Kyrgyzstan’s mountainous terrain creates pockets of isolation in which diverse plant and animal life thrive. Some interesting examples:
Elusive and endangered this big cat is almost never seen. Estimates of the population in Kyrgyzstan range from 150-500 animals. Regardless the leopard has a strong presence in Kyrgyz culture— even featuring as the emblem of the capitol city of Bishkek.
Snow Leopards have unusually long thick tails which help them balance on treacherous mountain slopes and protect their faces from cold while they sleep. Their fur is thick and their ears small to help minimize heat loss. Wide paws with fur on the underside improve traction on slippery slopes. Leopards prey on animals up to 4 times their own weight.
Yaks are adapted for high altitude. Their thick, long coat and large heart and lungs let them thrive in conditions where other bovids struggle to survive. Yaks can live on less food than a domestic cow and females only calve once every other year. Bright eyed wooly calves are on their feet within minutes, and are agile and strong.
Yaks have been used since ancient times for meat, wool, milk, and transportation. They have a mild temperament and are easily domesticated. They cannot live at lower elevations, suffering from heat stroke at temperatures above 15 C.
Jerboa’s enormous ears give them keen hearing and help them keep cool in their hot desert habitats. These rodents resemble tiny kangaroos, hopping rapidly on elongated hind legs. Their long tufted tail helps them balance.
These fierce raptors have a wingspan of up to 3 m and can weigh more than 10 kg. While diving for prey they can reach between 240-320 km per hour, the same speed as a peregrine falcon, making them one of the fastest moving animals on earth. Eagles hunt best in open areas and often nest on cliffs. Golden Eagles mate for life. During courtship an eagle will often drop a small rock, then catch it mid-air to display their hunting skills. They can live up to 30 years.
In Kyrgyzstan Golden Eagles are trained for hunting, and live side by side with their handlers.
This broad winged scavenger has an impressive wingspan of up to 3 m. They can soar for over 6 hrs without resting and are one of the highest flying birds, having been spotted at altitudes of up to 10,000 m. Vultures mate for life and may live 40-50 years in large social colonies. Both parents care for a single chick every year.
Orsini’s Viper is a shy, venomous snake which tries to avoid contact with humans. Even when it defends against threatening predators the viper usually «bluff strikes» with a closed mouth. Orsini’s Viper has a bold zigzag pattern down it’s thick body and a snub nose. It feeds mainly on crickets and grasshoppers, and hibernates during the winters. Orsini’s Viper is on the ICUN Red List as a vulnerable species.
Central Asian Tortoise
The diminutive Central Asian Tortoise is kept as a pet all over the world. In a 1968 Soviet probe a tortoise, accompanied by some mealworms and wine flies, became the first animal to enter deep space.
Tortoises are adapted to survive extreme changes in temperature which can be challenging for other cold blooded organisms. Central Asian Tortoises hibernate in winter and aestivate in summer— in the wild they are active for as little as 3 months out of the year.
Also called «snowtrout» this omniverous fish resembles a trout in its streamlined form and pronounced underbite. Merinka grow up to 80 cm in length and 8 kg in weight. Pressure from introduced species as well as human commercial use have led to the fish’s inclusion in Kyrgyzstan’s Red Book as a threatened species.
A large pale-winged butterfly with striking dark wing markings. The Snow Apollo lives in high altitude rocky areas. They exist in small isolated pockets and the populations are vulnerable. Snow Apollo are included in Kyrgyzstan’s Red Book.
Kyrgyztan’s first known export to Europe was the walnut. These native trees produce abundant and delicious fruit. The bark and leaves are used for medicinal purposes and walnut husks are used to produce a natural dye, of a rich ochre hue.
Walnut trees may live for more than 200 years and develop massive trunks which are more than 8 ft thick. The dark lustrous hardwood is prized by woodworkers. The largest wild walnut grove in the world can be seen at Arslanbob.
A rare endemic plant protected by the government, these red-orange flowers carry a romantic legend. It is said that the first Aigul plant appeared from the bloodstained ground where a grieving maiden threw herself off a cliff. Aigul is a slow growing bulb which blooms only once a year for a short 2 week period. They can be seen in the early spring in the region of Batken.