The landscape and environmental conditions of the site are typical of the south-westem part of the Kopetdag mountains, which form the north-western edge of the Turkmen-Khorasan mountain system. The Sumbar river (the right-hand branch of the Etrek river) divides the site into northern and southern parts. The right bank is 300-1,900 m in altitude, consisting of wide ridges and canyon-like gorges. In its upper reaches the river valley is narrow with gallery floodplain forests and in some areas there are scattered orchards and small vegetable gardens. The upper river terraces are arid steppe. The climate is arid and subtropical with long, dry summers with temperatures of 35-45°C. Precipitation mainly occurs from November to April, but heavy showers occur occasionally in summer. Soils are "serozyems" (grey earth soils) in combination with loamy and "solonetz" areas in the valleys. The Sumbar river is 245 km long, and both its upper and middle reaches - 95 km - lie within the IBA. In the wide middle reaches there are some fields and orchards, private farms and several villages. Private livestock breeding is highly developed and year-round grazing exceeds the carrying capacity of the habitat. Dry wheat and juniper are grown in the cultivable parts of the steppe.
The proposed WH site consists of the following Protected Areas:
1. Syunt Hasardag State Reserve (26,500 ha) including the
1.1 Central unit (13,400 ha)
The Syunt Hasardag Reserve fully represents the main landscape and ecological types of the middle elevations of the South-western Kopetdag dry subtropic zone.
Remnant patches of the Caspian broad-leaved forests are conserved within the Syunt Hasardag Reserve. This area is known as one of the world centers of wild relatives of cultivated plants - subtropical horticulture crops. Wild progenitors of the woody species pomegranate, fig, apple, walnut, pistachio, pear, dog rose, almonds and cherry are widely distributed here. The flora is also rich in wild relatives of cultivated forms of wheat, barley, rye, oats and other important cereals and legumes. All of them are very important as the historic gene pool for crops.
This Nature Reserve has a unique diversity of wild and native cultivated varieties of almonds, walnut, fig, pomegranate, grapes like nowhere else in the world. This region was identified by Prof. Nikolai Vavilov as one of the seven "Centers of Origin" of cultivated plants (I - South Asian tropical; II- East Asian; III - South West-Asian; IV - Mediterranean; V - Abyssinia; VI - Central American and VII - Indian, or South American). Central Asia is the motherland for soft wheat, bean, pea, fee, hemp, turnip, carrot, garlic, pear, apricot, apple, fig, and others and is important for the in-situ conservation of these species. Their presence, along with other wild crop relatives make this reserve one of the world's natural nurseries of horticulture crops.
The site holds globally and near threatened mammals such as the Persian Leopard Panthera pardus saxicolor (IUCN Red List status Near Threatened NT), Turkestan Lynx Lynx lynx isabellina (NT), Striped Hyena Hyaena hyaena (NT), Turkmen Wild Goat Capra aegagrus turkmenica (VU), Afghan Urial Ovis orientalis cycloceros (VU), Central Asian Otter Lutra lutra seistanica (NT) and Masked Mouse-tailed Dormouse Myomimus personatus (DD).
This site supports threatened breeding bird species such as Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus (NT), Saker Falcon Falco cherrug (EN) and Lesser Kestrel F.naumanni (VU). There are also representatives of the Irano-Turanian Mountains biome including See-see Partridge Ammoperdix griseogularis, Eastern Rock-nuthatch Sitta tephronota, Finsch's Wheatear Oenanthe finschii, Variable Wheatear O.picata and Grey-necked Bunting Emberiza buchanani.
All indigenous plant communities which are typical of the South-west Kopetdag dry subtropics are represented in the Nature Reserve. The Nature Reserve and its buffer zone together with the Sanctuaries of South West Kopetdag include all the key ecosystems of the region and could assure their sustainable conservation. The site is of key importance for the security of the remaining leopard population of the West Kopetdag.
The site has many similar properties to other mountainous reserves in Central Asia, such as Chatkal in Uzbekistan, Aksu-Dzhabagly in Kazakhstan and Sary-Chelek in Kyrgyzstan, but is located much further west than them and has marked Caucasian influences in its flora and fauna.