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Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon Expedition 2019 (Kazakhstan)

Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon Expedition 2019 (Kazakhstan)

On December 3 to December 15, 2019 a volunteer expedition aimed at searching for Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon and Syr Darya River native ichtyofauna monitoring worked in Kazakhstan. The expedition was initiated and financed by Global Wildlife Conservation within 25 Most Wanted Lost Species Project (https://www.globalwildlife.org/syr-darya-shovelnose-sturgeon/).

Search for One of World’s Smallest Sturgeon Species Renews Hope for Most Wanted Lost Species - Expedition info on Global Wildlife Conservation website

 

Expedition participants:

1. Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute (TNACI), Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA (https://www.tnaqua.org/protect-freshwater)

Bernard R. Kuhajda – aquatic conservation biologist, Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute Science Program manager. Bernard is engaged in researchers of North American freshwater ichtyofauna and conservation of rare species of freshwater fishes. He was also engaged in researches of Amu Darya Shovelnose Sturgeons in Turkmenistan in 1999 working in a team of researchers from Turkmenistan and USA including Vladimir Sal’nikov, Vadim Birstein and Richard Mayden.

David Neely – associate research scientist of Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute. David is engaged in researches of freshwater fishes worldwide.

 

2. Kazakhstan Fisheries Research and Production Center (Aral Branch), Kyzylorda, Kazakhstan (http://fishrpc.kz/?lang=en)

Tynysbek Barakbaev – researcher, head of Aral Branch of Kazakhstan Fisheries Research and Production Center.

Temirlan Adaev - Kazakhstan Fisheries Research and Production Center (Aral Branch) research staff member.

Temirbek Satekeev - Kazakhstan Fisheries Research and Production Center (Aral Branch) research staff member.

Tynysbek, Temirlan and Temirbek are engaged in Syr Darya River fishery scientific monitoring.

 

3. Eurasian Regional Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EARAZA) based in Moscow, Russia (http://earaza.ru/?p=449)

Alexey Chernyak – EARAZA Eurasian Most Rare Sturgeons Conservation Project manager, Life-on-earth.ru Popular Science Project manager. Alexey is engaged in Sakhalin Sturgeon, Amu Darya Shovelnose Sturgeons conservation as well as in wide range of popular science activities. He initiated establishing of small pool complex to keep and research Amu Darya Shovelnose Sturgeons in Khorezm Mamun Academy in Khiva, Uzbekistan.

 

4. National Geographic reporter Hannah Nordhaus and photographer David Guttenfelder participated in the first part of expedition. Their participation was financed by National Geographic (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/).

 

Interview with Tennessee Aquarium Science Programs Manager Dr. Bernie Kuhajda before the expedition (by Tennessee Aquarium)

 

 

The expedition team did thorough monitoring (with an extremely effective net Bernard R. Kuhajda ordered in the USA according to his own design) of a section of Syr Darya River in Kazakhstan that is not affected by intensive fishing or any significant agricultural activity, or pollution. It’s a section of Syr Darya River between Kyzylasker – Jetysay Road bridge across Syr Darya River and Ak-Tas – Kara-Kyol’ area which is closer to Syr Darya River coming into Shardara Water Reservoir (See the location on Google Earth). Bernard R. Kuhajda’s and David Neely’s experience of catching fishes in various field conditions made monitoring even more effective. Furthermore the monitored section is very close to the area of confluence of Keles River with Syr Darya River (See the location on Google Earth). The fact is rather important since there are gravel bottom sections in Keles River that are potentially suitable for sturgeons spawning (unfortunately only about 2 km of Keles River are acceptable for fishes from Syr Darya River since there is a dam (used for irrigation purposes) about 2 km upstream Keles River from the place of its confluence with Syr Darya River and it’s not possible for fishes to cross the dam (See location of the dam on Google Earth).

Expedition team talked with the same local fisherman Berikkhan who had told Alexey Chernyak in 2017 that he had occasionally caught a shovelnose sturgeon in winter 2016 right in the area we monitored (http://life-on-earth.ru/amu-darya-shovelnose-sturgeons-uzbekistan/syr-darya-shovelnose-sturgeon-inquiries-uzbekistan-kazakhstan). Actually selection of initial place for monitoring was made according to Berikkhan’s information that was the most actual case of catching shovelnose sturgeon.

We talked with many other fishermen and found another person who had occasionally caught Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon on August-September 2015 in Shardara Water Reservoir (the section of reservoir close to Kyzylkum Irrigation Channel) (See the location on Google Earth). His name is Dima. He is a Russian who was born and who lives in Kazakhstan. Dima is a professional fisherman and also an aquarist. He used special net device (local name is "televisor") specially designed for small scale bottom catching of fishes.

Bernard with "televisor" showed to us by a fisherman in Shardara

Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon Expedition 2019 (Kazakhstan)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The expedition team did not monitor the reservoir itself because it is huge and we would need months to make proper and effective monitoring.

Another report of catching Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon (on June-July 2017) came from downstream of Syr Darya River. The locality is in Kok-Saray area in Syr Darya River section not far from the place of confluence of Arys’ River with Syr Darya River (See the location on Google Earth). Shovelnose Sturgeon was occasionally caught by bottom net while checking one of the separated pools formed when water flow of Syr Darya River was stopped by Shardara Dam to allow one of downstream dams to be repaired (see notes below).

We tried to use our net downstream Shardara Water Reservoir starting from Kok-Su area (See the location on Yandex.Maps) (See the location on Google Earth) but found no fishes there (I mean no Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon, no other fishes that could be easily found upstream Shardara dam). The local fishery inspector told us that in 2017 and in 2018 during the summer months Shardara dam stopped water and redirected it to Kyzylkum Irrigation Channel because one of the numerous dams downstream Syr Darya River had to be repaired (I am still trying to find out which one). During those periods of water stopping (redirecting) the depth of Syr Darya River on the main steam was only 10 cm excluding separated deep pits along the main stream. The situation caused destruction of the whole ecosystem on certain section of Syr Darya River. We had no enough time to monitor the whole affected section of Syr Darya River of at least 200-300 km long but I am trying to get more precise  information about length of  effected section of Syr Darya River from our colleagues in Kazakhstan Fishery Department to understand if we could hope to find Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon somewhere downstream Shardara dam in future.

 

Personal conclusions of Alexey Chernyak:

In my opinion Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon is still in Syr Darya River but it’s an extremely rare fish. The extremely rare occurrence is not only because the local fishermen do not use bottom nets being afraid of losing them by catching a big piece of wood (numerous on bottom of Syr Darya River) as I might suppose before our expedition (which used specially designed very effective bottom net) , but because natural habitats of Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon have been destroyed by numerous dams that have been constructed along the whole stream of Syr Darya River in recent decades and the fish became almost extinct.

I think Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon is still in Syr Darya River. We have three reports of catching it. Local fishermen could identify its images (I am sure that at least two of them were not mistaking). We had only about two weeks monitoring of certain section of Syr Darya River. We have to monitor some other sections and the same section we have already monitored as well but in other seasons of the year. We have to be in touch with a number of local people who are now searching Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon for us and we have to involve more local people in Kazakhstan and later in Uzbekistan in this activity. Searching such rare fishes may take years.

I gave my WhatsApp to many fishermen and some inspectors asking them to make photos and videos by their smartphones if they would occasionally catch shovelnose sturgeon.

One net was left to our colleagues in Kazakhstan to continue monitoring. Another net was left on our way back in Tashkent Zoo for possible further expedition to monitor upstream sections of Syr Darya River as well as Kara Darya River (a tributary of Syr Darya River) in Uzbekistan.

Kara Darya River monitoring is rather essential since there are confirmed cases of Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon catching in Kara Darya River in 1959-1968 described in a paper of A.B. Baltabaev (Chair of Zoology, Andijan State Pedagogical Institute), a researcher from Uzbekistan.

 

Here is the data on localities of Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon catching in Kara Darya River from the paper of A.B. Baltabaev (A.B. Baltabaev, Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon Ps. fedtschenkowi (Kessl) of Kara Darya River.  Issues of Ichtyology, 1972, Volume 12, Issue 6(77), Pages 1118-1119):

Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon was initially described by K.F. Kessler in 1872 from Syr Darya River in Chinaz area (See the location on Google Earth). In 1881 Kushakevich found Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon in Kara Darya River in Balykchi area (See the location on Google Earth) (L.S. Berg, 1905).

We could find out that Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon lives in Kara Darya River not only in Balykchi area but also upstream in the area of Green Bridge (Andijan surroundings) and that the fish is very rare. Within the period of 9 years we managed to catch 17 Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeons in different sections of Kara Darya River:

Balykchy

See the location on Google Earth

See the location on Yandex.Maps

28.04.1967 – 1 specimen

02.05.1968 – 2 specimens

 

 

Chinabad

See the location on Google Earth

See the location on Yandex.Maps

02.04.1959 - 2 specimens

01.06.1960 - 1 specimen

05.05.1962 - 1 specimen

07.05.1963 - 3 specimens

26.04.1964 - 1 specimen

29.09.1966 - 1 specimen

06.05.1967 - 2 specimens

 

 

Green Bridge? (Andijan surroundings)

See the location on Google Earth

See the location on Yandex.Maps

10.09.1962 - 2 specimens

10.09.1964 - 1 specimen

 

 

 

Video reports of expedition,

ethnological and wildlife sketches

 

Search for Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon and Syr Darya River native ichtyofauna monitoring Expedition Video Report

Kazakhstan

Syr Darya River, Upstream Shardara Water Reservoir Area

December 11, 2019

Episode 1: Kyzylasker, Hotel where expedition team lived (See the location on Google Earth).

Episode 2: Way from Kyzylasker to Kara Kyol' - Ak Tas Area.

Episode 3: An ethnological sketch. On our way from Kyzylasker to Syr Darya River we stopped for several minutes near a farmstead (kura - in Kazakh language) owned by Tulegen - a brother of our driver and assistant Utegen (See the location on Google Earth). We were watching a famous Central Asian Stock Keeping Dog - Alabay in Kazakh language.

Episode 4: Kara Kyol' (Black Lake) - a part of Syr Darya River floodplain - with thousands of aquatic birds spending winter there (See the location on Google Earth).

Episode 5: Syr Darya River, Upstream Shardara Water Reservoir Area, Kara Kyol' - Ak Tas Area, sand bar on the right bank of Syr Darya River (See the location on Google Earth).

 

 

 

 

Kazakhstan

Upstream Shardara Water Reservoir Area, right bank of Syr Darya River

December 11, 2019

A wildlife sketch

Kara Kyol' (Black Lake) - a part of Syr Darya River floodplain - with thousands of aquatic birds spending winter there (See the location on Google Earth).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Search for Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon and Syr Darya River native ichtyofauna monitoring Expedition Video Report

Kazakhstan

Syr Darya River section downstream Kyzylasker - Jetysay road bridge across Syr Darya River (See the location on Google Earth), sand bars on both banks of Syr Darya River

December 12, 2019

 

Part 1. Coming to the the place (See the location on Google Earth)

 

 

Part 2. Three fishing raids with local fishermen Jandoz and Nurik who assisted us:

1. Sand bar on the left bank of Syr Darya River closer to Kyzylasker - Jetysay road bridge across Syr Darya River (See the location on Google Earth)

2. Another sand bar on the left bank of Syr Darya River in the middle of the section of Syr Darya River between Kyzylasker - Jetysay road bridge and Ak-Tas (See the location on Google Earth)

3. Sand bar on the right bank of Syr Darya River in the middle of the section of Syr Darya River between Kyzylasker - Jetysay road bridge and Ak-Tas (See the location on Google Earth)

 

 

Part 3. Withdrawing

 

 

Google Earth maps of the area with catching start and finish points and routs. Each two points show start and finish of one fishing raid with the net.

Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon Expedition 2019 (Kazakhstan)Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon Expedition 2019 (Kazakhstan)Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon Expedition 2019 (Kazakhstan)Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon Expedition 2019 (Kazakhstan)Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon Expedition 2019 (Kazakhstan)Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon Expedition 2019 (Kazakhstan)Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon Expedition 2019 (Kazakhstan)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Search for Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon and Syr Darya River native ichtyofauna monitoring Expedition Video Report

Kazakhstan

Syr Darya River section downstream Kyzylasker - Jetysay road bridge across Syr Darya River (See the location on Google Earth), sand bars on both banks of Syr Darya River

December 13, 2019

 

Part 1

Episode 1: An ethnological sketch. Cafe-hotel complex in Kyzylasker (konak uy - "hotel" in Kazakh language) where expedition team lived (See the location on Google Earth). A tuft of dried local plant Peganum harmala L. (Kazakh people call it - isyryk and Uzbek people call it - adraspan) See detailed info on plantarium.ru website  used as an amulet to ward off evil is placed on facade of cafe-hotel complex building directed to the outer world. The smoke of this plant is also widely used in the region to fumigate people who got flu or cold. 

 

Episode 2: After picking a lot of woods from bottom of Syr Darya River the day before, expedition team had to fix the net. When the expedition team started for fishing a flock of pelicans flew by. The right bank of Syr Darya River (See the location on Google Earth).

 

 

Part 2. Three fishing raids with local fishermen Jandoz and Nurik who assisted us:

1. Sand bar on the left bank of Syr Darya River closer to Kyzylasker - Jetysay road bridge across Syr Darya River (See the location on Google Earth)

2. Another sand bar on the left bank of Syr Darya River in the middle of the section of Syr Darya River between Kyzylasker - Jetysay road bridge and Ak-Tas (See the location on Google Earth)

3. Sand bar on the right bank of Syr Darya River in the middle of the section of Syr Darya River between Kyzylasker - Jetysay road bridge and Ak-Tas (See the location on Google Earth)

 

 

 

Search for Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon and Syr Darya River native ichtyofauna monitoring Expedition Video Report

Kazakhstan

Kok-Su surroundings, Syr Darya River section downstream Shardara Dam, sand bar on the left bank of Syr Darya River. A perfect habitat for Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon, but with fully destructed aquatic ecosystem.

December 08, 2019

We (together with Temirlan Adaev and Temirbek Satekeev - Kazakhstan Fisheries Research and Production Center (Aral Branch) research staff members) tried to use our net downstream Shardara Water Reservoir starting from Kok-Su area but found no fishes there (no Syr Darya Shovelnose Sturgeon, no other adult fishes that could be easily found upstream Shardara dam). The local fishery inspector told us that in 2017 and in 2018 during the summer months Shardara dam stopped water and redirected it to Kyzylkum Irrigation Channel because one of the numerous dams downstream Syr Darya River had to be repaired. During those periods of water stopping (redirecting) the depth of Syr Darya River on the main steam was only 10 cm excluding separated deep pits along the main stream. The situation caused destruction of the whole ecosystem on certain section of Syr Darya River.

Part 1. Coming to the place (See the location on Google Earth).

 

 

Part 2. Trying to catch something (See the location on Google Earth).



Part 3. An ethnological sketch.

Kok-Su surroundings (See the location on Google Earth).

On our way back from Syr Darya River section downstream Shardara Dam, when Timirbek (our expedition team member) stopped the truck to turn off four wheel drive mode, we met two young local horse riders. The elder one demonstrated an exercise to train a horse for Kokpar - traditional ritual horse riding rivalry ussually arranged by local people for various important cases like commemoration of deceased father or appeal to God (to Allah) for a child hoped to be born (Videos of Kokpar traditional ritual horse riding rivalry on Life-on-earth.ru website: http://life-on-earth.ru/tsentralnaya-aziya/kokpar-traditsionnaya-muzhskaya-igra-yuzhnyj-kazakhstan).

 

 

Ethnological sketches

 

Kazakhstan

Kara Kyol' - Ak Tas surroundings, upstream Shardara Water Reservoir Area, right bank of Syr Darya River

A farmstead (kura - in Kazakh language) (See the location on Google Earth)

December 10, 2019

On our way from Kyzylasker to Syr Darya River we stopped for several minutes near a farmstead (kura - in Kazakh language). We were lucky to see one of the most ancient dog kinds in the world - Kazakh Sight Hound which is called Taz (Tazy in some papers). Two of them came to watch us. The third dog who also came to watch us was a famous Central Asian Stock Keeping Dog (Kazakh people call it Alabay), not a thoroughbred one, but perfectly functional.

 

 

Kazakhstan

Kara Kyol' - Ak Tas surroundings, Upstream Shardara Water Reservoir Area, right bank of Syr Darya River

December 11, 2019

On our way from Kyzylasker to Syr Darya River we stopped for several minutes near a farmstead (kura - in Kazakh language) owned by Tulegen - a brother of our driver and assistant Utegen (See the location on Google Earth). We were watching a famous Central Asian Stock Keeping Dog - Alabay in Kazakh language.

 

 

 

 

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