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December, 02, 2016

Rare Animals of Lake Baikal

The unique nature of Baikal creates favorable conditions for a lot of animals that do not live in other places of the planet. The majority of the endemic animals of the Lake today are protected, but alas – the Red Book of Baikal every year becomes even thicker.

Today volunteers and public organizations are doing everything they can to stop the disappearance of rare species of animals and birds at Lake Baikal, but the man is still the greatest enemy of nature.

Speaking of the animals of Baikal, it is impossible not to mention ringed seals, the only seals in the world living in fresh water. 

Ringed seal is the main endemic of Lake Baikal, Baikal’s relict and symbol. Baikal ringed seals have been hunted since antiquity until present time, because it is an integral part of local culture for the indigenous population. Thanks to the ringed seals, they receive valuable skin, fat and meat. Although today ringed seal is not officially specially protected, certain limitations on hunting this rare animal were introduced on Lake Baikal not so long ago. Currently hunting ringed seal is being carried out in volumes having no effect on the species count, and therefore, we can be sure that this precious animal will not disappear from the Baikal shores.

When we discuss the mammals of Lake Baikal recorded in the Red Book and being on the verge of extinction, we should point out reindeer. Even before Russians reclaimed Siberia, wild reindeer inhabited almost the entire territory which is now occupied by Irkutsk Oblast. The animal is truly unique: this is the only deer on the planet with both males and females having horns. It is also able to obtain feed from under the snow at a depth of 120 cm.  
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When the intensive reclamation of the territories started with lands plowing, deforestation, and later because of enterprises and roads construction, the number of wild reindeer in Eastern Siberia began to decrease, as far as the animal got deprived of the territories where it had taken its feed. Today ecologists around the world struggle to save this rare animal, after all, absolutely no creature can replace this Master of Taiga.

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Wild red dog is another animal that has virtually disappeared from the territory of Russia. The northern border of the predator’s geographical range is located is Irkutsk Oblast. People who were lucky to see this rare predator say he resembles a wolf, a fox and a jackal simultaneously. A fiery red color of its back in combination with a light belly and paws, and a black tail make this animal look very impressive. Do not underestimate its power: a pack of wild red dogs can overcome a leopard or a tiger. 

The reduction of the count of red wild dogs in Russia was caused by poaching, as well as the gradual humidification of the climate and related deep snow mass and a press made of forest plants.

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Snow leopard or Irbis is the most mysterious animal of Siberia and Baikal. The name of the predator was borrowed by Russian merchants-dealers from Turkic hunters in the 17th century. However, not so long ago, in 80s of XX century local hunters bluntly refused to believe in the existence of the predator, saying that snow leopards were not seen by their fathers or grandfathers.  
 

Anyway, now we are well aware that 6-8 snow leopards live on the territory of Irkutsk Oblast, about 30 of them live in Buryatia. And a total of probably more than 50 snow leopards live along the entire Eastern Sayan range, including its parts in Tuva and Krasnoyarsk Territory. This rare, but very dangerous animal is much larger than lynx in its size and undoubtedly is a great hunter. Today Irbis is included into the Red Book of Russia, and many volunteers across the country are working to preserve and increase the count of this species.

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The region of Lake Baikal and surrounding lands lies within the geographical range of such rare bird as the white-tailed eagle. It is the largest predator of Irkutsk Oblast who builds nests, and it is interesting how perfectly it adapted to life near big rivers, lakes, swamps and even sea coasts, becoming a skilled fisher. While hunting fish, the eagle sometimes immerses in water itself for a short time. A serious threat to the species is the destruction of its habitats – cutting (and burnout) of forests near water reservoirs, destruction of swamplands, poachers’ shooting also has its influence. 

Today this rare bird is protected at both Russian and international levels.

Speaking of the rare representatives of the Baikal fauna, it is a must to mention its underwater inhabitants. Siberian sturgeon is a subspecies of sturgeon with its count quickly declining, living in large shoals, in large bays and near the mouths of large rivers. Baikal sturgeons live up to 50-60 years and more, reaching 100-130 kg of weight, 1.5-1.8 meters of length or more. More than 1000 hundredweight of sturgeons were caught in Baikal and its rivers at the end of last century. 
As a result of the fact that the young fishes were almost destroyed, sturgeon’s count significantly decreased in early 20th century. A ban on catching sturgeon was introduced in 1945, and now its count gradually grows.
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