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Established: 1936
Size: 85,064 ha (851 km2)
Buffer zone: 36,350 ha (364 km2)

Contact information:
Salpagarov, Djapar Seitovich, Director
Russia 357192, Karachaevo-Cherkesia Republic, Karachaevsky raion, Teberda, per. Baduksky, 1

Tel: (7-878-22) 607-32

Email: teberda@ns.svkchr.ru

Teberdinsky Zapovednik, in Russia's Caucasus Mountains, preserves one of the planet's most diverse temperate ecosystems in its near pristine state. The protected area is situated along a vertical shift of 3,000 meters on the northern spurs of the Great Caucasus Range in the Karachaevo-Cherkesia Republic. Majestic mountains with sharp summits and toothed ridges shroud enormous amphitheaters of ice and snow. Below, emerald alpine meadows and dark green conifer forests teem with Caucasian chamois and endemic West Caucasian tur. The Caucasian bison, once near extinction, now thrives in the sanctity of this nature reserve. Teberdinsky was granted UNESCO biosphere status in 1997.

Photo © 2000 Konstantin Mikhailov

Teberdinsky Zapovednik Images
Teberdinsky Zapovednik Facts

Articles featuring this nature reserve in Russian Conservation News journal:



Images of Teberdinsky Zapovednik
Click on each photo to see a large version.

© 2000 Konstantin Mikhailov

The alpine Blue Murujinsky Lake radiates a brilliant azure color in summertime.

© 2000 Konstantin Mikhailov

The Caucasian subspecies of eagle owl is extremely rare throughout the Region

© 2000
Konstantin Mikhailov

In wintertime, avalanches knock down bands of trees, allowing broadleaf species to penetrate coniferous forests.

© 2000
Konstantin Mikhailov

Purple trefoil sways before the massive snow-covered peaks of the Dombai-Ulgen Mountain.

© 2000 Konstantin Mikhailov

Belolakaya Peak juts from the Great Caucasus Range.


© 2000 Konstantin Mikhailov

Kizgych Stream runs through Devil's Mill Woods in the Arkhyzsky section of the reserve.

© 2000 Konstantin Mikhailov

The West Caucasian tur is endemic to the Caucasus Mountains.

© 2000
Konstantin Mikhailov

Broadleaf beech forests turn brilliant colors in autumn.


TeberdinskyZapovednik Facts:

AnimalsVegetationGeographical FeaturesConservation StatusReferences


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 reserve’s 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 Solomon’s 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) thickets.

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 poliphyllum).

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 to cliffs.

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.

Geographical Features

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 zapovednik’s 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 "Devil’s 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 wall.

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 reserve’s 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 the year.

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 years.

Conservation Status

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 region’s 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 and schoolgroups.

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 European Diploma.


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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