Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Visit to Kedrovaya Pad (Oct 22 - 28, 2007)

At the end of October I went to visit Kedrovaya Pad Zapovednik (nature reserve), which is located across the bay from Vladivostok. Founded way back in 1916 (!), Kedrovaya Pad is a very small, nearly circular-shaped reserve on just 18,000 hectares, about 15 km across. Although Kedrovaya Pad was initially envisioned as (and historically has been) a "floral" zapovednik (the plants and trees here are very well studied!), it is most famous today as one of the very few places on Earth inhabited by the Far Eastern leopard, the world's most endangered cat. While most leopards live further south, in India, Africa, Asia, there is one sub-population in the Russian Far East. Unfortunately, the latest statistics indicate there are only about 30 of them left in the wild. They inhabit a small zone between Vladivostok and the Chinese border. Although the leopard has been severely endangered (30-40 individuals) since the 1970s, only recently has this animal become a major subject of Russian and international attention. This means Kedrovaya Pad, too, has been in the spotlight.

These first two pictures are the Kedrovaya River. The zapovednik is in the Kedrovaya River Valley. The reserve includes the river's headwaters, but not the mouth -- the zapovednik boundary is 3-4 km from where the river flows into the Amur Bay. The river is home to only one salmon species -- cherry salmon, found only in Russia and Asia (not North America). Poaching is a big problem every August, when salmon enter the river to spawn. Reserve rangers estimate they removed 70 nets from the mouth of the Kedrovaya River this year! (And this river is only about 20-25 km long.) Imagine that that is the case for every river in the Russian Far East. Except usually no one is removing the nets.

This was the house I stayed in at the reserve. There are a 10-15 little houses like this just inside the reserve, and many reserve staff live here (about 15 staff of 30ish total). It's almost like a big family. Of course, they must go in to town for groceries, supplies, anything -- here there is nothing but their houses, firewood, and some chickens they keep -- with hills and the zapovednik on all sides. It is literally a little village in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps a quaint idea, but also hard. And there's also a banya here, of course. Baths on Saturdays!

Here is my room in the house. I stayed in the so-called "Aquatic Ecologists' House," because aquatic ecologists from the Institute of Biology and Soil Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences stay here when they conduct research in the reserve. Until fall of 2006 Kedrovaya Pad was part of the Institute of Biology and Soil Sciences. (Now it is independent.) Kedrovaya Pad is one of only 5 zapovedniks in Russia that is not under the Ministry of Natural Resources. Instead it is part of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Reserve office and library.

Another house and firewood shed.

The little dots on this blue wall are ladybugs. Like my visit to Khingansky Zapovednik will probably always be associated with the caterpillars that crawled all over me and Slava during our first hike, my visit to Kedrovaya Pad will always be associated with ladybugs. They were everywhere! Actually in the days after I took this picture even more appeared. I found it very amusing when one day, sitting in the reserve office reading some scientific literature, I came across a paragraph that began, "Visitors to the reserve in the late fall will be amazed at the number of ladybugs."

Frost on the leaves in the morning. We could feel that fall is almost over here. Although it would warm up by around 11 or noon in the daytime, at night and in the morning it was usually pretty chilly.

Although most trees in Vladivostok still had their leaves in late October, at Kedrovaya Pad they were mostly gone already. Only the brilliant red maples were still in full fall colors. They really stood out.

The staff at the reserve were really wonderful, which seems to be a trend in the zapovednik system. Recently in my research on the Russian nature reserve system I came across a quote that I really liked. Since Kedrovaya Pad was the last reserve I will visit while on the Fulbright, I'll give that quote here, as a summary of sorts:

In view of the recent past it would not be appropriate to propose an extravagant toast to our present 'great and mighty' zapovednik system; yet in it labours a multitude of remarkable people who are enthusiastic about nature protection -- and that is the main thing. (Feliks Shtilmark, A History of Russian Zapovedniks, 1895-1995)

In my experience this could not be more true.

One of the reserve's scientists, Vadim, took me on my first hike in Kedrovaya Pad. We climbed up one hill for a view of the Sea of Japan.

On the hike with Vadim we also saw a great stone birch. Its wood is so heavy it sinks in water; it does not float like almost all (or perhaps all) other trees.

The science director at Kedrovaya Pad, Yuliya, studies bats (among other things that she is even more specialized in). Here I am holding one of her subjects, who is a little lethargic after a very chilly night.

It's hard to photograph bats. Yuliya's husband Denis is quite the photographer, and here is one of his pictures of a bat, for a better view. Kedrovaya Pad is home to 9 species of bats, which is considered not very many. Maybe Yuliya will discover some more.

Yuliya and Denis took me on a good hike to a cabin in the middle of the zapovedik. (It's 7 km away from the little village where the staff all live.) Reserve scientists and rangers sometimes take a break here for tea or even spend the night if on long hikes through the reserve. Here are Yuliya and her and Denis's 8-month-old son, Seva, at the beginning of the hike. Seva is a very cute and happy baby. When he wasn't sleeping on the hike, he talked to us almost nonstop.

Seva and Yuliya are picking barberries (барбарис) to make tea with.

The white on the bottom of this stem is ice! I have no idea how it forms this way. These fragile wisps of ice were on lots of plant stems.

Denis is trying to get a better shot.

Although I didn't see any leopard tracks in the reserve, we saw plenty of signs of bears and tigers. There used to be a beehive in the trunk of this tree, until an Asiatic black bear (гималайский медведь) got hungry.

A tiger made this hole in the leaves -- he pawed the ground here after taking care of some business. We saw a lot of these marks, called poskryoby in Russian. The were at least a foot and a half long.

The scratches (задыры) on this tree trunk were made by an Amur tiger about 3 weeks before I took this picture. I'd estimate they were a little over 2 meters up. Either the tiger was marking his territory, or just expressing his emotions (for real).

More tiger scratches, but these are older. This tree really got laid into. There are no tigers living permanently on the territory of Kedrovaya Pad Zapovednik (it's too small for them -- tigers have big territories), but they do pass through. They compete with leopards for food. If prey is abundant and there are enough deer and wild boar for both cats, they can live together in the same area. If not, the larger tiger will push out the leopard. (Leopards weigh only 30-50 kg, while tigers weigh 100 (females) - 200 (males).) Leopards are also territorial, but the territories they occupy are smaller. Kedrovaya Pad is big enough for one adult male leopard and two adult females, plus cubs.

A tigress and her cubs scratched up this tree at all levels. The white stuff is sap or resin (I forget which).

Very funny. I'm being a tiger.

These scratches are already really old, made by a bear or tiger. Ok, yes, obviously I thought all these scratches were really cool, as you've guessed by the number of pictures.

Denis estimated that this fir tree (пихта) is 600 years old. About 13% of the territory of Kedrovaya Pad is primary forest (mostly spruce and fir forest -- елово-пихтовые леса -- but with Korean pipe and other slow-growing giants too) that has never been logged or destroyed by fire. Even in the very sparsely populated Russian Far East, such areas are very rare.

Pretty view of the Kedrovaya River.

Here's the hut where we took a break for a snack and tea. In the 1970s a local journalist came here with a reserve inspector. She really wanted to see a leopard, so the reserve joked that sure, of course she would see one -- never believing it themselves. After all, there were only about 30-40 leopards in the wild at this time, and leopards are not animals that like to show themselves. But at the hut they in fact did see a leopard! Except that the journalist got so scared she locked herself in the hut and did not come out for hours, even after the leopard was long gone. Oh well.

We also made an interesting trip to a nearby stream, about 1 km long, that flows into the Amur Bay. Chum salmon spawn here in the hundreds in the fall. The stream is protected by a local citizen, Nikolai, who does it just because he thinks it is important. It's all on his own initiative, and he doesn't get paid, of course for being this kind of "public inspector."(And he himself is very poor.) This kind of thing is very rare! Nikolai himself kicks poachers off this territory when salmon return to spawn. His hope someday is to get a permit to do a small volume of local fishing at the mouth of the stream, bringing in a small sum and thus making conservation profitable. Of course, a lot of fairly expensive paperwork is necessary to do this. (There are so many fish here that there is not enough room to for them all to spawn, so some could be harvested without detriment to the population.)

Nikolai is explaining his work and goals to Anatoly.

Anatoly estimates about 200 chum salmon were in this 1 km stream when we were there. We saw plenty of them -- but they get scared when they see people and swim away very fast (so I couldn't get any good pictures).

Grasses, the Amur Bay and the peninsula on which Vladivostok is located in the background. We could see Vladivostok from here. This spot is about 3 km from the Kedrovaya Pad Zapovednik border. (The reserve border is 3 km inland.)

Looking back toward Kedrovaya Pad from near the coast.

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