Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park
Ancient forest with rich wildlife populations such as once covered much of the European continent and Asia now reaches its western limit here and contiguously across the border in Poland, altogether some 350 square miles (900 km2) of towering old-growth trees—oaks 300–700 years old, 450-year-old ash, 220-year-old pines,150-year-old junipers—many more than 160 feet (50 m) tall, largely undisturbed by human activity.
Here live wolves, lynx, otters, red and roe deer, wild boar, and the now-celebrated European bison (aka wisent) or (in Belarus) zubr, largest land mammals on the continent, hunted to near extinction in the last century. The last wild one was shot in 1923. In a story reminiscent of recovery of American bison, European bison were returned to a viable wild population from a small, reassembled herd of specimens that had been scattered widely to zoos and private collections, and now some 3,200 exist in Belarus, Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine—protected on lands once hunting preserves for Polish kings and Russian tsars.
Others among some 55 mammal species in the 500 square miles (1,300 km2) on the Belarus side are elk (aka moose), badgers, and along streams, beavers, mink, and otters. Among woodland birds are grouse, woodcock, and partridge, among raptors, peregrine falcons and white-tailed eagles—altogether more than 200 bird species. Of these, 90 nest, including green and three-toed woodpeckers and long-tailed tawny owls whose large, dark eyes give them, it’s thought, a kindly expression. Large flocks of waterfowl stop by in migration.
Polish and Belarus authorities have worked together on management issues between the contiguous national parks, including decisions related to a border fence which was a hazardous barrier to wildlife movement between them.
Potential threats are pesticide and fertilizer runoff from farms nearby, canal construction that could disturb the area’s hydrological balance, and inadequate logging controls.
Most international travelers fly into Minsk, where rental cars are available with an excellent road to Brest. Five busses a day go from Brest 37 miles (60 km) north to Kamjanjuky, just outside the reserve. To visit in your own vehicle requires—depending on current rules—a permit. The Intourist office in Brest can help with this and other visit arrangements. The park has hotels and guesthouses where visits can be arranged to a local natural history museum and enclosures where animals can be seen in reasonably natural conditions; also walking, driving and horseback trails. Best times are April–May and September—pleasant, cool, not usually rainy.
ALSO OF INTEREST
Berezinsky Biosphere Nature Reserve 80 miles (130 km) north of Minsk with breeding capercaillies,wolves, fox, bison, elk, and wild boars, among 52 mammal species, and 217 birds. Trails, guided walks, photo safaris, visitor center, comfortable hotel.
Olmany Mires Zakaznik is a 364-square-mile (942-km2) Ramsar Wetland of World Importance near Brest, key nest site for threatened spotted eagles.
Osveiski, 87-square-mile (22600-km2) Ramsar complex of lakes, forests, and bogs, 93 miles (150 km) northwest of Vitebsk, breeding ground for thousands of grebes, ducks, cranes, waders, migratory stopover for 20,000 waterbirds.
Pripiatsky National Park, 160 miles (260 km) south of Minsk, with European bison, badgers, lynx, beavers, black storks, short-toed and greater spotted eagles. Tours can be arranged via walking, riding, waterways. Hotel.
Sporovsky Zakaznik, 75-square-mile (194-km2) Ramsar site near Brest, largest lowland sedge fen mire in Europe, major habitat of endangered aquatic warblers.
Yelnia, 90-square-mile (232-km2) Ramsar site near Brest, supports more than 20,000 migratory waterbirds, also many common cranes and bean geese.
Zvanets, 61-square-mile (159-km2) Ramsar site near Brest, with threatened spotted eagles,corncrakes, aquatic warblers (3,000–6,000 singing males)—biodiversity hot spot with 664 vascular plant species, 728 arthropods, 168 vertebrates.
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for lodging information about this Reserve
BELOVEZHSKAYA PUSHCHA NATIONAL PARK as well as...
Berezinsky Biosphere Nature Reserve
Olmany Mires Zakaznik
Pripiatsky National Park