Cherny Zemly Zapovednik


Tens of thousands of stocky little saiga antelopes once common through the region, now increasingly rare, raise clouds of dust as they race over miles of this arid zapovednik, once the Caspian Sea bottom, in southwestern Russia.

At speeds up to 60 miles an hour (100 kmh), their bizarre bulbous noses able to filter out dust in this flat, semidesert place, they can outrun packs of lanky wolves for which they are major prey base. But young calves on this major saiga calving and breeding ground are easy victims, and even adult speed cannot outrace motorized poachers’ vehicles when the antelopes venture outside reserve borders (sometimes even inside).

Cherny Zemly covers altogether over 470 square miles (1,220 km2) in two sections—desertlike plain to the south, with a smaller northwest section where colonies of wading birds nest on shores and islands of shallow, saline Manych-Gudilo Reservoir. Rare Eurasian spoonbills and eastern white and Dalmatian pelicans raise young along with great and little egrets, great cormorants, whooper and mute swans, and ruddy shelducks, even though some have to fly to freshwater elsewhere in order to get food for chicks.

Exquisite endangered demoiselle cranes, dove-gray with long black chest feathers, red eyes, and streaming white cheek plumes lay large, spotted greenish eggs in bare nest scrapes on arid steppes—among a broad wildlife spectrum making a living on this barren land.

Handsome endangered marbled polecats are attracted by a range of rodents—hamsters, voles, ground squirrels—as are birds of prey: imperial and steppe eagles, long-legged buzzards, whitetailed sea eagles, Eurasian griffons, and Egyptian and cinereous vultures.

 For more than a century scientists puzzled over classification of the saiga, this goatlike, gazelle-like, sheep-like antelope with short, stocky body, spindly legs, mane on the bottom of its neck, bulging eyes that can see almost 360 degrees, and fleshy, humped nose. But all serve a function for this fleet desert wanderer. Large noses filter airborne dust during migration in herds of 100,000 or more over dry steppes of Russia and Kazakhstan, and warm the air before it reaches lungs in icy winters. Poaching for translucent ringed horns for supposed aphrodisiac and medicinal use has reduced once large herds to worrisome remnants.

For more than a century scientists puzzled over classification of the saiga, this goatlike, gazelle-like, sheep-like antelope with short, stocky body, spindly legs, mane on the bottom of its neck, bulging eyes that can see almost 360 degrees, and fleshy, humped nose. But all serve a function for this fleet desert wanderer. Large noses filter airborne dust during migration in herds of 100,000 or more over dry steppes of Russia and Kazakhstan, and warm the air before it reaches lungs in icy winters. Poaching for translucent ringed horns for supposed aphrodisiac and medicinal use has reduced once large herds to worrisome remnants.

Click image for description.

Advertisement