The old-growth coniferous-broadleaf forests that line the Ussurisky
Zapovedniks two major rivers are among the last remaining
intact habitats for the Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica),
the largest cat in the world. Following a severe decline in the
first half of the 20th century, the tiger began to
rebound in the 1960s, a change some scientists point to as a reason
for the sharp decline in wolves (Canis lupus) that occurred
in the zapovednik even as the tiger population was growing. Lynxes
(Lynx lynx) are also rare in the reserve. The Amur wildcat
(Felis euptilura) population grew considerably following
the addition of a new territory in the Artemovka River Valley
to the zapovednik.
The primary prey for these large predators are ungulates, such
as musk deer (Moschus moschiferus), wild boars (Sus
scrofa), and Manchurian wapiti (Cervus elaphus xanthopygus),
a relative of the American elk. In the 1950s, a special program
to save the endangered sika deer (C. nippon hortulorum),
which is not native to the region but is an important prey for
the tiger, introduced the deer into the reserve. The deer clustered
near an outpost where zapovednik staff set out food, however,
and began to hamper the growth of the forest understory. To alleviate
this problem, the staff stopped providing food for the deer, encouraging
them to spread throughout the reserve instead of congregating
in a small part of the forest. Today about 100 sika deer live
in the zapovednik, and pose little threat to its ecosystems.
In late summer brown bears (Ursus arctos) enter the zapovednik
before heading farther north to hibernate in the Sikhote-Alin
Mountains. Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus) and badgers
(Meles meles) live in the reserve year-round. Sable (Martes
zibellina), Indian martens (M. flavigula), and weasels
(Mustela nivalis) were once common in these forests, but
after being driven to the brink of extinction in the 1920s, have
not recovered to healthy numbers. Mink (Mustela vison)
and otters (Lutra lutra) live along the streams in the
The Asian northern birch mouse (Sicista betulina) and
the large-toothed redbacked vole (Clethrionomys rutilus)
are the most common rodents in the reserve. Siberian chipmunks
(Tamias sibiricus), Russian flying squirrels (Pteromys
volans), and Manchurian hares (Lepus brachyurus) can
often be found scurrying through the forest in search of food.
The Ussurisk variety of mole (Talpa europaea) burrows as
deep as 70 centimeters into the ground to hibernate during the
winter. Scientists have identified a total of six species of shrews
(Sorex spp.), the largest of which was described for the
first time only in 1937. Endangered and endemic to the Russian
Far East, this "giant" shrew grows to a mere seven to
ten centimeters in length and weighs about 15 grams.
Early in the spring yellow-throated buntings (Embemza elegans)
and Daurian starlings (Sturnia sturnia) return from the
south, followed by the colorful dollarbird (Eurystomus orientalis),
kingfisher (Alcedo athis), and hoopoe (Upupa epops).
The woods fill with the song of the endemic short-tailed bush
warbler (Urosphena squameiceps). In summer, the
leaf warbler (Phylloscopus proregulus), black-and-orange
flycatcher (Ficedula mugimaki), hazel grouse (Bonasa
bonasia), and Siberian blue robin (Luscinia cyane)
live in the zapovedniks stands of coniferous trees. The
brown hawk-owl (Ninox solomonis) uses its needle-like talons
to catch its prey, mostly large butterflies and other flying insects.
Two snakes, the Ussurian mamushi (Agkistrodon blomhoffi ussuriensis)
and its relative A. intermedius, are the most common reptiles
in the zapovednik. Among amphibians, Asiatic grass frogs (Rana
chensinensis), Japanese tree frogs (Hyla japonica),
and Oriental fire-bellied toads (Bombina orientalis) feed
on the reserves many insects and spiders. One of the most
interesting insects in the zapovednik is the long-horned beetle
(Callipogon relictus). The largest insect in the Russian
Far East, this bright brown beetle grows up to 10 cm in length
The forest that characterizes the southern reaches of the Russian
Far East is so unique that it has its own name: the Ussuriskaya
taiga. This mixture of boreal and subtropical forests covers 99
percent of the zapovednik, forming two distinct belts. Coniferous-broadleaf
forests span the lower elevations of the reserve, rising to about
600 meters above sea level. Higher up, fir trees dominate the
landscape. In all, the zapovednik is home to 825 species of vascular
Korean pine (Pinus koraiensis) forest covers 42 percent
of the forested land in the zapovednik, more than any other kind
of forest. Many of these stands are both ancient and diverse:
a single hectare of forest may be filled with up to 50-60 varied
tree species and hundreds of herbaceous plants, and trees 400-500
years old may stretch 45 meters into the sky. Moreover, though
Korean pine forests are more characteristic of northern latitudes,
the pine stands in Ussurisky Zapovednik include a number of typically
southern species, including Manchurian fir (Abies holophylla),
heartleaf hornbeam (Carpinus cordata), and many other warm-climate
plants, such as the endangered ginseng (Panax ginseng).
Manchurian ash (Fraximus mandschurica), Yeddo spruce (Picea
jezoensis), Khingan fir (Abies nephrolepis) and Amur
oak tree (Phellodendron amurense) fill the moist forests
on south-facing slopes and in river valleys. In these semi-tropical
conditions, ordinary shrubs such as the Amur lilac (Syringa
amurensis), and Amur choke-cherry (Padus maacki) grow
to great heights, reaching up to 18 meters. Many of the Mongolian
oaks (Quercus mongolicus) that grow near the headwaters
of the zapovedniks streams are more than 200 years old.
Rocky slopes provide the stage for seasonal changes in flora.
Toward the end of April the earliest flowers appear: strawberry
cinquefoil (Potentilla fragariformis), and local species
of Corydalis and Gagea. In May, day-lilies
(Hemerocallis middendorfii), violets (Viola variegata),
and ladys bedstraw (Galium verum) begin to bloom,
followed by St. Johns wort (Hypericum sp.), Veronica
daurica, Rabdosia serra, and several species of Sedum in
June and July. By August this festival of colors calms as Artemesia
The zapovedniks staff have noted 13 endangered species
among flora in the reserve, including trees such as Japanese red
pine (Pinus longifolia), Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata),
and needle junipers (Juniperus rigida). The small white
flowers of Cherry princepia (Princepia sinensis), an endangered
shrub, ripen into red berries late in summer. On the forest floor,
endangered plants such as ladys slippers (Cypripedium
macranthon, C. calceolus), narrow-leaved helleborine (Cephalanthera
longifolia), and spurred coral root (Epipgum aphyllum)
all grow in the zapovednik.
In addition to vascular plants, 210 species of water plants,
1364 species of fungus, 118 species of lichen, and 252 species
of moss grow in the zapovednik.
Ussurisky Zapovednik is located at the western edge of the southern
Sikhote-Alin Mountain Range in the Ussurisky and Shotovsky Regions
of the Primorsky Krai, Russias Maritime Region. The reserve
lies in the basin of two small rivers, the Komarovka and the Artemovka,
which eventually empty into the Sea of Japan. Small streams and
waterfalls trickle throughout the zapovednik, whose rolling hills
rise up to 700 meters above sea level.
As with all regions of the Russian Far East, Ussurisky Zapovednik
has a monsoon climate, with heavy August and September rains comprising
much of the reserves annual rainfall of 800 millimeters.
Mountains protect the reserve from winds rising off the sea and
the heavy fog that attends them. Year-round, temperatures are
cool, ranging from a January average of 17 degrees Celsius
to 20 degrees Celsius in August.
In 1913, when botanist Vladimir Komarov first visited the forests
that would later become Ussurisky Zapovednik, the pristine taiga
he saw impressed him so much that he recommended the area be placed
under special protection. But only in 1932, with the support of
the newly founded Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of
Sciences was a small, 16,679-hectare reserve called Suputinsky
Zapovednik founded in the area. Even so, to this day no other
reserve in the Russian Far East has so large an area of virgin
forest so dense in relic plants and with such a high level of
Later the reserve was renamed Ussurisky Zapovednik, and nearly
24,000 hectares were added to its territory in 1972. But unlike
the old heart of the zapovednik, which contained dense virgin
forest, the new region had earlier been part of a local forestry
collective. Lumberjacks had logged the forest and replanted trees
not native to the region, significantly altering the face of the
forest. It was no longer a model of pristine Ussuriskaya taiga.
Nonetheless, there were great advantages to adding this territory
to the park. The original forest was simply too small to ensure
adequate protection of many species. Even today, the zapovednik
is still too small to provide safe habitats for a number of large
endangered mammals, but the reserve fills an important function
in protecting a number of rare plants, insects, amphibians, and
reptiles, and also some birds and mammals. Even though the new
territory lacks the intact ecosystems of the older region, it
acts as a buffer for the oldest forests. It also serves as an
outdoor laboratory for studying forest regeneration for scientists
to observe the natural succession of the forest.
In recent years, the zapovednik staff has begun a project to
support the dwindling population of Asiatic black bears (Ursus
thibetanus), which had fallen from 6,000 in 1970 to 3,000
by 1990. Each year hunting and poaching orphans 17-20 bear cubs
in the Primorsky Krai, becoming easy prey for tigers and leopards.
In 1999, Ussurisky Zapovednik opened a center for raising orphaned
Asiatic black bear cubs. Using methodology developed by Dr. Valentin
Pazhetnov of Tsentralno-Lesnoy Zapovednik as a reference, the
center took in six cubs two to four months in age in spring of
1999. By autumn, five of these cubs were ready to be released
into the wild. Since then, the centers staff has monitored
these and other orphaned cubs using plastic ear tags and radio
Unlike the majority of Russian zapovedniks, which are under the
administration of the Ministry of Natural Resources, Ussurisky
Zapovednik is under the management of the Biology and Soil Studies
Institute of the Far East Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Arseniev, Vladimir, 1930. Through the Ussurisky Krai. Dersu
Uzala. Moscow: Pravda, 1983.
Zapovedniks of the USSR: Zapovedniks of the Far East.
Sokolov, V.E., and E.E. Syroechkovsky, Eds. Mysl publishing agency.
Zapovedniks and National Parks of Russia. Zabelina, N.M.,
L.S. Isaeva-Petrova, and L.V. Kuleshova. Moscow: Logata, 1998.
Additional information provided by zapovednik staff.
Text by Lisa Woodson.
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