World's Largest Bukhara Deer Population Needs Human Help

Author: N.V. Marmazinskaya, Institute of Zoology, Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Zarafshan National Nature Park (Uzbekistan).


Bonn, 22 February 2023 - The Bukhara deer is a subspecies of the red deer that inhabits riparian forests along desert rivers (tugai forest) in Central Asia and is assessed by the IUCN as vulnerable. In total, there are less than four thousand individuals in the wild, found in four countries. The largest population survives in Uzbekistan, with the largest grouping of the deer inhabiting the Lower Amu Darya Biosphere Reserve (LABR) in Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan. Reduction and fragmentation of the Bukhara Deer habitat is one of the major threats for the existence of this species. Even the territory of the LABR is divided into two parts and only the southern part of the reserve is inhabited by Bukhara Deer. The Bukhara Deer population density is so high there that unable to cross anthropogenic barriers related to human settlements, they cause degradation of the ecosystem they inhabit. Recent studies by the Institute of Zoology of the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan have shown that animals move on their own into riparian forests adjacent to the reserve. However, the area of Tugai forests in the direction of the deer dispersal is insufficient for this movement to reduce the pressure on the ecosystem of the southern section of the LABR.  Institute of Zoology staff, who conducted the research emphasized the need to initiate actions to help Bukhara Deer disperse northwards, for example by establishing a migration corridor, in accordance with paragraphs 9.7 and 10.4 of the 2021-2026 Work Programme for the Bukhara Deer (WP) adopted by the Bukhara Deer MOU Signatories in 2021, as well as through transportation of the animals.

In Karakalpakstan, Bukhara Deer habitat constitutes the riparian complexes of the Amudarya River. In addition, in the spring, during the growing season of ephemerals, the deer come out to the floodplain terraces, the foothills of the Sultanuizdag mountain range and the surrounding desert.

Currently, the Bukhara Deer inhabits sections of the southern sector of the NABR (Figure 1, section A), namely Badai Tugai, Tallyk (right bank), Dzhumurtau (left bank) (Figure 1: BT, TL and DM). According to published data (D. Cornelis et all, 2020), the population size here in 2019 was 2112 individuals, whereas the national report for the same period indicated the number of 1253 deer. In the framework of the project of the Institute of Zoology of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Uzbekistan "Developing methods of counting  ungulates of the plains and maintaining an inventory of rare and endangered animal species of Karakalpakstan" in 2021, the tugai areas adjacent to the LABR were surveyed. The surveys showed that there is a natural dispersal of Bukhara Deer down the river to the adjacent tugai massifs.

Bukhara Deer were found in the tugai adjacent to Baday-Tugai from the north (Figure 1, section B2), in Karatau tugai (KT), Khozhakul tugai (KH), belonging to the Kipchak leskhoz. The tugai adjoining Baday-Tugai from the north (42° 3'10.26 "N 60°16'44.44") stretches along the river for 5 km, is 500 to 1700 m wide, with a total area of 500 ha (the area most suitable for the deer habitat is 160 ha). It's capacity is 8-11 deer (14.3-20 ha/1 individual). According to expert estimates, the number of Bukhara Deer here is about 20-25 individuals. To the west and south-west of this site, on the opposite left bank of the Amudarya River, there is a section of the biosphere reserve - the Dzhumurtau (DM). Along the river, the distance between them is 200-500 m. Obviously, deer move between these sites.

The tugai Khozhakul (KH, 42°10'43.13 "N 60°11'11.93 "E) is located further down the river. Between it and massif Karatau (KT) along the bank of the Amu Darya stretches a narrow band of tree and shrub thickets, alternating with agricultural fields (length 1.3 km, width from 44 to 102 m), which plays the role of an ecological corridor. Khozhakul (KH) tugai stretches for 10 km, its width varies from 140 to 1950 m, it's area is 1286 ha. This area is suitable for 64.3-89.9 Bukhara Deer. The expert estimate of the current number is 20-25 animals. From the Northwest, a large left-bank riparian massif belonging to the forestry area of 480 ha (capacity 24.0-33.5 individuals) adjoins Khojakul, which has not yet been studied and may also be inhabited by the deer.


Fig.1 NABR and adjacent territories (A - southern sector of LABR, B - northern sector of NABR, TL - Tallyk, BT - Badai-Tugai, DM - Dzhumurtau, B2 -tugai north of Badai-Tugai, KT - Karatau, KH - Khojakul, NZ - Nazarkhan, BB -Bekbai, SG -Sarygavdyr)


Karatau tugai (length 3800 m, width - from 122 to 792 m) is located  further to the North, 10.7 km from the northernmost point of Badai-Tugai, (4208'57.28''N 60014'47.25''E) (KT). Its area is 160 hectares. It is adjoined by two islands. The total area of the KT massif together with the islands (390 ha) and the adjacent left bank area is 600 ha. The optimal habitats for Bukhara Deer within KT cover 397 ha, the carrying capacity is 19.8-27.7 individuals. According to expert estimates, 10-15 animals currently inhabit this area.

Therefore, in the vicinity of the southern sector of the Lower Amu Darya Biosphere Reserve, natural dispersal of deer into the surrounding tugai forests was shown by the survey. The total area of these surrounding tugai is about 2900 hectares. With improved protection, grazing management, increased awareness of local residents, this area can become a good habitat for Bukhara Deer dispersed from Baday-Tugay and Dzhumurtau. Between 116 and 162 deer can live in this area without causing damage to the vegetation. However, this dispersal is not sufficient to reduce overpopulation in the southern LABR.

The high population density in the reserve and the habitat degradation observed over many years make it necessary to take action to facilitate the dispersal of the deer, e.g. by establishing an ecological corridor (WP 2021-2026, points 9.7 and 10.4). Another solution could be to artificially relocate animals to the northern sector (Figure 1: B) in the Nazarkhan (NZ). NZ has an area of 3,471 ha and capacity of 173.5 to 242.7 deer, which at present, due to the lack of an ecological corridor, the animals cannot reach via natural dispersal. As a result of this assisted dispersal a large transboundary group can develop here on the territory of two states - Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, because tugai Bekbai (BB) (Uzbekistan, 1707 ha, capacity 85.3-119.37 animals), Turkmenistan parts of Bekbai and Nazarkhan islands, and tugai Sarygavdyr (SG) (Turkmenistan, 1333 ha, capacity 66.6-93.21 animals) adjoin Nazarkhan (and provide for further natural habitat for the animals in the future). The total area of the massif is 6511 ha, the capacity is 325 - 455 deer. The total number of reindeer in the riparian forests adjacent to the LABR (except for the reserve population) can reach 441-617 individuals.



Daniel Cornelis, Elena Kan, Valéry Gond, Jean-Daniel Cesaro Régis Peltier. Estimation of red deer population and its impact on Tugay forest ecosystem in the Lower Amu Darya State Biosphere Reserve, Uzbekistan. Bois et Forets des Tropiques – ISSN: L-0006-579X Volume 346 – 4th trimestre – desembre 2020 – p.65-78.

Last updated on 22 February 2023