A place where you can go nose to nose with a bear and set your calendar to the birds 07/25/2013, 17:27
The grass really is greener on the other side, according to the majority who head abroad to see European sights and swim in seas and oceans. At the same time, foreigners pack their bags for faraway Siberia where, they argue, amazing places have been well preserved to this day. To keep them in their original state for as long as possible, specially protected areas – nature reserves – have been created across the country. Staff from the Sayano-Shushenskaya State Biosphere Reserve told Sib.fm's correspondents how to get there, what eco-tourism is and what makes it special.
9 snow leopards live in the Sayano-Shushensky Nature Reserve
The Sayano-Shushensky Nature Reserve is located in the south of the Krasnoyarsk Krai region on the left bank of the reservoir formed by the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric power station on the Yenisei River. Its territory is home to a huge number of animals and birds. This is a place where you can find rare and endangered animals (reindeer, snow leopards, musk deer, Pallas's cats), as well as many rare plants.
For a few years, the reserve has been arranging sightseeing tours that allow visitors not only to visit unspoilt places, but also to see wild animals. Tours are planned in advance, each traveller is issued with a personal pass and the group is registered at checkpoints along its route.
"Eco-cultural tourism is when you get acquainted with nature and leave nothing but your footprints behind," says Timur Mukhamediev, tourism instructor at the reserve's department of environmental education, tourism and recreation.
Timur gave the reserve 17 years of his life, defended his Ph.D. thesis, changed jobs for ten years and recently returned. He says he couldn't get used to life outside the reserve, where he found his beloved job and family.
"In fact, eco-tourism is one of the least inexpensive forms of recreation. Transportation costs are high, since you have to get to protected areas by either helicopter or motorboat," he explains. "A lot less money is spent on guides, cooks and accommodation in guest cabins. Some guests live in tents and bring their own food."
One form of this unusual tourism is a hike along an eco-trail, where you can see tracks and, if you're lucky, maybe even their owners. A trail should not exceed 5km in length and would ideally be around 2km. As a result, the hikers will not get tired, people with any level of physical fitness are able to participate and there is enough time for a detailed account from the guide.
Timur Mukhamediev leads us down a trail close to the Kurgol tourist centre. Once upon a time, Tuvans, members of a nomadic, Turkic ethnic group, lived there and the remains of their settlements can be found in the forest: veils, livestock enclosures and household items.
According to Tuvan custom, when the head of a family dies, his house is burned
It has all remained untouched and is shown to tourists as evidence of the territory's past. An old Tuvan grandmother, known to everyone by the name of Andyrbeikha, used to live there. Every day she herded goats, sat down on a stump or rock further up the sloping steppe and smoked. People remember that she was hard of hearing, walked very slowly and hunched over, but at the same time was notable for her far-sightedness and marksmanship. Lame, she always leaned against her Mosin-Nagant rifle, which was a permanent fixture at her side to protect the flock from wolves.
Once, a dog that lived at a nearby ranger station got into the habit of chasing the goats. One day Andyrbeikha saw it, placed the gun on a forked stick, took aim and fired.
"The dog fell dead. The old woman hit it right in the eye from a distance of several hundred metres."
No one argued with Andyrbeikha – she said that she mistook the dog for a wolf – but from then on the other dogs weren't allowed to even get close to her goats.
"From April until the first frost, there's always something in bloom in the taiga; sometimes the primroses flower again in the autumn. There's even an appropriate folk saying: if everything is in full bloom in September, the autumn will be long and warm. According to our observations, the saying is one hundred percent correct," the guide continues his story, "There are a lot of big ant hills here. An anthill is a sign of an old forest."
Wild boar have poor eyesight and attack indiscriminately, even if their opponent is stronger
The soil around the pits is covered with freshly dug earth, where boars hunted for bulbs of a local plant, adder's tongue, at night. Further on, mineral salts come to the surface, leaving a patch of lighter soil on the hillside.
"You can learn a lot about any wild animal without even seeing it first hand. They all leave behind physical and chemical signs of life. You can find tears, scratches and bites on the trunks of trees and shrubs, tracks and faeces on the ground," Mukhamediev shows us. "All animals also have a certain network of marking points where they leave complete information about themselves. These markers can show us if they're hungry or not, aggressive or kind, and even when they plan to return. Chemicals and smells are the most ancient language of animals on Earth, incomprehensible to modern man, who is increasingly drifting away from nature."
Resting animals always lie with their heads facing the direction they came from
Some of the trees on the trail have been rubbed down to nearly a half of their original size. It's obvious that a boar has been scratching itself here, as the area is smeared with mud and pieces of bear fur are hanging on a neighbouring trunk. The animal chooses to rub against trees with a strong smell, mostly conifers, as their resin helps to heal wounds and repels insects.
Birdsong can no longer be heard: at this time, most of them are safely in their nests. Reserve staff say that it's possible to synchronise your calendar against arriving birds. Some have been returning from migration on the same day for many years. For example, the cuckoo starts to cry on 8 May without fail and the kite arrives on 26 March. A bitten fern is sticking out of a mound of earth. Timur determines that a Siberian stag ate it: only the tops are missing, and a horse would eat everything down to the roots.
The animals wake up at dawn and go out to drink – if you set out at four or five o'clock in the morning, then until nine or ten you will have the chance to see roe deer, bears, Siberian stags, Siberian ibex and other animals and birds. That is, if you don't make any noise, of course. The second opportunity to observe them is in the evening, before the thick twilight hides them from view.
According to staff, there hasn't been a single case of a person being injured by an animal attack in the 37 years since the reserve was created.
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"Animals in the wild never approach people and, if possible, try to avoid direct contact. "Wolves, for example, run away from people and will even throw away their prey," says Timur. "So if a person is behaving appropriately – doesn't intimidate, try to cause harm or make any sudden movements, he has nothing to fear."