Third International Scientific and Practical Conference “Eagles of the Palearctic: Study and Conservation”

Raptors Conservation. Suppl. 2. Proceedings of Conferences

Raptors and Wind Energy in Kazakhstan: What are the Prospects for Eagles?

Karyakin I.V. (Russian Raptor Research and Conservation Network; Sibecocenter LLC, Novosibirsk, Russia)

Igor Karyakin
Recommended citation: Karyakin I.V. Raptors and Wind Energy in Kazakhstan: What are the Prospects for Eagles? – Raptors Conservation. 2023. S2: 428–433. DOI: 10.19074/1814-8654- 2023-2-428-433 URL:

Wind energy is one of the most affordable energy sources worldwide and represents one of the most climate and environmentally friendly options for energy production. However, wind power plants (WPP) can have negative impacts on biodiversity, especially on flying animals (birds and bats), through direct mortality due to collisions and indirectly due to habitat degradation and loss of food resources. Wind Power Plants also create barrier effects for migratory birds. One study showed that the representatives of Accipitriformes (57% of species in this order) were the most vulnerable to death in WPP and had the highest predicted collision rate of all taxonomic orders (0.001–0.288, averaging 0.073±0.064 collisions per turbine per year (Thaxter et al., 2017).

Kazakhstan is still quite densely populated by birds of prey of the Accipitriformes, including eagles. Such large species as Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca), Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis) nest here, and for the last two species Kazakhstan is the country where more than 50% of the world population is concentrated. More than 50% of the world population of the Greater Spotted Eagle (Aquila clanga), which breeds in Siberia, also migrates through Kazakhstan. All of these species are extremely vulnerable to collisions with WPP blades, and excess mortality of even a few percent can cause serious damage to their populations, especially the Steppe Eagle, which has been declining rapidly in recent decades for a variety of reasons.

So far, Kazakhstan does not have an acute problem of eagle deaths at WPP, as wind energy occupies only 2% of the country's energy balance (2.28 TWhr vs. 112.78 TWhr), but things can change quite quickly. In the last 8 years alone, wind energy production in Kazakhstan has rapidly increased by more than 200 times – from 0.01 TWhr in 2014 to 2.28 TWhr in 2022. And the country has the capacity to continue to increase wind power generation on the same scale for the next 10 years without any difficulty. And that could spell disaster for the eagle population. That is why the most interesting areas for wind power generation, the most profitable in terms of return on investment and profit, coincide with the densest eagle breeding grounds and/or migration corridors.

The legislation of Kazakhstan does not restrict economic activities in the habitats of rare species, there are no regulations on buffer zones around the nests of species listed in the Red Data Book of Kazakhstan, in which the construction of facilities dangerous for birds is prohibited, there is no prohibition on the construction of wind power plants in migration corridors, there are no requirements for bird protection measures at wind power plants. Thus, with the intensive development of wind energy in Kazakhstan, eagles and many other species of birds of prey will be at risk of extinction.

Already now, the Zhanatas WPP has been built on the Karatau Ridge, through which about one million birds of prey and 32.3 to 40.6 thousand eagles of three species (Steppe Eagle, Imperial Eagle, Greater Spotted Eagle) fly on their autumn migration.

In the same migration corridor in the Chu-Ili Mountains near Mirny settlement of Zhambyl Region, it is planned to construct a new WPP with a capacity of 1GW. An agreement of principles for the implementation of this project was signed by the head of the Ministry of Energy of Kazakhstan, the chairmen of Samruk-Kazyna and KazMunaiGas, the vice president for business development in Asia of Total Еren S.A. and the CEO of TotalEnergies on June 9, 2022. There are plans to construct a WPP between the Chokpak Pass and the Aschibulak Reservoir. These three WPPs could already cause serious damage to eagles migrating in the Western Circum-Himalayan Migration Corridor (WCHMC). In addition, the development of WPP is planned in Ustyurt, which may cause serious damage to the populations of eagles breeding in the Aral-Caspian region, as well as migrating from the steppes of Western Kazakhstan and the Volga-Ural region – which is more than half of the world population of the Steppe Eagle and a third of the world population of the Imperial Eagle.

While WPPs in Kazakhstan have been actively constructed and commissioned since 2015, there are no studies that preceded the construction of WPPs and there are no studies on the impact of already constructed WPPs on flying animals. Most of the operating WPPs are built without taking into account information on rare species both breeding in the project plots and migrating through them. In fact, an imitation EIA has been written for them.

A survey of the Zhanatas WPP in 2022 showed that during construction and after commissioning, breeding territories of Golden Eagle, Short-Toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus), Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) and Black Stork (Ciconia nigra) were destroyed, and several territories of these species are threatened as the birds regularly move through the WPP in search of prey during the breeding season. Also, as a result of the construction of the Zhanatas WPP, the area has completely lost its importance for migrating Great Bustards (Otis tarda) as a permanent stopover location, and the operation of the WPP poses a threat of death to migrating great bustards as a result of collision with the blades. During the analysis of migration data of Siberian eagles flying through Karatau, it was found out that the Zhanatasskaya WPP was built outside the eagle stopping zone, however 8.7% of eagles passed through the WPP. When extrapolating the data to the entire population of migrating eagles, we get an average of 5 thousand passes per year, 900 of which are in the dangerous altitude range of the rotor movement zone.

A survey in 2023 in the vicinity of another WPP near Zhangiztobe, also constructed in the WCHMC, through which Eastern Kazakhstani and Siberian eagles migrate, showed a complete loss of the Steppe Eagle from the list of the breeding species in the 7 km zone around the plant. Although before the construction of the WPP, the area provided habitat for at least 6 pairs of steppe eagles.

The impact of WPP on birds varies significantly by region, season and species. Therefore, it is unclear to what extent bird mortality assessments and mitigation proposals developed in other countries can be applied to the conditions of Kazakhstan. It is urgent to develop Kazakhstan's practice of assessing the impact of WPP on biodiversity and to use the best practices developed by the world community for mitigation. It is urgently necessary to amend the legislation of Kazakhstan in terms of limiting the construction of WPP in migration corridors, as it is done in the EU. We need for clear regulations to ensure bird safety at WPPs and the development of turbine shutdown schedules for WPPs built in migration corridors.

To understand the specifics and modelling of the migration of birds of prey through the territories of East Kazakhstan Region, promising for wind energy development, within the framework of the project “Endangered Raptors Conservation on the Indo-Palearctic Migration Flyway”, implemented with the support of The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), work has begun to create a map of raptor migration, highlighting areas at risk from energy infrastructure.

Bustards (Otis tarda) fly through the Zhanatas wind farm during their autumn migration. Photo by I. Karyakin.