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National Park Kytalyk

Date of Submission: 12/03/2021
Criteria: (ix)(x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of the Russian Federation to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Republic Sakha (Yakutia), Аllaikhovski Ulus (District)
Coordinates: N72 01 51.11 E146 40 10.26
Ref.: 6520

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The National Park Kytalyk, with an area of 1,885,554 hectares, is located in the Arctic part of Yana and Kolyma lowlands in Republic Sakha (Yakutia), in the basin of the lower Indigirka River reaches.

The Yana-Kolyma synclinor zone of Cimmerian Orogeny, covering the low-lying coast of the Arctic seas and low-lying areas of the continental part. It is elevated above sea level by an average of 50-80 m with slight elevation fluctuations. Within the boundaries of the Park, the main tundra alternates with uplifts of relief (edoms) in the form of plateaus; some of them are formed by bedrock (granites, effusions, sedimentary rocks of Mesozoic age). Cryogenic formations pingos are widespread in areas of permafrost. Pingos appear in the tundra, when underground water freezes and expands, forcing the uplift of the surface. Every year, with the melting and freezing of reservoirs, the hills "grow" to 25-50 m in height and 100-300 m in width. Polygonal ridges and pingos often rise several meters above the surrounding watered tundra, forming plant communities adapted to drier soil. As a result of thermal abrasion, thawing of ice inclusions in the cliffs of rivers, lakes and on the sea coast, baydzharakhs are formed and the banks recede. The endangered representatives of the world fauna, Siberian cranes (Leucogeranus leucogeranus), for their breeding sites, choose narrow strips of water and coastal vegetation of lakes and streams, the lowest, adjacent to reservoirs, areas of polygonal tundra (related to watered), and hummocky, higher and drier areas related to moderately watered tundra zones. In the tundra of Indigirka River basin, the moderately watered areas are mostly used for nesting and feeding by the Sandhill crane (Grus canadensis). 

The climate of the area is sharply continental, with cold long winters and short cool summers. The average annual air temperature is minus 14.2°C, the average monthly temperature in July is plus 9.7°C, in January-minus 35.5°C. Solar radiation in the conditions of the subarctic tundra arrives unevenly, the polar day lasts from the end of May to the beginning of September. Annual precipitation does not exceed 150-250 mm. As a result of low temperatures, evaporation is insignificant, which leads to water-logging of soils at the lowest levels of relief. Tundra and wetlands of the Indigirka River basin are usually released from ice by mid-June, and rivers are opened until June 20. The height of the snow cover is about 35 cm with a snow density of 0.3 g/cm3. Due to constant changes in wind direction in winter, the snow cover is subject to constant displacement. The snow cover comes off in late May-early June. As a result of the concentration of snow in the relief depressions and at the foot of the slopes, snow deposits are formed that do not melt for a long time, which causes local shifts of phenological phases and a reduction in the growing season of plants. The uneven distribution of snow cover increases the development of variegation and mosaic of the tundra vegetation cover. Mainland tundra of Yakutia (the width of the belt — 120-150 km) belongs to the permafrost formed in the ice age and supported by low-temperature continental climate, the part of the permafrost zone, which is characterized by long, calculated millennia, keeping low, not exceeding 0°C top temperature of the earth's crust, and, accordingly, absence of melting.  

Natural waters
The main waterway of the district is the Indigirka River with numerous tributaries. It is the fifth longest river in Yakutia. The second largest river in the district is the Chroma River. The nature of the rivers nutrition is mainly rain and snow. River valleys are mainly represented by polygonal tundra and large complexes of dried-up basins with lakes of various sizes, thermokarst, sinkhole, old-age type, with a flat ice bottom covered with clay soils or peat bogs. Thermokarst lakes are the predominant hydrological type in the breeding territory of the Siberian crane and the Sandhill crane. The lakes reach a length of 15-20 km, and sometimes a depth of more than 10 m with numerous small islands (less than 9 m2). Small lakes and swampy lowlands (0.5–3 km in diameter) are also common. The most numerous lakes are 0.5–50 km2 and 0.5–3 m deep. There are large lakes with an area of up to 100-350 km2, such as Mogotoevo and Omuk-Kuel lakes. The shape of the lakes is mostly round or oval. The banks are low and swampy. Underground ice, meltwater and rainwater are the main sources of lake nutrition. A distinctive feature of thermokarst lakes is their rapid formation, as well as their short-term shallowing, drying and overgrowth, with subsequent transformation into swampy lowlands as a result of insufficient nutrition or water flow through the channels. At the same time, over the past 40-48 years, the area of 9 lakes (from 11.4 to 49.6 km2) has increased by 0.3–2.9% in the territory of Siberian crane high population density. In the valleys and deltas of the rivers, floodplain lakes are common, the water level in which depends on the water level in the rivers: it increases during snowmelt and decreases in mid-summer. River flow is uneven, 90-95% of it occurs in the summer. In addition, river valleys and watersheds are widely occupied by polygonal grassy and grass-moss wetlands. In the lower reaches of the Indigirka River, the river network is poorly developed. The hydrological landscape is represented here by chains of many small lakes (or laids) and inter-lake swampy lowlands, often connected by temporary channels. 

Permafrost conditions determine the diversity and fluctuation of landscapes, affecting the processes of soil formation. As a result of the shallow occurrence of the permafrost layer, soil waterlogging occurs; the water regime of the soil is stabilized and cryogenic transformations are observed. The processes of soil freezing in winter and thawing in summer lead to a violation of their morphological structure. Cryogenic landforms are formed: cracks, thawing pits, ridges, bumps — the bodies of underground ice that form a series of intersecting crevices, polygonal in shape. The depth of seasonal soil thawing varies from 0.2 to 1.8 m. The maximum thawing layer in high areas with good drainage reaches 1.5-2 meters, in low-lying areas-0.3−0.5 m. The freezing of the thawed layer begins in the second half of September. Up to 45% of the soil mass here is actually ice, so the soil is subject to the process of "dissolution" under the influence of an abnormal increase in temperature above the established level, which has been observed in recent decades.

The plant composition is determined by shallow permafrost and excessive moistening of tundra soils, as well as a short growing season lasting 60-90 days. The vegetation is typical for the Arctic coastal plain, covered with saline meadows with a predominance of Puccinelia phryganodes, Carex subspathacea, Cochlearia arctica, Stellaria humifusa. Among the lichens here, the most common is Cetraria cocullata. Stereocaulon paschale and Cladonia gracile grow in small areas (up to 1x1 m). Mosses (Sphagnum) account for up to 50% of the vegetation cover; the uplifts of the relief are dominated by Salix pulchra, S. glauca and Rubus chamaemorus. The lowest and most watered areas are occupied by the Menyanthes trifoliata, Comarum palustre and Arctophila fulva, Hippuris vulgaris and Utricularia vulgaris.

Species composition
The described territory is home to 221 species of vascular plants belonging to 109 genera and 44 families; 70 species of lichens, approximately 100 species of mosses and 300 taxa of algae. Silt 3-10 cm thick is formed by mosses covering most of the territory. Herbaceous plants reach an average height of 25 cm. Leading families: Poaceae - 27 species, Суреrасеае - 25 species, Brassicaceae and Asteraceae-16 species each and Caryophyllaceae-14. The genera are most diverse in terms of species: Сагех - 17 species, Salix-11 species, Pedicularis-10 species and Saxifraga-9 species. In total, the leading genera comprise 80 species (36.3% of the flora). The main dominant plants are the following species: Artagrostis latifolia, Saxifraga cernua, S. hirculus, Carex chlordorrhiza, C. stans, C. aquatilis, Betula exiles, Eriophorum medium, E. polystachion, Hierochloe pauciflora, Salix reptans, S. fuscrscens, Rumex arcticus, Ranunculus pallasii, Pedicularis sudetica, Sphagnum squarrosum, Aulacomnium turgidum, Tomenthypnum nitens, Hylocomium splendens. Of the rare and endangered plant species listed in the Red Book of Yakutia, 4 species are found in the National Park: Rhodíola rosea, Parnassia kotzebuei, Phlojodicarpus villosus and Pedicularis pennellii. 

The National Park and adjacent territories are home to: 84 terrestrial invertebrate species, 28 fish and Chordatamorpha species, 96 bird species, 21 mammal species.

Terrestrial invertebrates
The Red Book of Yakutia includes the Arctia olschwangi, the Borearctia menetriesii and Pararctia subnebulosa tundrana. According to the literature and field research data, 20 species of terrestrial invertebrates were recorded in the basin of Indigirka River lower reaches.

Aquatic invertebrates and ichthyofauna
Zooplankton of the Chroma River basin is represented by 62 species. Composition of the benthic community is dominated by larval chironomids, oligochaetes and molluscs. Representatives of Nematoda, Oligochaeta, Mollusca (6 species), Chironomidae (9), Gammaridae, Hirudinae and Trichoptera were recorded in closed reservoirs of the Berelakh River right bank as part of zoobenthos. The ichthyofauna of the study area includes 28 species of fish and fish-like animals belonging to 9 orders and 12 families. The basis of the ichthyofauna consists of representatives of salmon and cyprinids orders. Siberian sturgeon Acipenser baerii is included in the Red Book of Yakutia. For fish, the Indigirka River Delta is the most valuable. Indigirka has a developed network of channels and shallow sea waters. The coastal areas of the delta are known as feeding grounds for fish (13 species). Commercial values are the Arctic cisco, Nelma, Vendace and Broad whitefish. The ichthyofauna of Chroma (15 species) is much poorer than that of Indigirka, mainly due to the absence of fish from non-Arctic complexes. In the lower reaches of both rivers, which occupy most of the studied area, background species include Broad whitefish, Peled, Vendace, Arctic cisco, Humpback whitefish, Ninespine stickleback and pike, and Salvelinus czerskii on the lakes of Indigirka basin. The basis of the fish fauna is made up of Arctic and Arctic boreal fish, which together give about half of the species list. They are followed by the boreal plain, boreal-foothill plain and Chinese plain complexes in terms of the number of species. Other characteristic features of the ichthyofauna are low endemism at the level of genera and families and a small number of highly specialized species in the food line. 

The territory is home to 96 species of birds, representatives of 9 orders. The Red Book of Yakutia includes 22 of them. In terms of species, the most well-represented orders are Charadriiformes (36.2%), Anseriformes and Passeriformes (21.9% each). The core of the population consists of 63 breeding species, including three sedentary ones. The proportion of species presented only on migration is small (8 species). Vagrant species (20) belong mainly to borderline encounters of widespread North Taiga species. Representatives of the Arctic fauna play an important role in the formation of the ornithological population of the territory. These are species of endemic genera: Somateria, Stercorarius, Rhodostethia, Phalaropus, Arenaria, Squtarola, Calidris, Nyctea, Calcarius, including Siberian autochthons: Spectacled eider, Steller’s eider, Ross’s gull, Little stint, Curlew sandpiper. The Siberian type of fauna is represented with Little bunting and Naumann's thrush. A significant role in the formation of avifauna is played by species of American origin:  Pectoral sandpiper, Long-billed dowitcher, Sandhill crane, Snow goose. The avifauna of the territory, in addition to the presence of Beringian species, is also characterized by the presence of widely distributed bird species in Eastern Siberia. As a result, the bird fauna of this region shows more similarity to the regions of the Eastern Siberian sub-province than Chukotka. Birds breeding here use Neoarctic and Palearctic migration routes. Despite the external monotony, tundra landscapes provide animals living on them with a sufficient number of ecological niches that allow coexisting of species that are close in needs. 

Siberian crane (Leucogeranus leucogeranus)
The Park protects at least 70% of the key breeding areas for the East population of Siberian crane, whose Yakutian name corresponds to the name of the Park (Kytalyk interpreted as Siberian crane in Yakutian language), the third rarest species of cranes (Meine, Archibald, 1996), included in the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Birds of Asia Red List and the Red Books of Russian Federation and its several subjects, including the Republic Sakha (Yakutia). It is classified as a critically endangered species in the International Red List (IUCN) (Bird Life International 2000). In order to conserve the Siberian crane Eastern population, the Republic Resource Reserve Kytalyk was included in the North-East Asia Crane Site Network created on the initiative of the International Crane Foundation and the Wetlands International in 1997. The number of Siberian crane East population breeding in the tundra zone between the Yana and Kolyma Rivers and wintering in southeastern China is about 4,000 individuals.

The mammalian fauna
The mammalian fauna of the National Park includes 21 species. Most of the animals belong to the native fauna. Exceptions are the Muskrat and Musk ox because their appearance is associated with artificial and natural settlement. The Musk ox Ovibos moshatus is included in the Red Book of Yakutia. In terms of species, the orders of rodents and carnivores which make up 70% of the mammalian fauna are well represented. The insectivores, artiodactyls and hares are represented to a lesser extent. The highest number and species diversity of small mammals were observed in the riverbed areas. Siberian brown lemming and Arctic lemming predominate in the typical tundra biotopes prevailing in the territory described, although taiga species such as Northern red-backed vole, Sorex tundrensis, Tundra vole and Middendorf vole can penetrate far into the tundra along the river valleys. Large carnivorous and ungulate animals are characterized by a relatively uniform distribution over the territory with a wide coverage of all available habitats.

Rare and endangered species
Within the borders of the National Park and in the adjacent territories there are 25 rare and endangered species of animals: insects-1 species, fish-2, birds-21, and mammals-1 species. 

The INSECT Class

Arctia olschwangi, Borearctia menetriesii Pararctia subnebulosa tundrana


Siberian sturgeon

The BIRD Class

Yellow-billed loon, Brent Goose, Lesser White-fronted goose, Snow goose, Bewick Swan, Baikal Teal, Сommon eider, Spectacled eider, Steller’s eider, American scoter, Golden Eagle, White-tailed eagle, Gyrfalcon, Peregrine falcon, Siberian crane, Eurasian dotterel, Curlew sandpiper, Sharp-tailed sandpiper, Broad-billed sandpiper, Bar-tailed godwit, Sabine's gull, Ross’s gull, Ivory gull


Musk ox

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The National Park Kytalyk territory is one of the most important natural areas of the Eastern Palearctic. It includes, on the one hand, a cross-section of tundra typical for the region, and on the other hand, the large areas of heavily watered and swampy terrain, characterized by unique qualitative and quantitative indicators of biodiversity. The Park is of great scientific and educational value as a habitat for endangered species of animals and a concentration of key ornithological territories (sites of mass nesting and molting birds), as well as a living space for nomadic tribal communities leading a traditional way of life. The Park territory is the breeding ground of a huge number of birds that mainly use the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. Among them is the Siberian crane Eastern population, the Critically Endangered representative of the world's avifauna. There are reference and diverse objects and phenomena of the inanimate nature of the National Park, associated mainly with permafrost, permafrost processes and phenomena, as well as zonal-latitudinal and landscape-climatic features. First of all, these are: permafrost outcrops; thermokarst manifestations (thawing of permafrost), which create peculiar relief forms: frost-breaking cracks, baydzharakhs and pingos; northern lights, polar day and polar night. These and other objects and phenomena are a kind of scientific testing ground, including for the study of current climate change.

Criterion (ix): GAP-analysis conducted by IUCN (The World Heritage List: Future priorities for a credible and complete list of natural and mixed sites. A Strategy Paper prepared by IUCN April 2004) has shown that Tundra and Polar Systems are represented in the World Heritage List to the least extent. Over the past 15 years, the situation has changed very little. Within the National Park Kytalyk there are various types of subarctic or typical tundra which are polygonal, moss-lichen, tussock, swampy, shrub-grass, etc. The processes of reference tundra ecosystem evolution and the processes of formation and sustainable functioning of multi-species communities of terrestrial mammals and birds concentrated in the limited space of the National Park are of great scientific and environmental interest.

Criterion (x): Siberian crane (Leucogeranus leucogeranus) is listed as the Critically Endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and as a rare species in the Red Book of the Russian Federation. Until recently, the species was represented by three separate populations (the Western, the Central and the Eastern, wintering respectively in Iran, India and China), but the Western population has almost disappeared and Central populations is considered extinct. The future of the species depends on the Eastern population conservation which has about 4 thousand individuals. The species breeds in the tundra zone in northern Yakutia and migrates through Eastern Russia and China to the wintering ground on Lake Poyang in Jiangxi Province in China. Kytalyk is Yakutian name of Siberian crane, one of the most rare cranes species on the planet. More than 70% of the species Eastern population breeding territories are in National Park Kytalyk. The two of three revealed main reproduction territories of Siberian crane Eastern population are concentrated within the park boundaries. Subarctic tundra of Yakutia North-East is the territory for summer inhabiting for Siberian crane Eastern population which compounds the 99.9 % of the species total number. The conservation of the species as a whole depends on the state and well-being of the Eastern (Yakutian) population. The entire biocomplex of the National Park Kytalyk is unique in the abundance of small-populated and rare species, both plants and animals, listed in the Red Lists of the IUCN, the Red Book of the Russian Federation and the Republic Sakha Red Book. The special value to its territory is preserved with only conserved Siberian crane Eastern population, the breeding grounds of Spectacled Eider, Lesser White-fronted goose, Baikal Teal, Gyrfalcon, Peregrine falcon and other species, places of waterfowl mass molting.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The National Park Kytalyk territory includes two Siberian crane Eastern population main reproduction areas of the three identified. It protects more than 70% of Siberian crane Eastern population breeding territories, in fact the only conserved population. The reference subarctic tundra landscapes, which represent the Siberian crane and many endangered plants and animal species habitats, appear in their natural states, because the park territory has not been subjected to any significant anthropogenic impact. The territory of the park is remote from industrial centers and areas of intensive land use. Allaikhovsky District is one of the northernmost in Yakutia, the most remote and sparsely populated in the Yakutian Arctic: about 2,600 people live in 5 settlements of the district huge area (10.73 million hectares). There are no permanent people populations on the National Park territory and there are no settlements. Since 1992, the territory of the modern state Natural National Park, created in 2019, has been protected by the status of the Regional Nature Reserve (1992-1996), the Republic Resource Reserve (1996-2014), and the State Nature Reserve of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) (2014-2019). The size of the National Park (1,885,554 ha) is sufficient to maintain the stable functioning of its key ecosystems.

Comparison with other similar properties

Among the existing and prospective World Natural Heritage properties, there are no obvious analogues of the Kytalyk site - neither in the northern regions of Eurasia, nor in North America (Alaska, Canada). All these are fundamentally different types of tundra landscapes. There are also no significant concentrations of Siberian cranes as key wildlife protection objects. Therefore, this part of Yana-Indigirka lowland can be recognized as unique on a global scale by a combination of two criteria: (ix) (processes of evolution and development of ecosystems), and (x) (biodiversity/endangered species). The only possible competitor (in terms of Criterion x) is the Poyang Lake National Nature Reserve in Jiangxi Province in China. In this regard, it is possible to make a proposal to join efforts with China to jointly promote the List of cross-border serial World Natural Heritage Site (Kytalyk-Poyang), with an emphasis on all key habitats for Siberian cranes both in the breeding season and in wintering grounds.