On the road to Big Almaty Lake, just before the ekopost at the entrance to the Ili-Alatau national park, lies the Sunkar bird refuge.
Sunkar has an entertaining summer show with eagles and other birds of prey every day at 5 pm (except Monday), which serves as the perfect stop-over on your way back from the lake (or to round off a day hike from Medeu over Kok Zhailau).
You are unlikely to see these birds from close-up anywhere in the wild, and your visit is supporting Sunkar’s day to day work of bird rescue and re-introduction into nature, so really, there is no good reason to not visit if you are passing by.
Sunkar as a bird refuge
Sunkar was originally established to protect the saker falcon, whose numbers dropped alarmingly in the ’80s and ’90s, when a thriving market developed to export the birds to Arabia for big money. Habitat degradation and the impact of agrochemicals are other big issues confronting almost all birds of prey in Kazakhstan.
Sunkar has around 400 birds it is taking care of from 15 species of owl, eagle, lammergeier, vulture, hawk and falcon. The birds who stay at the centre have been rescued and cannot be released anymore into the wild, they would not survive.
However, a breeding project to release birds back into the wild releases golden eagles and saker falcons.
Show and zoo
The show happens every day at 5, and includes elements of falconry and eagle hunting, with eagle owls, golden eagles, saker falcons and even a griffon vulture all displaying their prowess. P
avel Pfander, Sunkar’s Kazakhstani-German bird trainer, ornithologist and falconer, puts on a highly-entertaining and educational show. It’s really quite impressive to see these birds of prey unfold their massive wings at no more than a metre’s distance.
Before or afterwards, you can visit the other birds. Most are in cages, some with more room than others to fly around. A few birds are uncaged and tethered to a wooden post out in the open. Some Kazakh tazy hunting dogs are also kept by the centre.
Valley of Stone Flowers
If you want to go for a hike, you can walk and scramble pretty far into the the valley behind the sanctuary. The Valley of Stone Flowers is a picturesque karst valley which forks more than once over a distance of about 5 kilometres, leading to summer pastures.
Sunkar has 7 double rooms available for those who would like to stay overnight. Get in touch with the administration to ask about details and prices.