Features Conservation Status
Over 40 mammals have adapted to the rugged mountain
conditions of Teberdinsky Zapovednik and surrounding regions.
Among these, some of the most notable include the endemic West
Caucasian tur (Capra caucasica), which numbers around 2,000
in the zapovednik. The tur, which resides primarily above treeline,
can weigh up to 150 kg and has large, thick horns that curve back.
The animals easily scale steep, rocky slopes and glaciers, jumping
spryly over wide fissures. Their hooves have soft pads, which
increase the friction on the rock surface. Another agile mountain
ungulate the Caucasian chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra
ciscaucasica), which numbers 300 in the zapovednik, prefers
the forest belt, but can be seen on alpine meadows in the summer.
Caucasian red deer (Cervus elaphus maral) are less abundant
in the reserve, with only about 50 animals residing mostly in
the Kizgych River Valley. Wild boar (Sus scrofa) is a common
resident in the zapovednik, preferring conifer and beech forests.
The largest mammal in the zapovednik and
indeed in Europe is the Caucasian bison (Bison bonasus
caucasicus). These massive animals, some weighing over a ton,
may seem clumsy, but are actually very quick and agile. Bison
have always lived in the Caucasus, until they were driven to near
extinction in the late 1920s due to barbaric hunting. Thanks to
unfailing efforts of scientists and activists, bison were bred
and reintroduced to the region. A stable population of 50 bison
finds sanctuary in Teberdinsky Zapovednik.
Caucasian brown bear (Ursus arctos meridionalis)
is the most common predator, though this gentle creature mostly
eats plants. The wolf (Canis lupus) is a wily and agile
predator, easily scaling mountain ridges to hunt rodents or even
deer that have strayed from the herd. Small numbers of Eurasian
lynx (Lynx lynx) inhabit the zapovednik, as well as pine
and stone marten (Martes martes lorenzi, M. foina nehringi),
badger (Meles meles), the Caucasian otter (Lutra lutra
meridionalis), wild cat (Felis silvestris caucasicus),
a rare subspecies of ermine (Mustela erminea teberdina),
and weasel (M. nivalis). The most common of the predators
is the red fox (Vulpes vulpes). Many rodents and small
insectivores also inhabit the zapovednik.
At least 170 species of birds have been identified
in Teberdinsky Zapovednik, of which 87 are nesting species. Eurasian
blackbirds (Turdus merula) sing from the tops of trees,
while song and mistle thrushes (Turdus philomelos, T. viscivorus)
chime in nearby. The rare Caucasian black grouse (Tetrao mlokosiewiczi),
found only in the Caucasus, thrives along the upper extent of
the forest belt, requiring both forest and meadow habitats. The
Caucasian snowcock (Tetraogallus caucasicus) is the largest
of the wild hens in the Caucasus. These birds lives in the harshest
of conditions in subalpine and alpine meadows along with the Chukar
partridge (Alectoris chukar). The chukar lays eggs in two
nests one incubated by the male and one by the female,
allowing the species to maintain a viable population. Alpine and
red-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus, P. pyrrhocorax)
also inhabit the high mountains.
Predatory birds in the zapovednik include the
endangered lammergeier (Gypaëtus barbatus), which
nests on inaccessible cliff ledges, golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos),
and the large cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus) and
Eurasian griffon (Gyps fulvus). During mass seasonal migrations,
thousands of European bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) and
hundreds of thousands of swallows and martins (Hirundo, Delichon,
Riparia, Ptyonoprogne spp.) fly through the zapovednik.
Six reptiles are found in the zapovednik,
including three lizards (Lacerta agilis, L. saxicola, Anguis
fragilis) and three snakes (Vipera ursini, Natrix natrix,
Coronella austriaca). Among amphibians noted in the zapovednik
are the green toad (Bufo viridis), European tree frog (Hyla
arborea), marsh frog (Rana ridibunda), and Caucasian
brown frog (R. macrocnemis).
Bulltrout (Salmo trutta) are found
in rivers and lakes in the nature reserve. A multitude of butterflies,
beetles, and other invertebrates inhabit meadow and forest ecosystems.
Plant diversity and endemism in the Caucasus
surpasses that of temperate zones around the world. The complex
mountain relief of Teberdinsky Zapovednik has a spectacular array
of plant communities. An endemic form of cowslip (Primula renifolia)
is found nowhere in the world except Teberdinsky
Zapovednik. Boreal, temperate, and arctic floral communities are
represented here, in addition to unique Caucasian flora and elements
of Mediterranean, Near Asian, steppe, and even desert ecosystems.
Over a third of the reserves territory is forested, while
meadows cover 28 percent and glaciers cloak 10 percent.
Lower mountain slopes are encircled with
a clearly delineated band of forests primarily composed of Caucasian
pine (Pinus kocha). Other common trees are Norway maple
(Acer platanoides), Litvinova birch (Betula litwinowii),
Caucasian fir (Abies nordmanniana), Oriental spruce (Picea
orientalis), and Oriental beech (Fagus orientalis).
Pine is the predominate species in forests in the northern part
of the zapovednik, where the climate is drier. Here, pines inhabit
sunny slopes and climb to 2,650 m, the highest of any tree species
in the zapovednik. Under the pine canopy, grasses, the small pink
flowers of Solomons seal (Polygonatum polyanthemum),
Transcaucasian lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria transcaucasica),
Caucasian peony (Paeonia caucasica), olympic columbine
(Aquilegia olimpica), pink sweet pea (Lathyrus roseus)
are found, along with mosses and cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea)
Near the Great Caucasus Range, where the climate
is more humid, Caucasian fir and Oriental spruce begin to take
over the forests. These forests have a complex structure with
many stories: conifers form the top canopy at 60 m, under which
a second layer of deciduous trees and younger conifers reside.
Lower still, undergrowth of various shrubs covers the ground.
The relic and rare European yew (Taxus baccata) inhabits
the understory of fir-spruce forests, though never in large numbers.
Areas of grassland steppe with feathergrass
(Stipa pulcherrima, S. pennata) and fescue (Festuca
valesiaca) are found in the forest zone. In forest clearings,
grasses such as angelica (Angelica purpurascens, A. tatianae),
endemic species of hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum, H. leskovii,
and others), and inula (Inula magnifica, I. orientalis)
grow several meters high.
Valley Oriental beech forests are especially
beautiful, with a mottled undercover of deciduous trees, spruce,
fir, and fern groundcover. Wild fruit trees are common in deciduous
forests in the northern part of the nature reserve. Speckled alder
(Alnus incana) grows in the valley of the Teberda River
and its tributaries.
Climbing the slopes, the forest belt turns to
a band of dwarf and deformed trees made up of birch and beech.
Higher still, subalpine thickets and meadows take over the terrain
from 2,500-2,800 meters above sea level. Groves of relic, endemic
Caucasian rhododendron (Rhododendron caucasicum) prevail
here, entangled with yellow rhododendron (R. leteum) and
creeping juniper (Juniperus sabina). Grasses and flowers
in subalpine meadows include several kinds of primrose (Primula
spp), forget-me-nots (Mysotis amoena, M. alpestris), stardust
anemona (Anemona fasciculata), and trefoil (Hedysarum
spp.). Brightly colored flowers blanket the slopes, changing
their hue throughout the summer from the pink of smartweed
(Polygonum carneum), to the violet of flowering betony
(Betonica macrantha), to the orange of buplerum (Buplerum
Alpine meadows lie between 2,800-2,900 meters,
but climb to 3,200 m on southern slopes. Here, a thick mat of
grasses and mountain sedges covers the terrain, dappled with bright
bellflowers (Campanula tridentata and others) and buttercups
(Ranunculus spp.). The bright yellow-gold hue of stardust
anemona covers the alpine landscape through June, changing to
the blue hue of bell flowers (Campanula latifolia, C. collina)
in July, and the intense blue of forget-me-nots in July and August.
Caucasian sainfoin (Hedysarum caucasicum) forms a bright
violet background on moist meadows in mid summer. Blooms of pincushion
flower (Scabiosa caucasica) turns many alpine meadows violet-blue
by the end of summer.
Only the hardiest plants cover the cliff
and rock faces higher still, where floral communities grow very
slowly. Rocks above 3,200 m are bare of vegetation and even soil.
Only algae tints snow red here, and a thin crust of lichens clings
In all, more than 1,300 species of higher plants
are found in the zapovednik, of which 190 are narrow endemics
of the Caucasus Region. Some examples of the 25 rare species listed
in the Russian Red Book are Colchicum speciosum, Cephalanthera
longifolia, Cephalanthera rubra, Paeonia kavachensis, Paeonia
wittmanniana, Primula renifolia, and Taxus baccata.
Over 300 species of mosses alone have been identified in the zapovednik.
Teberdinsky Zapovednik is situated in the Karachaevo-Cherkesia
Republic on the northern spurs of Great Caucasus Range. The territory
of the reserve nestles in the high mountains in the upper reaches
of the Teberda River watershed. A separate section of the reserve
is located in the Kizgych Canyon. Altitudes in the zapovednik
range from 1,260 meters above sea level (at the mouths of the
Mukha and Dzhamagat rivers) to 4,047 m (the highest point of Dombai-Ulgen
Mountain, the tallest peak in the northwestern Caucasus). About
95 percent of the zapovedniks lands are at least 2,000 m
above sea level.
In the northern section of the zapovednik, the
mountains have softer features where sand-clay and slate sediments
are found, while sharp features prevail in areas of granite rock.
Here, virtual castles, fortresses, and ruins have been etched
out of mountaintops and ridges, such as the aptly named "Devils
Castle" (Chertov Zamok). Canyons are steep and narrow in
this part of the reserve. The Great Caucasus Range, which runs
along the southern border of the zapovednik, is mainly made up
of rock of volcanic origin. Here, northern slopes incline at an
angle of 60-70 degrees, while southern slopes drop in a near vertical
Glaciation played an important role in forming
the terrain of the Caucasus Mountains. A gigantic glacier descended
from the Great Caucasus Range and filled up almost the entire
Teberda Valley during the last Iceage. Today, one hundred glaciers
remain on the reserves territory. The largest of these are
found along the Great Caucasus Range. This part of the ridge,
from the summits of Dzhalovchat to Klukhor-Bashi, is shrouded
permanently in snow. Here, a sheer wall of snow, ice, and rock
extends for over 40 kilometers at a height of 3,000-4,000 meters,
separating the zapovednik from Abkhasia.
Most of the 50 rivers and streams in the zapovednik
get their source from alpine glaciers and snowfields. Rivers descend
rapidly down steep slopes of canyons in foaming waterfalls, carving
deep tracks in valley floors. The Ulu Murudzhu River is considered
one of the most pristine rivers on Earth. Over 130 lakes are nestled
high in the mountains in depressions carved in stone by glaciers,
though most of these are covered with snow and ice for much of
Avalanches are common in the zapovednik, and
there are at least 530 avalanche chutes where they occur on a
regular basis. Tons of snow break loose from above, clearing everything
in their path, snapping trees like matchsticks, covering roads
and rivers, eroding rock, and splashing water out of lakes. Lightly
colored strips of deciduous trees replace strips of dark conifer
forests, which have been mowed down by avalanches.
The climate is mild and relatively humid, without
harsh winters or hot summers. Precipitation falls throughout the
year, ranging from 630 mm in valleys to 3,000 mm on the Great
Caucasus Range. The average annual temperature in Teberda is 6.3oC,
while the highest temperatures in summer reach 35oC,
and the lowest temperatures drop to 25oC in some
Teberdinsky Zapovednik was first organized
as a regional-level zapovednik in 1935 then was granted federal
status in 1936. The Dombai recreation area, located in the center
of the zapovednik, has always been a mecca for lovers of alpine
sports in Russia. In the 1980s, 700,000 people came to visit the
zapovednik and Dombai resort each year. A lift takes visitors
up the Mussa-Achitara Mountain to gain a breathtaking view of
the Great Caucasus Range. The zapovednik has played an important
role in maintaining the pristine state of nature in surrounding
areas despite such large human pressures. Yet, uncontrolled tourism
and violation of the zapovednik regime by both tourists and local
people threatens the more accessible parts of the zapovednik.
With the collapse of tourism after the break
up of the Soviet Union, new problems arose. Local people, who
had depended on tourism for decades, now were without a source
of income. Politicians wanted to resolve the regions economic
problems by exploiting the rich natural resources protected in
the zapovednik. But the staff of Teberdinsky Zapovednik were vigilant,
stepping up their efforts to protect the pristine natural ecosystems
and win support of local people and administrations. Fifteen ranger
stations were equipped and renovated, as were six checkpoints.
A mobile anti-poaching brigade was also organized. These measures
have helped the zapovednik control poaching, reduce forest fires,
and stabilize the number of ungulates in the region. The zapovednik
also equipped ecological trails with informational stands and
campgrounds. A hotel complex and visitors center hosts conferences
In 1997, Teberdinsky Zapovednik was granted status
of a UNESCO biosphere reserve, which facilitated the organization
of a buffer zone around the reserve. The zapovednik also has a
Krever, V., N. Zazanashvili, H. Jungius, L. Williams and D. Petelin.
Biodiversity of the Caucasus Ecoregion. WWF Russian Programme
Office, Moscow, 2001 (English).
Polivanova, N. Teberdinsky Zapovednik. (Brochure).
Karachaevo-Cherkesia Publishers, Cherkessk, 1989 (Russian).
Salpagarov, D., and N. Polivanova. Teberdinsky
Zapovednik. (Brochure). Kavkazskaya Zdravnitsa Publishers,
Mineralny Vody, 1989 (Russian).
Sokolov, V.E., and E.E. Syroechkovsky (eds.). Zapovedniks
of the USSR: Zapovedniks of the Caucasus. Mysl Publishers,
Moscow, 1990 (Russian).
Zabelina, N.M, L.S. Isaeva-Petrova, and L.V. Kuleshova.
Zapovedniks and National Parks of Russia. Logata. Moscow,
1998 (Russian and English).
Text prepared by Laura
Williams, based on materials
provided by the zapovednik.
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