The Caucasian State Nature Biosphere Reserve celebrates its birthday. The unique natural reserve was established 96 years ago, but its history began much earlier. Our correspondent found out how the famous Caucasian Nature Biosphere Reserve appeared and what achievements it is approaching its centenary with.
The name returned to people
Today, the Caucasian State Nature Biosphere Reserve extending over 280,000 hectares that is the core of the ‘Western Caucasus’, which is inscribed on the List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, is named after Christopher Shaposhnikov. The Reserve owes its appearance to this man. In the late 1880s, the unique area in the upper Mzymta, Malaya Laba and Shakhe rivers draw the attention of the Emperor. The tsar’s family leased land from the Kuban Cossack Army for Grand Duke and Tsar Hunting in Russia. However, the members of the august family hunted quite rarely, but in the Caucasus, the reserved places appeared where people had limited access, any wood logging was prohibited and the animals were protected. However, a quarter of a century later, the lease expired and the representatives of the Russian newly affluent classes sought to buy the unique lands. In their mind's eyes, they were dividing the protected areas into small plots of land for their private cottages in the mountains and on the alpine meadows. However, an unexpected obstacle arose for those wishing to obtain a piece of the protected land. In 1907, Christopher Shaposhnikov, the famous naturalist, was appointed the head of the Belorechensk forestry. He was a true patriot of his native land and immediately began to do his best to set up a real reserve on the territory of the former ‘Kuban Hunt’ area. In 1909, a forester sent a letter to the Academy of Sciences of Russia with a proposal to keep part of the lands of the Western Caucasus in pristine condition for future generations. The sale of the territory was suspended, but the Government of the Russian Empire did not completely solve the problem as the 1st World War began.
Forester Christopher Shaposhnikov did not abandon his idea. When in 1917, the monarchy was toppled in Russia, he immediately sent a message to the representatives of the Russian Provisional Government in the Kuban. He convinced again that a reserve was needed. But the Provisional Government did not have enough time to make their decision on this as the Great October Revolution broke out in the country.
As you know, the life of mountains and forests is little affected by any political changes, both the ‘Reds’ and the ‘Whites’ (two largest combatant groups during the Russian Civil War in the early 20th century) must protect the nature of their native land. In April 1920, Christopher Shaposhnikov sent a telegram to Vladimir Lenin, the Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Once again, he presented the case that it is necessary to create a sanctuary in the unique places of the Caucasus. What a commendable tenacity!
For several years, forester Christopher Shaposhnikov and his associates worked as volunteers protecting the forests and mountains from damaging, they did not get a penny for their work. But their arguments turned out to be very convincing, in May 1924, the Government of Soviet Russia decided to establish the Caucasian Biosphere Reserve. Christopher Shaposhnikov was appointed its first director.
You may think it was important for science only. Not at all! Thanks to this development, in the Krasnodar Territory, it was possible to protect unique lands from spontaneous real estate development and construction of communications during the period of industrialization. Thanks to this, the air is so clean in the southern regions of the country! Thanks to this, Sochi has wonderful water, you can drink tap water, while the people of many regions of Russia cannot do this. And so many unique discoveries have been made in this reserved land! Thousands of discoveries! The scientific achievement alone in reintroducing Caucasian bisons an almost extinct animal species, is amazing. So many rare birds were saved here! As well as many rare plants!
Unfortunately, these people could not save themselves. In 1937, a large group of workers in the Caucasian Biosphere Reserve led by Christopher Shaposhnikov were declared the ‘enemies of the people’. They were repressed and sent to jails for long. Christopher Shaposhnikov was shot, his name was forgotten for many years.
The justice has prevailed just recently. The researchers of the Caucasian State Nature Biosphere Reserve admiring the Christopher Shaposhnikov’s merits made a memorial plaque at their own expense and installed it on the office building. The name of the person who has done so much to preserve Russia’s nature is now embossed in marble.
The bison returned to the Caucasus
When creating the Caucasian Nature Biosphere Reserve, one of the main tasks was the protection and preservation of unique bisons. And the reserve fully lived up to its name. It was necessary to reintroduce these animals in the Caucasus twice. For the first time, it was necessary in the 1920s. Then, in the years of devastation after the Civil War, the mass extermination of bisons began. The last bison was recorded in the Reserve in 1927. It took many years to restore this animal population in the Caucasus and this became a real scientific achievement of the Reserve’s employees. In the Askaniya-Nova, the steppe reserve near Kherson, the experiments were conducted on cross-breeding a Bialowieza bison (wisent) with an American bison. In 1933, a young Caucasian bison, purchased by our country in Hamburg, arrived here. In 1940, a group of five wisents/bisons was transported to the Caucasus, to the Kishyn forest protection area. Later, a special bison park was created near the Umpyr forest protection area.
- The restoration of the bison population in the Caucasus did not stop even during the years of World War Two. Seven Reserve’s employees hid animals in the mountains and they managed to get two cubs during this time. To understand what a difficult work it was, I will give an example. They need to move a bison herd to the Umpyr area, and to do this, it was necessary to cross a mountain river. But how could the animals cross it? Then an 20 cm thick earth flooring was made on the bridge over the river, tree branches were installed along the bridge so that the animals could not see the water and could cross the bridge to the other side,” said Sergey Shevelyov, head of the Caucasian State Nature Biosphere Reserve.
The scientists succeeded to achieve the bison population in the Caucasus in 1986 only. Their tremendous efforts resulted in a new subspecies of the Caucasian bison - the mountain bison, the closest to the native one in all respects. Today, 1,150 of these strong animals live in a specially protected natural area. They occupy vast river valleys with the slopes of the surrounding ranges in the Caucasian Nature Biosphere Reserve. Here, the landscape is suitable to them, they have enough fodder, there are many springs, streams, and rivers in the mountains. The mountain bisons already inhabit new protected areas in the Krasnodar Territory, the Adyghe Republic and the Karachay Cherkess Republic. Nothing threatens their populations. The conditions created for the animals are ideal. First of all, there are no anxiety factors, no hunting, to say nothing of poaching.
- The Caucasian Nature Biosphere Reserve is now on the cusp of its centenary year. Normally, the preparations for such a jubilee start in advance. Therefore, some promising projects are under development now. The plans are to create a life-size model of a bison park that was built to restore its population in the 1940s. The project will not only present and remake one of the most important events, it will also become another tourist attraction, the Caucasian Reserve said.
Much to look at
As Sergey Shevelyov, the director of the Caucasus Reserve, noted, “the task today is to preserve this nature for future generations, to give a chance to travelers to see the unique, unspoilt nature, thereby making it clear how few such places remain on the planet; to convince people to protect and preserve forests, lakes, wildlife.” Moreover, there is much to see in the Caucasian Reserve! The Reserve has more than 3,000 plant species, 20 per cent are endemic. There are trees - oaks, beech, yew trees - and the age
of some trees is over 300 years. In 2018, by the way, in the Caucasian Nature Reserve, the second highest Caucasian fir tree, or Nordmann fir, was discovered. The scientists are joking - they haven’t reached the first highest one yet as the territory is too large.
- This is the first largest mountain-forest reserve in Europe, the only reserve located on the territory of three constituent entities of the Russian Federation: the Krasnodar Territory, the Adyghe Republic and the Karachay Cherkess Republic, - the Reserve explained.
For example, the visitors to the Caucasian Nature Reserve can experience four seasons at once in one day. A tour to the Bzerpinsk Ledge in the mountains of Sochi runs through four altitudinal belts in the mountains: the tourists starting from ‘summer’ go up the mountain to the ‘winter’ peak. The Achishkho Mount, the wettest place in Russia, is in the Caucasian Nature Biosphere Reserve. The annual rainfall at its peak is 3,000 mm, and the snow cover in winter is up to 10 metres thick. Recently, the Priazov Reserve has been included in the Caucasian State Nature Biosphere Reserve, a unique complex of coastal salt lakes where almost 200 species of waterfowl nest, as well as the ‘Southern Cultures’ Park in Sochi.
- To date, there are 20 tours in the Caucasian Biosphere Reserve: 14 summer tours and 6 winter ones. As a rule, the summer season begins in late May - early June and ends in October. The recreational facilities work year-round – its aviary and enclosure complexes in the Laura and Guzeripl areas, the Museum of Nature and visit-centres, as well as the tours to the Yew-boxwood grove. In 2019, there were over 250,000 tourists who visited the attractions of the Caucasian Nature Biosphere Reserve, the Reserve said.
According to Sergei Shevelyov, today, the task is not to increase the number of tours or open new destinations, but to make the existing ones more comfortable and safe, good both to admire the nature and to study it. That is why today, the reserve offers a new tour. Educational tourism includes the tours accompanied by a researcher. Over several days, the tourists can study any theme, whether it is an ornithological or a botanical issue or the study of the Reserve’s fauna.
Hundred years of protecting the nature
Nowadays, the priority of the Reserve’s development is the environmental education of tourists. The Caucasian Nature Reserve was one of the first to introduce the separate collection of garbage - as an experiment. Today, the garbage is collected separately in all large areas. Volunteers played a significant role in the implementation of this programme. Every year, dozens of people from all over Russia come to the Caucasian Nature Reserve in summer both to relax and also to help. They work in the Reserve tidying up the tourist infrastructure, taking part in animal recording. Every year, more volunteers come. The volunteer programme will be continued in 2020, new opportunities will appear to work in the Reserve. Experienced and proven assistants will be sent to tourist camps for the summer season. They will check the tourists’ passes, keep order in the camps, help the travelers in the holiday hotels and camping areas.
- Such an innovation is the demand of the time. Every year, the number of those taking the tours of the reserve is growing. At the same time, there are destinations visited by less tourists, but there are some tours very popular with the tourists during the season. These include the legendary ‘Tour No.30’ and the hike to the Bzerpinsk ledge. When the number of tourists at a time is large this negatively affects both the nature and the travellers’ experience. Therefore, in the upcoming season, we decided to make an experiment and sell a limited number of tickets for certain tours. This will allow us to control the number of tourists using the parking lots, and distributing the tourist flows evenly, the Reserve said.
This year, the Reserve’s staff will also brief the tourists and convince them not to use aggressive detergents while touring and replace them with safer eco-friendly alternatives, and also refuse to use plastic bags and disposable tableware and prefer reusable containers instead. The result of this work should be a decreased anthropogenic pressure on the nature, and many tourists will learn to value and cherish the nature the way like the Reserve workers have been doing for almost a hundred years for the sake of the future generations.