Khingansky Zapovednik

Red-crowned cranes, one of the rarest of their rare family and, many think, the most graceful, leap high in exquisite mating rituals every spring in one of their few remaining homes, 465 lowland square miles (1,205 km2) along the Amur River which forms much of the eastern Russian-Chinese border. Tossing wisps of leaves and grass to their partners with an abandon belying their precarious existence, they unknowingly lay extra eggs which are then incubated by scientists here and raised by surrogate mothers in an effort to increase their population—now estimated at 1,000 to 1,500 worldwide—before starting back south with their “own” families to wintering areas in South Korea and Japan. It’s a technique being used as well for similarly beautiful and distressed populations here of white-naped cranes and Oriental white storks. The importance of Khingansky for these and other wild populations has led to its designation as a Ramsar Wetland of International Significance.

The reserve’s breeding and reintroduction program, started in 1988, has aided other species as well including golden eagles, greater spotted eagles, and a variety of owls and waterfowl, rescued and healed from injuries in the wild. Notable also among more than 300 bird species are colorful mandarin ducks, and, nesting in scrapes in marshy grasslands, yellowlegged buttonquail, difficult to see but impossible not to hear—cries that start like a low human moan, ending in a piercing howl. Among lovely smaller species are black-naped orioles, ashy minivets, azure-winged magpies, Blyth’s blue kingfishers, chestnut-flanked white-eyes.

Commonest among 44 mammal species are roe deer, wild boars, Siberian weasels, rare, brightly-colored Indian martens, and furry raccoon dogs, ancient ancestors of the canine family whose population has been greatly reduced elsewhere through loss of habitat and prey base, both fully protected here.

In smaller numbers in the mountains are Asiatic black bears and brown bears, feeding on acorns and pine nuts.

Major threats include burning of meadow vegetation during dry periods. The reserve has made an effort to enlist local support with outreach education programs including a popular “Crane Festival” to observe crane mating dances. Visitors are welcomed on ecotours to see semi-wild cranes in natural habitat. Lodging is available in homes and reserve guesthouses by prior arrangement.