Kurilsky Zapovednik

Physical features that have created some of the world’s richest fishing grounds around and on the Kuril Island chain from Kamchatka north to Japan have also helped make them among the richest in terrestrial wildlife. Kurilsky Zapovednik is part of this, covering altogether 412 square miles (1,069 km2) of volcanic cones with rocky cliffs where seabirds nest. Rivers teem with millions of spawning salmon where Russia’s densest population of massive brown bears reap the bounty. Sable, red foxes, and European mink come for leavings.

Russian Largha seals gather near river mouths for their share, along with endangered Steller’s sea lions and harbor seals. Sea otters, a rare subspecies, kurilensis, dine on coastal mollusks.

Tufted puffins, rhinoceros auklets, and slaty-backed gulls noisily conduct their affairs in cliffside colonies, among 260 island bird species, of which 21 are listed as Red Book rarities.

Rare Blakiston’s fish owls, one of the world’s largest owls, more than two feet (72 cm) tall, glide silently along rivers searching for char, and wade in shallows for crabs or smaller prey.

Forest or large-billed crows with greenish-glittering heads and massive beaks “kroo-kroo” from tall spruces. Babbling trills of gray-capped (aka oriental) greenfinches ring in forests with those of a variety of tits and pipits.

Throngs of waterfowl stop by spring and fall on a major migratory bird route between Alaskan and eastern Pacific nesting grounds and winter quarters in Japan, Australia, and Southeast Asia.

Plant life ranges from arctic barrens to hardwood-conifer forest to tree fern-bamboo rain forest. Springtime brings fields of purple iris, orange daylilies, delicate blue plantain lilies, and in summer, butterfly and feather-leaf orchids, golden Venus’ slippers, pink Japanese pogonias.

Reserve lands include half of Kunashir Island, parts of Demina and Oskolki Islands and Maly Kurily Zakaznik, along with six other islands and adjacent rocks, reefs, and Russian territorial waters.

Problems are serious overfishing—uncontrolled plundering of crabs, shrimps, squid, and sea urchins, and ongoing gold mining and mineral explorations.