Date: Fri, 2 May 2014 05:45:01 +0200 (METDST)
by Igor SASSIN

KOYTENDAG NATIONAL PARK, Turkmenistan, May 02, 2014 (AFP) - Some eight hours dusty drive from the nearest major settlement, tucked into the eastern corner of Turkmenistan and unknown to the outside world until the second half of the last century, lies one of the most mythical yet least visited spots in the former Soviet Union.   Turkmenistan's Plateau of the Dinosaurs is the location of one of the most magnificent collections of fossilised dinosaur tracks anywhere on Planet Earth, which only became known to Soviet palaeontologists in the 1950s.   "Steven Spielberg should have shot 'Jurassic Park' here. Here the tracks of the dinosaurs are real and not made by computers," said Aman, 35, an inhabitant of the village of Khodja Pil at the foot of the plateau.    On the plateau, some 2,500 dinosaur tracks have been discovered. Some are 40 centimetres long and 30 centimetres wide, others even bigger, measuring 70 by 60.    A dinosaur five to six metres (16 to 20 feet) tall could take a stride of up to two metres.    The plateau is renowned for having the longest trackways -- continuous lines of footprints made as a dinosaur walked or ran -- anywhere in the world.

In places they reach up to 200 metres. It seems improbable that what is now an arid mountain zone could sustain such life but 150 million years ago when these creatures reigned supreme on Earth the eco-system was completely different.    "Some 145-150 million years ago, there were lakes and marshes and herds of dinosaurs strode along the banks. There were both vegetarian and carnivorous dinosaurs.    "This sandy marshland quickly silted up and so these prehistoric tracks left their mark forever," said Anatoly Bushmakin, a Turkmen scientist specialising in the plateau.    Still one of the most isolated countries in the world almost two-and-a-half decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan sees only a trickle of tourists and most visitors who make it out to the Plateau of the Dinosaurs are locals.    "It is like the dinosaurs were here just recently and if you go up the mountain you can imagine that they are walking away into the distance," said Gulya, 27, a visitor from the nearest large town of Turkmenabat.    "It's amazing how everyone of us can somehow touch eternity," she added.
  
- 'Unique in the world' -  
The Plateau is located deep in Turkmenistan's eastern corner on the border with Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.    Visiting the border region requires a permit.    A visitor from the capital Ashgabat on the other side of the country needs to fly to Turkmenabat before then travelling south by road some 450 kilometres (280 miles), a bumpy eight-hour journey.    It was only confirmed in the 1950s that dinosaur tracks existed here, although locals have known about them for much longer, even if they were not quite sure of the origin.    The name of the nearby village of Khodja Pil means "Miracle of the Elephants" in Turkmen.

Of course elephants have never existed in Turkmenistan but local legend long had it that the tracks were left by elephants taken by Alexander the Great in his campaigns.    "What is so unique about this plateau is that here precise tracks of dinosaurs have been preserved and you can even make out the toes and then follow the track even," said Bushmakin.    "Such a huge number of prints has not been found anywhere else on the planet," he added.   For all its remoteness, Turkmen officials have some hope of making the area a major draw. The plateau is located in the heart of the Koytendag National Park which is the location of Turkmenistan's highest mountain (Airybaba at 3,319 metres) as well as waterfalls, lakes and caves.    "Because of this the ministry of tourism in Turkmenistan is preparing a dossier to apply for the Koytendag national park to be declared part of UNESCO world heritage," said the head of the reserve, Mukhamet Imamov.
Date: Thu, 17 Dec 2009 17:08:30 +0100 (MET)

ALMATY, Dec 17, 2009 (AFP) - The ex-Soviet nation of Turkmenistan has forced the last international NGO -- medical aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) -- to shut down despite "deeply alarming" rates of tuberculosis, the group said Thursday.   "We had hoped to be able to assist the Turkmen population which is exposed to high rates of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, but still has no access to care and effective treatment," Frank Doerner, general director at MSF said in a statement.   But "our project proposals have been repeatedly rejected which does not leave us with a lot of choice but to close down," he said.

MSF, which has worked in the isolated Central Asian nation since 1999, was the last international non-governmental organisation operating in the country.   "Taken at face value, these resistance rates indicate a deeply alarming situation," said Christoph Hippchen, the aid group's country manager for Turkmenistan.   "According to the national strategy, the first patient would effectively be treated in 2013 but people are dying today!" he said in the statement.   Turkmenistan's current ruler Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who trained as a dentist and was a health minister in his predecessor's government, took power in 2007 promising to introduce limited reforms.
Date: Thu, 9 Apr 2009 10:35:29 +0200 (METDST)

ALMATY, April 9, 2009 (AFP) - An explosion on a gas pipeline in the Central Asian state of Turkmenistan halted gas supplies to Russia on Thursday, but was not expected to disrupt supplies to Europe, Russian energy giant Gazprom said.   "Turkmengaz informed Gazprom that on April 9 at 01:32 an explosion occurred at the 487th kilometer of the Davletbat-Daryalik pipeline. Since then, transport of Turkmen gas to Russia has not been carried out," Gazprom said.   "At the present time the Turkmen side is working to rapidly repair the damage.... The damage will not affect the supply of gas to Gazprom's customers," it said in a statement.

The pipeline on which the explosion occured is part of the massive Central-Asia Centre supply network, which transports natural gas from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to Russia.   Gazprom says the total supply network ships 80 billion cubic metres of Central Asia gas to Russia every year.   Gazprom uses Central Asian gas to top up its own reserves and help keep pace with demand from gas-hungry European states.   Turkmenistan lies between the Caspian Sea, Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and is believed to have huge gas reserves beneath its mainly desert territory.
Date: 6 Sep 2005 From: ProMED-mail Source: Office International des Epizooties (OIE) Disease Alert [edited] ----------------------- Date of previous outbreak of anthrax in Turkmenistan reported to the OIE: September 2003.Translation of information received on (and dated ) 2 Sep 2005 from Dr Murad G Gochmuradov, director of the Turkmenistan Veterinary Union, Ashgabat: In Ak-Su, Ak-Bugdaye district, Akhal region (90 km north east of Ashgabat), 12 animals from a 1000 head flock of small ruminants fell sick and died from anthrax between 30 Aug and 1 Sep 2005. Their bodies were destroyed by incineration. Control measures against anthrax are being applied. The flock has been under quarantine since 31 Aug 2005. Diagnosis was confirmed by the central veterinary laboratory. OIE Animal Health Information Department ======================= ["Small ruminants" generally refers to either sheep or goats. The upcoming OIE weekly Disease Information on Friday (9 Sep 2005) will probably clarify which species is involved. There seems to be a good bit of anthrax reporting from the region. The references below indicate quite a bit of activity last year (2004) in late summer as well. Anyone having more information is encouraged to share it with us. - ProMed Mod.PC]
Date: Sun 6 Jun 2004 From: ProMED-mail Source: Gundogar, Turkmenistan forum, 6 Jun 2004 [translated by ProMed Mod.NR, edited] ----------------------------------------------- An epidemic of plague began in May 2004. There have already been more than 20 deaths in Turkmenistan. News about the plague was delivered by a German humanitarian aid company that works at the Uzbek-Turkmen border in the north Karakums in the Tashhovuz region. According to a specialist, this is the most serious outbreak in the last 20-30 years. According to radio "German wave" (Nemezkaya volna), during a recent week, 7 people died, in the Turkmen city Mari, from plague. There have been fatal cases in Ashgabad (capital of Turkmenistan) as well. Unfortunately, there is no reliable information from Turkmenistan, from the Russia epidemiological surveillance center, or from WHO. According to the chief sanitary physician of Russia, Gennadiy Onishenko, everything associated with acute diseases in Turkmenistan is kept secret. Turkmenistan officials have made some efforts to prevent the spread of the epidemic. Quarantine was introduced in several of the hospitals of Ashgabad, and public pools are closed. According to Gennadiy Onishenko, carriers of plague in Central Asia are camels. If a camel dies, people usually eat the meat. However, people will not be infected with plague if they cook the meat thoroughly [and avoid contamination with the uncooked meat - ProMed Mod. LL]. Uzbekistan has taken serious measures to prevent the spread of this dangerous infection. Transportation of domestic animals across the border, including camels, is prohibited, and people living near the borders have been assessed. So far, according to official data, there have been no human cases of plague registered in Uzbekistan. There are no quarantine measures established in Russia. According to Onishenko, all elements of the transportation system of Central Asia, including airports and trains, have been notified. The last case of plague in Turkmenistan was reported 25 years ago. ****** Date: Tue 6 Jul 2004 From: Wendy Orent [edited] According to the ProMed moderator (LL), Kazakhstan is the only former Soviet republic reporting plague. This is, in part, because the Soviet Union actively suppressed all reports of plague outbreaks. In fact, in 1949-50, there was a sizeable outbreak of pneumonic plague, which may have killed upwards of 100 people, according to Dr. Lev A. Melnikov, who was an eyewitness. Melnikov attributed the outbreak to the dangerous plague reservoir _Rhombomys optimus_ (the great gerbil.). I reported this in my recent book, Plague: The Mysterious Past and Terrifying Future of the World's Most Dangerous Disease, pp. 27-29. [The Free Press, New York, USA, 2004] Plague, and its reservoirs, are no respecters of borders, and the conditions prevailing in Kazhakstan (the presence of ancient reservoirs of gerbils and marmots) are also found in Turkmenistan. Atabekov is certainly correct that the territory of Turkmenistan is an endemic focus of plague, and there is no reason to discount reports of plague in Turkmenistan out of hand.
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