Turkmenistan is a country characterized by desert – the black sands of the Karakum desert take up more than 80% of its territory. But don’t jump to conclusions, there is more life in Turkmenistan than you might expect.
From above, Turkmenistan looks like a moody abstract painting. But when spring comes, the winter rain gives life to an abundance of ephemeral plants in the desert. Higher up in the Kopet Dag mountains, the grass turns a lush green and poppies and roses spring up.
Poppies in the Kopet Dag nature reserve.
Most of Turkmenistan does look different, and holds animals that are tough enough to stand the heat. This includes desert animals like lizards, foxes, hyenas and different kinds of rodents: giant gerbils and jerboas.
The desert monitor that locals call zemzen can grow up to 2 meters in length.
This is a smaller type of desert lizards, found in the heart of the Karakum.
The great gerbil digs holes underground to escape the searing heat and stay cool in summer.
Jerboas are weird nocturnal creatures with boundless energy.
Saw-scaled ‘carpet vipers’ are venomous.
The Central Asian cobra is also highly venomous, and besides that big and terribly scary. It can usually be found around water. Luckily, it is shy and will likely slither away when it notices you.
Hazar nature reserve offers wetlands which attract numerous birds and Caspians seals.
Flamingoes like it.
As do tons of other birds. The Caspian shore is a great place for birdwatching.
Falconry is also common, with eagles, falcons or something all together different, like this eagle owl.
Turkmenistan is also home to the world’s largest pistachio forest. Located in the Kopet Dag mountains, Badkyz reserve is one of Turkmenistan’s most visually attractive places.
Besides large herds of kulan, Badkyz is also home to a population of urial, wild mountain sheep.
If you’re really, really lucky, you might be able to spot a leopard as well.
The Kaplankyr reserve is located near the border of Uzbekistan. Kaplankyr means plateau of cheetahs, but cheetahs have long disappeared from here. You might be able to spot wild asses (kulan), though.
The Kugitang nature reserve now holds rare species such as the spiral-horned markhor goat and the urial sheep, but in the past, something much larger used to live here. Fossilized dinosaur footprints can still be observed on the mountain side.
Kugitang harbours Turkmenistan’s largest mountain Air Baba, and several deep, deep canyons.
Yangikala canyon is another impressive landscape of stones, sculpted by wind and water.
This is just a small sampling of what there is to see in the nature of Turkmenistan. There’s much more: mud volcanoes, underground lakes and burning craters, to name just a few. We’ll leave you with this sacred tree, located near the mausoleum of Shibly Baba.