Russian Federation

Hulking polar bears, fierce Siberian tigers, majestic steppe and Steller’s sea eagles along with Amur leopards, massive brown bears, and hundreds of other spectacular and rare species are protected in more than 100 zapovedniks or nature preserves covering some 320,380 square miles (830,000 km2) in the Russian Federation.

Their creation goes back to 1916 when the Federation’s first reserves were established, aimed at protecting resident wildlife and habitat while providing for scientific research.   In recent years they gradually have been opened to wider visitation (and some limited ecotourism), though in some cases only by permit.

When added to Russia’s 33 national parks, they represent virtually every habitat and cover some two percent of this world’s largest country—from northern tundra, mountains of the Caucasus, Urals, and Altai, black-earth steppes and taiga to large areas of the Far East and Kolsky Peninsula. They protect virtually all the rare plants and animals listed in the Red Data Book. Without these reserves, continued survival of all these species would be precarious. (As a system,the zapovedniks are more comparable to the U.S. national wildlife refuges than to its national parks, though still much more limited in public access than the U.S. refuges.)

The current government has enlisted international help to maintain these reserves, including that of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and steps have been taken to work with local communities to gain their support. In addition, reserves, and their supporters, have created a network of small NGOs (non-governmental organizations) much like “Friends” groups elsewhere, to watch over welfare of individual reserves, and EcoCenter Zapovedniks has developed educational programs within the reserves.

Some zapovedniks—still a minority—now have visitor centers with organized trails and visitor programs, but ecotourism for the most part is still in its infancy here, especially as measured by facilities to accommodate visitors from afar. For such visitors, since Russia’s southern border is roughly equivalent to that of Canada (45–50 degrees north latitude) best time to visit almost all reserves is in summer—from mid-June to mid-September.

Geographic organization of the reserves reflects that of The Center for Russian Nature Conservation and its excellent “Wild Russia” website ( It includes much information provided by Margaret Willliams, Laura Williams, and others, in these fine groups.