The Wild Wild East: Russia's Zapovedniks
1st February, 2003
Russia’s zapovedniks are some of the world’s most pristine wildernesses. For 70 years they were protected ruthlessly by the Soviet system, but recently they have fallen prey to Putin, the World Bank and ecotourists. Paul Webster reports on their plight
They form a patchwork of dizzying diversity that includes the largest undisturbed Eurasian wilderness, the world’s most biologically varied temperate forests and an inter-continental roll call of rare species from the Siberian tiger to the snow leopard, the Anatolian leopard to the Asiatic black bear and the European bison to the oriental stork. They are Russia’s greatest natural marvels, a collection of 100 scientific reserves ranging in size from two hectares to 3.6 million hectares, that represent an astonishing 40 per cent of the world’s scientific reserves. And they are at risk of being destroyed.
Better red than dead
Established in 1916, the reserves, which are known as zapovedniks, were originally governed under the Soviet system by strict rules that prohibited any activities within their boundaries, other than those for scientific purposes. But in 1991 the Soviet collapse suddenly exposed the reserves to market forces. The Russian government slashed zapovednik budgets by 90 per cent and pay was terminated for thousands of nature wardens and researchers in the reserves. The parks found themselves under fierce attack, threatened by developers and industries who were keen...
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