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Established: 1984
Size: 847,100 ha (8471 km2)

Contact information:
Eduard Mikhailovich Gabyshev, Director

Yuri Fillipovich Rozhkov, Deputy Director

Olga Yurevna Rozhkova, Ecological Education Coordinator

Russia 678100 Sakha Republic (Yakutia), Olekminsk,
ul. Logovaya d. 31

Tel/fax: (7-41138) 2-10-32
Email: ecos@sakha.ru

Olekminsky Zapovednik harbors virtually inaccessible virgin boreal forests in the heart of Siberia. Only nature's rivers and creeks break the continuous expanses of taiga forests. The largest river is the Olekma, a tributary of the mighty Lena River. Wildlife abounds in this remote nature reserve: moose, reindeer, and tiny musk deer forage on the mosaic of forest types - from larch and birch to pine, spruce, and fir. Brown bears frequently roam the hilly terrain. Wolf, red fox, lynx, and wolverine are occasionally sighted. The Siberian sable numbers more than 2500 - a remarkable recovery after the population dwindled to near extinction from overhunting in the 17th and 18th centuries. Once home to ancient tribes, today the reserve is a World Heritage Site and represents the only forest reserve in the Yakutian (Sakha) Republic, the largest region in Russia.

Photo© 1998 Igor Shpilenok

Zapovednik Images
Zapovednik Facts

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

© 1998 Igor Shpilenok

The Olekma River stretches more than one kilometer across.

© 1998 Pavel Golyakov

A red lily (Lilium pensylvanicum) blooms in summer.

© 1998 Igor Shpilenok

Bittersweet cowberries ripen in late summer.

© 1998 Igor Shpilenok

Ancient peoples left drawings on rock walls.

© 1998 Igor Shpilenok

The Olekma River flows into the Lena River.

© 1998 Igor Shpilenok

Olekma's swift current carved Devil's Finger over millions of years.

© 1998
Igor Shpilenok

A Shaman's grave is worshiped by indigenous tribes.

© 1998
Igor Shpilenok

The Krestyakh River is a tributary of the Olekma.


Zapovednik Facts:

The Olekminsky Zapovednik protects the richest assemblage of wildlife in Eastern Siberia, including 40 species of mammals. Brown bears (Ursus arctos) roam the vast expanses of taiga forest, feasting on berries, vegetation, and game. Moose (Alces alces) gather near waterways in the summer - where they seek refuge from mosquitoes and feed on nutrient-rich aquatic vegetation. Reindeer (Rangiferus tarandus) assemble in large herds in the fall along thin bands of larch forests. The smallest deer - the musk deer (Mochus moschiferus) - hides from predators on cliffs and mountain outcroppings, where it feeds on alpine-forest vegetation. The endemic Siberian sable (Martes zibellina) made a remarkable recovery in the reserve, numbering 2500 animals today. Siberian chipmunk (Tamias sibiricus), gray lemming (Myopus schisticolor), northern redbacked vole (Clethrionomis rutilus), large-toothed redback vole (Clethrionomis rufocanus), squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), and flying squirrel (Pteromys valans) are all common. Lynx (Felix lynx), wolverine (Gulo gulo), and wolf (Canus lupis) are occasionally spotted in the taiga.

More than 180 species of birds have been recorded in the zapovednik, including species common in taiga forests such as the hazel grouse (Tetrastes bonasia), great gray owl (Strix nebulosa), hawk owl (Surnia ulula), Tengmalm's owl (Aegolius funereus), and three-toed (Picoides tridactylus) and black (Dryocopus martius) woodpeckers. These share habitats with species typical for Eastern Siberia such as capercaille (Tetra parvirostris), red-necked nightingale (Calliope calliope), Siberian flycatcher (Muscicapa sibirica), and Siberian robin (Turdus sibiricus). Recently, southern avian species began to appear in the zapovednik, including quail (Coturnix coturnix), hoopoe (Upupa epopps), lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), black swift (Apus apus), and chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs).

Ten species of birds are listed in the Russian Red Book of rare and endangered species: golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), osprey (Pandion haliaetus), hooded crane (Grus monacha), demoiselle crane (Anthropoides virgo), black stork (Ciconia nigra), peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), honey buzzard (Pernis ptilorhyncus oriebtalis), Brent goose (Branta bernicla), and two species of curlew (Numenius madagascariensis and N. minutus).

Eighteen species of fish inhabit the waterways of the zapovednik along with three species of amphibians. Two species of reptiles have been reported. The diversity of insects in the region was unknown until scientists began an inventory in 1997. Thus far, 200 species have been identified.


The Olekminsky Zapovednik is a virgin oasis of boreal forest (taiga). Forests cover 87.9% of the territory. Vegetation in the northern Prilena Plateau differs significantly from that found in the southern Aldan Uplands. The zapovednik forms the northern boundary for several tree species including Siberian cedar (Pinus sibirica), fir (Abies sibirica), and spruce (Picea obovata). Mixed larch (Larix dahurica) and birch (Betula platyphylla) stands cover 53.7% of the reserve, whereas Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), Siberian spruce, and fir stands occupy 28.9%. Dwarf birch stands extend along rivers and creeks - a result of succession of meadows in shallow valleys. Remnant meadows stretch up to 30 m wide in bands along the banks of rivers, producing nutrient-rich grasses that support thriving herbivore populations. Wetlands cover 2.1% of the zapovednik, providing crucial habitat for birds, amphibians, and other aquatic animals.

More than 650 species of higher plants grow in the zapovednik, six of which are listed under category III of the Russian Red Book of Rare and Endangered Species. These are: Cypripedium macranthon, Cypripedium calceolus, Orchis militaris, Aconogonon amgense, Calypso bulbosa, and Iris laevigata. In addition, 74 species are listed in the Yakutian (Sakha) Red Book.

Geographical Features

 The entire territory of the zapovednik is cloaked in a layer of permafrost, reaching 100-200 meters thick. Only the top 2-4 meters thaw out in the summer when the vigorous covering of vegetation comes to life. The zapovednik is furrowed with hilly terrain and low mountain ranges. Tundra vegetation is found at 1000-1100 m above sea level. Upper elevation taiga forests of larch and dwarf pines are found at 900-1000 m. Larch, cedar, and pine stands are generally found from 500-900 m.

Ancient tribes once inhabited areas of the Olekma River basin. Remains of campsites, ancient burial grounds, and cliff drawings tell us of human presence here many thousands of years ago. Ancestors of indigenous tribes now living in Siberia, the primitive peoples also gave rise to the Eskimos and Indians in North America. Altogether, 28 archeological sites have been described in the Olekma River basin - probably only a fraction of what is actually hidden here. Explorers have yet to research the virtually untouched land between the Olekma and Amgina rivers - where the zapovednik is situated - and many new discoveries of natural beauty and history await us.

Conservation Status

The Olekminsky Zapovednik is an important representative of the boreal forests in Yakutia - the only forest reserve in the Yakutian Republic. The reserve is a World Heritage Site, in part due to the 28 archeological sites preserving remnants of ancient human cultures. The first explorers of the Far East region went down the Olekma River to discover the valley of the Amur River.

The zapovednik is an important biological monitoring site in the Yakutian (Sakha) Republic. The reserve is a member of the International Organization of Biological Field Stations (IOBFS) and a participant of the "GLOBE" international ecological monitoring program, unifying groups through the Internet, which conduct observations of the natural environment all over the planet.

Yet the remoteness and inaccessibility of the territory of the zapovednik make monitoring and protection an arduous task. Rangers stationed in the reserve have a difficult time receiving supplies of food and fuel. In the summer, the center of the reserve can be reached only by helicopter. Most of the supplies are delivered to the reserve during the winter along frozen waterways and roads.

The scientific department of the zapovednik does not have a full complement of specialists and researchers. In addition to monitoring the zapovednik territory, the reserve is in charge of conducting research on the neighboring nature refuge, established with the assistance of the World Wildlife Fund. This territory is one and a half times bigger than the zapovednik and is poorly studied. We would like to invite all interested foreign scientists familiar with boreal forests to research this area and help fill in another gap on the map of the world.


Text prepared by Yuri and Olga Rozhkov.
Translated to English by Laura Williams.


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