Orenburgsky Zapovednik is Russia’s only zapovednik protecting every aspect of its last remaining steppe ecosystems. In four separate regions along the Kazakhstan/Orenburg Region border are steppe habitats ranging from woodlands to wetlands alongside more than 20 freshwater springs and flat, semidesert plains at the foot of rolling mountains.
Dwelling here are some 48 mammal species, including beavers, lynx, wolves, and red foxes, and—resident or transitory—some 200 bird species, including vulnerable upland buzzards, imperial and steppe eagles, and lovely demoiselle cranes.
Great bustards, once thought extinct here—one of the world’s largest birds, males weighing up to 45 pounds (21 kg)—now nest. Endangered little bustards, pied avocets, and golden plovers are among waves of water-oriented birds which stop by in migration between far northern Russia and Europe and central Asia.
European hares graze grassy hillsides. Badgers den in rocky mountain caves. Roe deer and wild boars shelter in woodland tracts. Beavers build dams along rivers. Weasels, American mink, and ermines prey on ground squirrels and others among a large rodent population, including steppe marmots (aka bobak).
Wild flowers blaze over hillsides and grasslands in spring and early summer—a palette of red, yellow, magenta, and blue tulips, purple pasqueflowers, yellow Siberian pea-trees, pink-blossoming Russian almonds and, later, magenta, red, and purple gladiolus, and military orchids.
All these flora and fauna have returned since protection began in 1989. Chief problems are fires, some human-set, which every year destroy habitat, and separation of the four regions, making oversight difficult.