In the heart of Central Asia, one hundred and fifty kilometers from Almaty (the largest city in Kazakhstan), to the south of the Jungar Alatau ridge lies Kazakhstan's largest national park - Altyn Emel. The area of Kazakhstan's first National Park is five hundred and twenty thousand hectares.
The Altyn-Emel National Park was set up on April 10, 1996 by a governmental decree aimed at preservation of unique natural complex in the right bank area of the Ili River and rare species of animals and plants.
The National Park consists of the western spurs of the Jungar Alatau, desert mountains of Katutau, Aktau, Ulken and Kshi Kalkany and unique natural monument Singing Dunes, which is 182 kilometers north-east of Almaty. The Singing Dunes make an indelible impression.
The entire sand ridge covers about ten square kilometers. The length of the sandy ridge is up to three kilometers, width - about five hundred meters and height - more than a hundred meters. Singing Dunes have a peculiar shape - that of a crescent. When the air is dry and the wind blows from the west, two large hills produce sounds of different tones similar to those of the organ. Until now, scientists cannot give a precise answer why this dune «sings».
Most likely, its rumble and shake are caused by barely noticeable shedding of sand on the slope. The friction made by the movement of sand grains coupled with dry air electrifies them, causing vibration. This creates a sound wave of great strength, which is reflected from the dense soil, producing dune tremors. This sound can be heard for several kilometers away. In wet weather, the dune naturally does not «sing».
Near the dunes are the dead Aktau Mountains (Aktau stands for «white mountain»). The Aktau are magnificent chalk mountains. These lifeless blue («lunar landscape»), red, white, pink, green slopes, intricately dissected by erosion, are so unusual, that it is impossible to look away.
The reason for such a bizarre landscape of the mountains was their rising up from the sea floor. The age of the mountains is over four hundred million years, the length is thirty kilometers.
Also it is worth mentioning the huge burial mounds «Besshatyr» of the early Iron Age (VII-VI BC). They are amazing monuments of ancient culture of Sak tribes. In the ancient burial mounds one can see rock paintings of wild animals and hunting scenes. The cemetery consists of thirty-one mounds, in the largest of which - the «Royal» - a king of the Saks was buried.
The flora of Altyn-Emel is very diverse. Most common plants are juniper, fescue, rump inermis. Also in the park grow gentian crescent, hair-alpine, rock geranium, aspuga alpine and others. Ilino Regel, Agalanthum, feather grass, poplar Turanga, oleaster, columbine, Tien-Shan cherry belong to forty one rare species. 27 of them are endemic. Scrublands are represented by willow, honeysuckle, barberry Ili.
Black saxaul grows in the desert, and white - on the slopes of «Singings» sand dunes. Near the dunes an elm grows, so ancient that it saw the warriors of Genghis Khan who stopped here to drink water over 700 years ago. This huge centuries-o tree can only be embraced by eight adults.
The theriofauna of the National Park includes 70 species of mammals. In the «singing» sand dunes one can see Sibe a mountain goat, deer desert - gazelle. Almost all species of invertebrates living here are rare. The Red Book includes 32 species belonging to several groups: dragcnflies, Orthopte a, Hymenoptera, Diptera, Lepidoptera. Of the class of amphibians living in the national park one can name a gray toad, danatens toad, marsh frog and Siberian frog. The danatens toad and frog Siberian are listed in the Red Book of Kazakhstan.
The number of species of reptiles in the region accounts for 51% of the total herpetofauna of Kazakhstan (25 species in all), including 16 species of snakes, 8 species of lizards anq 1 species of turtle. One species - phrynocephalus versicolor is entered in the Red Book.
Diverse is the bird fauna of the Altyn-Emel National Park that includes 155 species of birds, which is 39.8% of the total number of species in the avifauna of Kazakhstan, 40 species of them are entered in the Red Book of Kazakhstan, according to the most recent research conducted by the Institute of Zoology and gene pool Tien-Shan mountain sheep, argali, saiga antelope, the red wolf, the fox, the Tien-Shan brown bear and a great Turkmen kulan.
The Red Book of Kazakhstan also includes the snow leopard, wild cat, manul, Central Asian otter, marten together with researchers from the University of Arizona (USA).
Eagles, serpent eagles, bearded vultures, black storks and others nest in the mountains, black-bellied and Pallas sand grouses - in the desert. Herons, ducks pheasants and other birds live in wetlands. Rare species of birds found here are bustard, white pelican, peregrine falcon, saker falcon, osprey, Pallas sea eagle, Barbary falcon.
The ichthyofauna of the national park includes twenty-eight species of fish, which is equal to 22.1% of the ichthyofauna of Kazakhstan. 12 of them are endemic species.
The Ili River and Kapchagai reservoir are rich in fish such as Carp, grass carp, catfish, bream, perch, chub etc. The marinka Ili Balkhash perch, barbell sturgeon are entered in the Red Book of Kazakhstan.