How the Emperor Saved the Baikal Sable: Dedication to the Centennial Anniversary of the Barguzinsky Reserve

How the Emperor Saved the Baikal Sable: Dedication to the Centennial Anniversary of the Barguzinsky Reserve

I heard the name “Doppelmair Pass” by chance, but it was so intriguing by the peculiarity of its sound that I wished to learn more about it. In the same unexpected way I discovered another story about the life of an interesting person and about the creation of the famous Barguzinsky Reserve that began to implement the tasks of protecting the nature of Baikal even in the pre-revolutionary period.

Georgii Georgievich Doppelmair himself believed that his main specialty was forestry scientist, an expert in applied zoology and commercial hunting. Georgii Georgievich was very lucky with his life life, because his professional activities coincided with his hobbies: he liked the forest, hunting, fauna. As he graduated from the Forest Institute in St. Petersburg in 1912 (his fate later was closely linked to this educational institution), the young graduate worked as an expert in applied zoology and hunting in the Department of Agriculture which established three large expeditions for the organization of special sable reserves in 1913: Barguzinskaya, Sayanskaya and Kamchatskaya expeditions. G.G. Doppelmair was appointed the Head of the Barguzinskaya expedition.

It is quite natural that a question arises: why there was the need to hold this event at all?

The second half of XIX century was associated with the reforms of the Emperor Aleksandr II and characterized by a sharp rise in Russia’s economic development, then the use of natural resources began to play a huge role. There was no environmental legislation or any practical activities in this area at that time, so the negative results, for example, forest cutting or predatory hunting began to manifest themselves quickly enough.

Our country has long been famous for its furs, and the export of furs was one of the stable revenue items of the budget. The most valuable furs among fashion and fur experts were the skins of the Barguzin sable with its silky, shiny, very warm chocolate-tinted fur.

However, already at the beginning of the 20th century the Irkutsk Governor General informed Nikolai II about a sharp decrease in the count of this animal. It turned out that the main guilt was connected with the activities of Russian commercial hunters who took the furs away from the traditional sable hunters – Evenks: they were forced to surrender their own hunting grounds to newcomers, sometimes just for vodka, because the epidemics of blackpox killed many Evenk hunters. And the existence of the Barguzin Sable as a species was jeopardized. The Tsar had to ponder upon this issue; this fact predetermined not only the ban on the hunt for sables, but also the organization of so-called “sable” expeditions.

The task of the expedition led by G.G. Doppelmair was the survey of the sable’s habitat, the search for the optimal location for the organization of the reserve and the creation of its project on the territory that was then callled “Podlemorie” (“The territory near the sea” in Russian) (from the peninsula of Svyatoy Nos to Frolikha Lake).

On July 1, 1914 (the dates are given according to Julian calendar) the steamship titled “Feodosii” landed the members of the Barguzinskaya expedition in the village of Sosnovka on the north-eastern coast of Lake Baikal. Sosnovka was a small settlement on the coast of Lake Baikal, in the Sosnovskaya Bay, near the mouth of the Kudalda River.

The members of the expedition - G.G. Doppelmair, K.A. Zabelin, Z.F. Svatosh, A.D. Baturin, D.N. Aleksandrov – were young (the oldest of them, G.G. Doppelmair, turned only 34 years old), full of discoverers’ determination, persistent, extremely enduring and ready to honestly fulfill the task assigned to them. Certainly none of them imagined then that they would make an invaluable contribution to the preservation of the nature of Baikal. One of them - G.G. Doppelmair – will afterwards be considered the icon of the Russian school of hunting, while K.A. Zabelin and Z.F. Svatosh will become iconic figures in the history of our country’s reserve management as the first Heads of the first reserve in Russia - Barguzinsky Reserve.

During almost two years (1914 - 1916) the expedition members conducted a serious research and practical work under unusual complicated climatic and living conditions: they studied the Barguzin sable, analyzed the state of its commercial hunting, and investigated its habitat. Above all, the expedition worked during the ban on hunting sable, thus, they had no opportunity to study sable hunting under normal conditions. And, according to G.G. Doppelmair, the work of A.D. Baturin, K.A. Zabelin and Z.F. Svatosh was connected with certain pedagogical goals aimed at teaching hunters the rules of civilized hunting. In order to achieve this, each of the trainees had a hunter with a trained dog and equipment for catching sables at their disposal.

The heavy two-year-long work brought its results: the materials both for the organization of the reserve itself and for the hunting area have been prepared. And as Georgii Georgievich returned to the capital, he was awarded a small silver medal of the Russian Geographical Society for his report on the arrangement of the Barguzinsky Reserve.

The results of the expedition allowed the Irkutsk Governor General to issue a special decree on the establishment of the Barguzin Sable Reserve on May 17, 1916: the reserve aimed at preventing the disappearance not only of the main fluffy gold - Barguzin sable, but of other commercial animals as well.

The first legal act regulating the structure and activities of the reserves (by the way, its development involved G.G. Doppelmair) was promptly adopted in the Russian Empire in October 1916. It was called ”On the Establishment of Rules in Game Reserves”. On the basis of this legalization, the Minister of Agriculture was given the right to establish reserves for the conservation and reproduction of hunting and commercial animals and birds on the lands possessed solely by the treasury.

The most significant date in our environmental history and its logical final was December 29, 1916 (January 11, 1917, according to Georgian calendar), when the Minister of Agriculture came up to the Senate with his proposal for the establishment of a game reserve located in the Barguzinsky District of the Trans-Baikal region on the north-eastern coast of Lake Baikal.

However, this was the implementation only of the first part of the task of saving and multiplying the population of sable. It was also necessary to make a legal record of the foundations for the use of sable commercial hunting within state hunting areas. The project of arranging the commercial hunting was prepared by G.G. Doppelmair, and the Irkutsk Department of Agriculture took measures on its implementation. Accordingly, the purely practical work on the economic organization of commercial hunting on sable at the north-eastern coast of Lake Baikal was completed.

This is truly important: the policy of civilized hunt on the fluffy wealth of Lake Baikal was being implemented at the beginning of the 20th century, during the First World War that proved to be extremely difficult for the country.

Once again we’ll draw attention to the main date - December 29, 1916 (January 11, 1917), which is commonly considered the birthday not only of the first nature reserve created in Russia, but of our entire environment protection system. So, this day has been celebrated in the Russian Federation as the Day of Russian Nature Reserves and National Parks since 1997 not by some accident.

It is always interesting to compare the state of some institution at the moment its establishment with its modern state.

Primarily the reserve area and the state hunting area made up about 500,000 hectares, and there were only 20-30 sables.

Over the past century the area of the reserve has changed, its northern and southern borders have been adjusted, but its central part has always kept the status of a reserve. The modern reserve in Buryatia has the area of about 324 thousand hectares and more than 100 thousand hectares of the reserved area. The coastline of the Reserve is not that long - only 110 kilometers, but these are amazing kilometers: beautiful nature in the river valleys and on the slopes of the mountains, clean air, lakes and waterfalls, hot springs with a temperature of up to 40 degrees Celsius, dense taiga forests, sandy beaches. It also involves the Baikal Ridge with its peaks that are covered with snow virtually all year round… It is no coincidence that people say that the territory of the Barguzinsky Nature Reserve is the standard of cleanliness and pristine nature of Baikal, where sables feel comfortable: indeed, the Reserve was created for their sake. The main field of activities of the Barguzinsky Reserve is the study of the Barguzin sable for the purpose of finding ways to increase its count.

Today the territory of the reserve is home to about 2,000 sables. Sable is not only an amazingly beautiful, but also a dexterous and rather cautious animal. The females who are affectionately called “sobolyushka” (“she-sable” in Russian) give birth to on average two cubs each spring, but after the cubs reach the age of six months, they start to live independently.

In 2011 the Barguzinsky Reserve became a part of the large nature protection zone titled “Zapovednoe Podlemorye” (“Reserved Area near the Sea” in Russian) with the development of ecotourism as its main aspect.

In 2017 the reserve staff decided to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Barguzinsky Reserve and the Year of Ecology in Russia in a special way. As a result, they arranged the summer expedition titled “Following the Tracks of Georgii Doppelmair”. Naturally, by recreating a hundred-year-old route, scientists set new goals: to determine the state of high-mountain natural complexes during the climate changes, to trace the evolution of the composition of flora and fauna on the territory of the protected area.

The participants of the complex expedition passed the Doppelmair Pass. This way connected a small remote village of Sosnovka with inhabited territories with a postal horse route hundred years ago. During this journey which passed under the same severe conditions as those of the participants’ predecessors (gnats, the scorching sun, the night cold, rain) the scientists have studied two passes unexplored before and visited the source of the Pravaya Sosnovka River for the first time in the several last decades.

The results of the expedition once again proved that the reserve created a century ago, largely thanks to G.G. Doppelmair and his comrades, has successfully preserved and multiplied the natural resources of Lake Baikal, and hence, of the entire country.

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