eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla). There are 13 bird species of rare birds found in desert landscape, examples of which include the great bustard (Otis tarda), snake bird (Plotus Anhinga), steppe eagle (Aquila rapax), and eagle-owl (Bubo bubo).

Other rare and coastal dwelling birds to be found in Kazakhstan include the little egret (Egretta garsetta) (up to 1,5 thousand), glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) (up to 600), and during winter months the white-tail eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla).

Forty-five species of birds living along the Russian coast of the Caspian Sea have been included into the list of rare and vanishing birds. Of these forty-five species, twelve are included in the Red book of Europe in a category "endangered" (E), "rare " (R) and "vulnerable" (V); 14 species are included in the Red book IUPN (category E, R, V); 28 species are included in the Appendix II of the Bern Convention. The richest bird fauna is found in Dagestan and Astrakhan. Among 45 classified bird species, 24 are closely bound to the coast and use it as a place for feeding and/or nestling.

Another bird to be included in the red Book of IUPN within the category ‘E’ is the curly pelican (Pelecanus crispus), the numbers of which do not exceed 300. These birds can be found living in the Volga delta (mainly between the Kirov and Gandurin canals), the Terek river valley (Kizliar and Astrakhan bays) and in Kazakhstan, in particular Zhilava kosa.

More common is the pink pelican (Pelicanus onocrotalus) of which there are over 2 thousand individuals. This specie can be found in Russia, the Manych-Gudili lake as well as, although less frequently, in the Volga delta. In Kazakhstan, this specie is even more common and can be found between the mouth of the Ural River, the Zhilaya spit and at the pre-delta area of the Volga River.

Other rare birds living along the Russian coastline of the Caspian sea include the baklan (Phalacrocorax pygmaeus) (category "K" in the Red Book of IUPN), flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus), Egyptian heron (Bubalcus ibis), kolpitsa (Platalea leucorodia), karavayka (Plegadis falcinellus), sultanka (Porphyrio porphirio), sterkh (Grus leucogeranus) (category "V" of the Red Book of IUPN), krechetka (Chettusia gregaria) (category "R" of the Red Book of IUPN), European tuyvik (Accipiter brevipes) , European snake bird (Circaetus gallicus gallicus), long-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus), white-tail eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) and great bustard (Otis tarda).

289 species of birds live in Turkmenistan, 43 of which are rare and in danger of extinction. 24 of these are included in the Red Book of Turkmenistan, however, the remaining 19 species also require strict protection in order to prevent them from becoming extinctinct.

In Gilan, Iran, there are 30 species of birds to be registered as endangered. These birds make up 50% of the total bird population in this area. It is estimated that 40% of the endangered species are subject to hunting, of which those from the Anatidae family make up 23%. The 30 endangered birds are considered to be highly sensitive and are included in the list of rare species, although they used to be common, the population numbers have decreased due to increased anthropogenic pressure on their natural habitats. This has had certain side effects, for example, the Marmoronetta ongustirostris has had to change its migration route.


Many factors effect the distribution of fish species within the Caspian Sea. Species considered to be rare in some areas may be relatively common in others.

All Caspian countries have included the minoga, a migrating fish, into their Red Books, of which the minogous is the sole representative in the Caspian sea. It is registered under the 2nd category which entails species whose population is rapidly declining in numbers within a specified region. The minoga may travel up to a few hundred kilometers upstream in order to reach spawning grounds. In recent years, hydro-engineering constructions have greatly reduced their reproduction as they can no longer move upstream.

Salmon species, used to be heavily fished for commercial purposes. Two sub-species of salmon exist in the Caspian Sea: caspian salmon (Salmo trutta caspius) and the white fish (Stenodus leucichthys leucichthys). Both of which live in the Caspian Sea but spawn in the rivers feeding into the sea. The Caspian salmon (Salmotrutla c.) has been included into the Red Book of Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

The Caspian salmon (Salmotrutla c.) has been included under the 1st category status as it is under threat of extinction. Other sub-species of salmonids inhabit the basins of the Baltic, Black, White, Azov and Aral Seas. They can be found mainly in the south-west part of the Caspian Sea as well as in the rivers entering the sea (mainly coming down from the Caucasian mountain range). During the 1940s, the salmon catch was as high as 410 –620 tons a year, but by the 1960s it was only 5 tons per year.

The Caspian White fish is in the Coregonidae family. It included in the Red Book under the 4th category status. It has also been included into the Red Book of IUPN (International Union for the Protection of Nature). The white fish is a sub-specie of white salmon which has a very limited habitat area. It can be found only in the Caspian Sea, mainly in its northern and middle part and in the rivers entering the Caspian Sea (Volga, Ural). In summer it remains in deep areas of the sea (depth up to 50 m), but in autumn and spring it concentrates at shallow sections of the north part of the sea.

During the 1930s, the catch of white fish in the Northern Caspian was in the range of 1,400 tons a year, but by the end of the 1950s it had decreased to 0.4 tons a year. Catastrophic decrease in the catch was attributed to regulation of the Volga River flow due to the construction of dams, which led to nearly complete termination of the natural reproduction of this specie. Later on, due to artificial reproduction, stocks were partially restored but today they remain below commercial level. In the past the spawning grounds of the white fish were located at the tributary to the Volga River – the Kama River. Currently, a number of white fish have been found to use sites downstream from the Volgograd hydropower station, but efficiency of these spawning grounds is very low.

The multi-staminal herring has been included into the Red Books of Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan under the 2nd category status. It moves to the Volga, Ural, and Terek Rivers only to spawn. During the 1930s, it was the most commonly fished specie of herring (up to 70 thousand tons a year). However, due to the fishing industry and difficulties in reproduction this specie is becoming quite rare.

The kutum specie (Rutilus frissi kutum) has been included into the Red Books of both Kazakhstan and Russia under the 3rd category status. This specie is a member of the carp family and is a rare specie whose population is declining. The kutum is a sub-specie with limited geographical spread. It is most commonly found in the southern, south-western and middle regions of the Caspian sea. It is very rarely found in the northern regions. In the southern regions, the kutum is of commercial value.

The Red Book of Azerbaijan includes fish species such as the South-Caspian white-eyed bream (Abramis sapa bergi), pike (Esox lucius), perch (Perca fluviatilis), and ship sturgeon (Acipenser nudiventris). Reduction in the size of the marine pike-perch populations has been noticed in countries of the southern Caspian, in particular Iran and Turkmenistan. Presently, the marine pike-perch (Zusciopera marina) has nearly completely disappeared in the region south of the Turkmen-Bashi gulf. Its population is limited to the rocky sections of the sea in the Kara-Bogaz-Gol area. Extinction of the marine pike-perch from the wetlands of the Turkmen coast (as well as in other areas of the sea) has started to speed up after intensification of oil and gas abstraction which is the cause of much pollution.

During the 1990s, fish poaching radically increased. This had a negative impact on the most valuable commercial fishes – sturgeon and salmon. As a result, their numbers have radically decreased, bringing about the issue of their conservation. Near the Azeri coast, the fish stocks of species such as the barbel (Barbus mursa), Danubian bleak (Chacalburnus chalcoides), have radically decreased and are under threat of extinction. These species as well as sturgeon and salmon are recommended by the Azeri experts to be included into the National Red Book.

In Kazakhstan, the sterlet (Acipenser ruthenus) (of the Ural River population) barbel (Barbus mursa), spiny loach (Gobitis aurata) and others have been put forth for additions to the Red Book species.

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