Balsa Kelmes Island was originally 133 km² in the 1980s, but as the sea became more shallow it steadily grew, until in the 1990s it ceased to be an island. Its highest altitude is 113 m. It encompasses the Barsa-Kelmes Nature Reserve established in 1939 with the aim of protecting its salt-clay desert vegetation, consisting of black and white saksaul, tamarisk and 264 other typical species, as well as the corresponding fauna who inhabit this environment. Barsa-kelmes is also important as a breeding place for migrating birds. Also on the reserve are found herds of kulan (wild ass), as well as saiga antelope and dzheyran (steppe gazelles). These days, 150 kulan continue to live here and their number increases by 20 to 25 each year.
Did you know?
- The saiga is recognizable by an extremely unusual, over-sized, and flexible, nose structure. The nose is supposed to warm up the air in winter and filters out dust in summer.
- Saiga are nomadic creatures that frequently cross borders of provinces and countries during their several-hundred-mile migrations to winter grazing areas.
- Social structure. Saiga form herds of 30-40 animals.
- Lifespan. 6 to 10 years.
- Breeding. Gestation period is 140-150 days, with litter size 1-2. (A female saiga will begin breeding and give birth to her first calf by the time she’s a year old).
- Diet. Grasses, steppe lichens, herbs and shrubs.
- The saiga can migrate over distances of up to 1,000 kilometres between summer and winter.
- Saiga herds once numbered in their millions, but the global population has declined rapidly to just thousands