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Wrangel Island Bioregion 1

Established: 1993
Area: 41,692 km2

Valery Leonidovich Chuprov, Director

ul. Begicheva 10, # 29
P.O. Box 126
Taimyrsky A.O.
Russia 647000

Tel: +7 (39-111) 5-67-24

Email:  reserve@dudnika.ru


Intro Photo

© 2004 Laura Williams

Great Arctic Zapovednik Images
Great Arctic Zapovednik Facts

Above the Arctic Circle, the Taimyr Peninsula and the waters that surround it – the Karsk and Laptev Seas – are so remote that vast expanses of wilderness remain virtually untouched by human beings. This realm of tundra and arctic desert is home to polar bear and reindeer, walrus and beluga. The brief summers are crucial nesting times for many migratory birds that winter in warmer climates. Since 1993, these and other animals have received official protection in Russia's largest protected area, Bolshoi Arktichesky ("Great Arctic") Zapovednik.





Great Arctic in Russian Conservation News journal:



Images of Great Arctic Zapovednik

Click on each photo to see a large version.

Photo 1

© 2004 Peter Prokosch

An Arctic fox seized this unwary bird from its nest.


Photo 2

© 2004 Yuri Artukhin

A bearded seal lounges on an exposed shoal.


Photo 3

© 2004 Peter Prokosch

Ice floes break up in chilly Arctic waters.


Photo 4

© 2004 Peter Prokosch

A knot warms its eggs during a spring snowstorm.


Photo 5

© 2004 Yuri Artukhin

An ermine hunts for lemmings and chicks in the tundra.



Photo 6

© 2004 Yuri Artukhin

Wild reindeer can gather by the thousands in the reserve.


Photo 7

© 2004 Peter Prokosch

Rare Ross’ gulls nest here during the short summer.


Photo 8

© 2004 Laura Williams

Tiny flowers spring to life in the tundra in summertime.


Great Arctic Zapovednik Facts:

AnimalsVegetationGeographical FeaturesConservation StatusReferences


Few mammals can survive the harsh polar climate of Great Arctic Zapovednik, but there are notable exceptions to this rule.  Though endangered, polar bears (Ursus martimus) are relatively common here, preferring the islands and coastal areas.  Arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus) can regularly be seen following polar bears to scavenge the remains of the bears’ meals.

A continuous population of reindeer (Rangiferus tarandus), which varies from 50,000 to 150,000 individuals each summer, can be found throughout the reserve, taking advantage of different landscapes during various times of the year.  The reindeer are in turn prey for wolverines (Gulo gulo) and occasional wolves (Canis lupus).  Two species of lemming – the arctic (Dicrostonyx torquatus) and brown (Lemmus sibiricus) lemming – live in reserve.  They are a basic food source for birds of prey and carnivorous mammals such as the ermine (Mustela erminea), animals whose annual numbers depend directly on the size of lemming populations. Arctic hares (Lepus timidus) can be found on the continent. 

Ringed seals (Pusa hispada) – the smallest of all seals—and bearded seals (Erignathus barbatus) can be found throughout the Karsk Sea, as can beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas).  Walruses (Odobenus rosmarus) congregate on the shores.

Musk oxen (Ovibos moschatus) are sometimes seen near the lower Taimyr River.  Scientists believe that these animals came from a group of oxen reintroduced on the mainland in 1974.

Avian life is considerably more diverse, with 124 recorded species, 55 of which nest in the reserve.  The majority of these birds live in the southernmost reaches of the zapovednik, where typical tundra species dominate.  Lapland buntings (Calcarius lapponicus), dunlins (Calidris alpina), and white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons) are common.  Farther north, birds typical of the High Arctic are prevalent: knots (Calidris canutus), curlew sandpipers (C. ferruginea), and Brent geese (Branta bernicla).  The northernmost bird is the endangered ivory gull (Pagophila eburea).

Water birds, such as Bewick’s swan (Cygnus bewickii), king and common eiders (Somateria spectabilis, S. mollissina), and long-tailed ducks (Clangula hyemalis) receive special attention from the zapovednik staff.  Herring gulls (Larus argentatus) form large colonies of several hundred nesting pairs along the coastline, while Sabine’s gulls (Xema sabini) form colonies at the mouth of the Taimyr River.  The rare Ross’s gull (Rhodostethia rosea) wanders the shoreline.

Rough-legged buzzards (Buteo lagopus) and peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) nest in the reserve, as do snowy owls (Nyctea scandiaca), in years when lemmings are plentiful.  White-tailed eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla) can be spotted in southern areas of the zapovednik.


Vegetation in Great Arctic Zapovednik can be divided into two basic categories: tundra and arctic deserts.  Tundra landscapes are found in the warmer, southwestern portions of the zapovednik, while arctic deserts are in the coldest, northernmost reaches.

Several tundra areas of different types can be found in the reserve. Sibiryakov Island, at the southwestern corner of the reserve, holds dry tundra communities and boasts the greatest diversity of plant life: white arctic mountain heather (Cassiope tetragona), mosses (Racomitrium lanuginosum, Polytrichastrum spp.), and lichens (Pertusaria spp. and Stereocaulon spp.). Of particular note are the distinctive flowers that bloom in the brief summer.  Papaver pulvinatum have multicolored blossoms ranging from white to bright yellow to orange-red, while the golden blooms of Novosieversia glacialis contrast with the bright red Armeria scabra and aromatic Achoriphragma nudicaule.

Another form of tundra is the shortgrass tundra meadow, which develops on areas of permafrost.  Dwarf willows (Salix sp.) stand out against the dominant perennial grasses, especially Poa species.  When areas of tundra flood, the resulting communities, called tundra marshes, are filled with Dupontia fisheri, Carex concolor, and polar willow (Salix polaris), as well as sphagnum and green mosses.  Where rivers flow into the sea, the mixing of fresh and saltwater sets the necessary conditions for a special kind of meadow that has a reddish, almost shorn appearance and is formed primarily by halophyte sedges – Carex subspathacea, C. ursine, Puccinellia spp.

Farther north, arctic deserts give the impression of supporting no plant life.  In fact, colonies of lichens (Rhizocarpom, Lecidea, Psoroma hypnorum) grow in these areas.  On an exceptional summer day when the sun illumines the desert, they reveal a velvety green cloak over hills and plains.  Those who have seen it remark that it is a rare sight, but one that will remain with you all your life.

Geographical Features

Great Arctic Zapovednik covers an enormous territory from the Karsk Sea, with its polar islands, to the Taimyr Peninsula and into the continent.  The zapovednik’s clusters stretch 1,000 km from east to west and 500 km north to south.  Particularly notable is the reserve’s large marine area (980,934 ha), spanning nearly a quarter of the zapovednik’s total area.  In total the zapovednik comprises seven different sections of varied size and geography. 

The Dickson-Sibiryakov section (200,000 ha) includes the 85,000-ha Sibiryakov Island, a group of small islands near it, and a small stretch of coastline on the mainland.  The geography of both the islands and the coastline is characterized by arctic tundra, with rocky slopes falling into the sea.  The international William Barents Biological Station is located on the mainland stretch of coastline, not far from the town of Dickson. 

A number of far-flung islands, and the marine areas surrounding them, make up the Karsk Sea Islands section of the reserve, which covers 400,000 ha.  Generally small and low in elevation – the highest point in the entire section is a mere 60 m above sea level – these islands have jagged coastlines and are significantly shaped by the forces of the sea around them.

The Pyasinsky section covers the Pyasina River delta, the eastern part of the Pyasina Gulf, as well as nearby areas to the east of the Pyasina River.  The Gulf of Middendorf section covers 69,000 ha of arctic tundra that is typical of the region, but remains practically unstudied.  The largest archipelago in the Karsk Sea – about 90 islands – is contained in the Nordensköld Archipelago section (500,000 ha).

The largest section of the zapovednik, the Lower Taimyr section (1,900,000 ha), covers the lower reaches of the Lower Taimyr River and the Shrenk River basin, as well as the coastlines of the Taimyr and Toll Bays.  The area has a diverse geography, from deep river valleys to the 500-meter-high foothills of the Byrrang Mountains in the southern reaches of the zapovednik.  The mouth of the Lower Taimyr River feeds into a shallow estuary formed by sea and glaciers.  Particularly interesting are the remains of mammoths, musk oxen, bulls, and reindeer found on the western side of the Taimyr Peninsula.

The 35,000-ha Cheliuskin Peninsula section, which straddles the overlap of two zones, tundra and arctic desert, contains the only continental arctic deserts in the world.

Permafrost covers the entirety of the zapovednik.  This perpetually frozen layer of ground prevents water from filtering deep into the soil, creating instead many lakes on the surface of the tundra.  There are many rivers in the zapovednik, the largest of which are the Pyasina and the Lower Taimyr.  The majority of these rivers flow either into the Pyasina Gulf and the southeaster part of the Karsk Sea.

Conservation Status

The idea to found Great Arctic Zapovednik was born in 1989 on a joint Soviet-German scientific expedition to Taimyr.  Four years later, after extensive research and preparation by Russian and international scientists, the zapovednik was founded, the largest to date in Russia.  The areas chosen for protection were characteristic of the region and little affected by development.  They also covered crucial nesting sites for a number of birds that migrated along the North Atlantic Flyway.  Indeed, it was largely through the help of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea National Park (Germany), where many of these birds winter, that Great Arctic Zapovednik was founded.

In addition to its own territory, the zapovednik also manages the territory of two nearby sanctuaries, the federal Severozemelsky Zakaznik (421,701 ha) and the regional Brekhovskie Islands Zakaznik (228, 487 ha).  Another federal sanctuary, Pyasninsky Zakaznik (900,000 ha), is located 50 km south of the zapovednik and was founded to protect the summer habitats of wild reindeer and the nesting and molting sites of many geese.

Nonetheless, several factors do play a role – potentially harmful – in changing the ecosystems protected in the zapovednik.  Conservationists are most concerned about the Norilsk Metallurgical Plant, which has been operating near the headwaters of the Pyasina River since the mid-1900s.  The plant pollutes rivers that flow into the Karsk Sea and is blamed for acid precipitation across the region; some say the pollution travels as far as Canada.  Other concerns include the residue of nuclear tests on Novaya Zemlya and the presence of nuclear waste repositories in the Karsk Sea.  Testing for the presence of radioactive elements in the zapovednik itself, however, has not revealed high concentrations of radioactivity.  Plans to expand mining operations in the Taimyr also pose a potential threat to arctic ecosystems in and around Great Arctic Zapovednik.

Scientific research has a significant history in the region and continues to be an important function of the zapovednik.  Polar research stations have been established in several areas of the zapovednik and numerous Russian and international research projects continue to increase knowledge and understanding of arctic ecosystems.

The zapovednik welcomes tourists on a paid basis and offers tours through its buffer zone.


Syroechkovsky, E. E., E. V. Rogacheva, E. E. Syrochkovsky, Jr., V. B. Kuvaev, E. G. Lappo, F. A. Romanenko, O. A. Khruleva, Y. I. Chernov, V. L. Chuprov, I. L. Chuprova, “Bolshoi Arktichesky Zapovednik,” Zapovedniks of Russia: Zapovedniks of Siberia, Vol. II, Logata, Moscow, 2000 (Russian).

Great Arctic Zapovednik website, c. 2001. http://www.bigarctic.ru  (Russian).

Text prepared by Lisa Woodson.

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