Shulgan-Tash Zapovednik

Hulking brown bears, endangered short-tailed snake eagles, and the last wild bees native to central Russia—wildlife from nearly every biogeographic zone in Eurasia—find homes here in the southern Ural Mountains.

This welcoming habitat, bounded by two rivers, intersected by streams, canyons, and ridges, covered with forests and mountain meadows, attracts some 57 mammal species, 198 birds, and 60 types of plant communities made up of 789 species of vascular plants, over 100 of them endangered.

Omnivorous brown bears weighing a half-ton or more (500+ kg) feed in broadleaf forests, on berries when available. So do badgers, which take advantage of the many caves for daytime roosts and hibernation. Enormous Kap Cave, formed by millions of years’ erosion by the Shulgan River, is home to thousands of bats and holds wall drawings dating back some 15,000 years, recording presence of mammoths, rhinoceros, and other ancient wildlife.

Russian flying squirrels nest in hollow oak and linden trunks. Mountain hares graze in mountain meadows. Otters frolic and den around stream banks. Moose winter here but in spring swim across the Belaya River to graze in larch forests to the west.

Tawny and great gray owls feed on small rodents. Black storks nest in secluded wetlands. Eurasian dippers plunge into fast-flowing streams and walk on the bottom, feeding on invertebrates.

But perhaps most important species protected in Shulgan-Tash—and a main reason for its existence—is the endangered wild Burzyan honeybee, famed for high production of delicious golden honey, protected and cared for here by rangers descended from beekeepers using centuries- old skills. It is probably the only reserve ever created to protect a bee.

The zapovednik, 87 square miles (225 km2) buffered by adjacent Bashkirin National Park on the south and west and Altin Solok State Nature Sanctuary on north and east, has environmental education and ecotourism programs, with nature trails, campgrounds, guesthouse, and beekeeping demonstration areas. Greatest threat is proposed construction of a dam on the Belaya River which would flood important habitat.