One important consideration to factor into your Trans-Siberian experience and beyond is an encounter with Russia’s wildlife. The country’s vast expanse of forests, mountains, grasslands and Arctic tundra are home to an astonishing variety of wildlife. There are numerous species of animal life, including tigers, bears, leopards, wolves and deer, and many species of birds, to mention a few. Russia is notably associated with the bear, which is often used as a symbol of the country and its people. However, there are so many other wonderful animals to see when in Russia, from Siberian tigers to snow leopards.
Trans-Siberian animal watching
An ideal place to look for animals and birds in Russia is the virgin Komi Forests in the Urals. Here you will find many kinds of animals and varieties of birds. In addition, there are conifers, aspens, birches, peat bogs, rivers and natural lakes. Another great location to bird watch is Yakutia. Six of the 15 species of cranes left in the world live in Yakutia. The birds fly thousands of kilometres to give birth to their offspring in Siberia. The natives of Siberia believe that the large Siberian white crane is a sacred bird.
Bear watching is also a popular experience. In Kamchatka you will be able to watch bears as they fish for salmon. You will also get to see orcas, sea lions, seals, dolphins and other whales. Further, the area boasts an amazing array of birdlife: petrels, shearwaters, gulls and the world’s largest eagle, the incredible Steller’s sea eagle. The Kamchatka’s brown bear is one of the largest bears on the planet. The rugged peninsula is a spawning ground for one-quarter of the world’s Pacific salmon. This makes the area a haven for bears as they have a bounty of fish to feast on.
Another place to look for wildlife is the Belukha Mountain range and its many lakes, which shelter a variety of animals such as the Siberian wapiti (red deer), musk deer, brown bear, sable, Siberian weasel, squirrel, chipmunk and Siberian ibex (mountain goat). Lake Baikal or the Blue Eye of Siberia, the largest, deepest and oldest freshwater lake in the world, is home to an abundance of wildlife.
Russian wildlife conservation
Russia’s far east is home to some of the world’s rarest and most unique species, including Amur tigers, Far Eastern leopards, Kamchatka brown bears and Blakiston’s fish owls. To help protect these animals, Russia has one of the world’s most impressive systems of protected areas to preserve millions of acres of wild landscapes inhabited by a vast variety of animals. Among the currently endangered species are the Siberian tiger, Far Eastern leopard, snow leopard and the Steller’s sea eagle. Other animals whose habitats are a conservation priority are the lynx, Asiatic black bear and brown bear.
It was estimated not long ago that only 450 Siberian tigers remain and only 30 Far Eastern leopards, one of the most endangered species on the planet. The leopards are found in the Russian forests between the Sea of Japan to the east and China’s Jilin Province to the west. The Siberian tigers are found mostly in the Southwest region of Primorskii Krai. A new national park, the Land of Leopard National Park, covering 1,011 square miles of leopard and tiger habitat in the Russian Far East has been established to help protect and safeguard the endangered tigers and leopards. A Siberian tiger can reach lengths of up to 4 meters long and they can weigh as much as 290 kilograms – they are incredible creatures to witness in their natural habitat.
The Russian Far East is a hotspot for biodiversity with more than 3,000 plants and a wide variety of animals. The main threats to this biodiversity and large carnivores include over-hunting of prey species such as deer and wild boar; poaching for skins and body parts to be used in traditional Chinese medicine; and habitat destruction. There is also threat from logging, fires set by people and development. Sadly, it is humans that directly cause 75 to 85 per cent of tiger deaths.
Discover wild Russia
Russia is one of the best places on the planet for experiencing some the world’s most incredible and beautiful animals. The country is home to a number of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites where the animals dwell, including Lake Baikal and the forests of Komi.
Travelling on the Trans-Siberian train will give you the chance to pass through these cherished lands; and it is a great way for nature lovers to enjoy wild Russia.
Here are some links that you might find interesting:
BBC Russian Nature: www.bbc.co.uk/nature/places/Russia
Centre for Russian Nature Conservation: www.wild-russia.org/default.htm
Snow leopard conservancy: snowleopardconservancy.org/
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 99): Mongolia by proxy #1
[Photo by Beverly & Pack]