Wildlife and biodiversity in the world’s largest country

Russia is home to numerous endemic species across a wide range of ecosystems that are thriving in much of the country, but human activity is slowly extending further into the wilderness.

As the world’s largest country in size covering an area of 17 million km2, Russia is home to diverse ecosystems ranging from polar deserts to broad-leaved forests; from the steppes to the subtropics. Alone, Russia accounts for nearly 22% of the world’s forests and it possesses the largest wetland systems in the world. On top of that, it has a coastline of some 60,000 km.

With nearly 65% of Russia untouched by human activities the country is home to an incredible amount of biodiversity. Along with 12,500 species of vascular plants and countless algae and fungi species, Russia is home to 732 species of birds (8% of the world’s bird fauna), 343 species of freshwater fish (many of which are endemic to Russia), and many reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and invertebrates. Sadly, according to the Red Book of Russia, 1,100 plants and animals found in the country are documented as rare or endangered. While much of the country remains untouched, around 20% of the territory has suffered considerably from human impacts.

From Lemmings to Tigers, Russia is Home to Species found Nowhere Else

Within its varied Ecosystems, Russia is home to animals found nowhere else in the world. While the Russian Brown Bear and Siberian husky are well known, some of the most unique animals will come as a surprise to many:

  • Tigers and Leopards: The most endangered of Russian wildlife, the Amur Tiger and Amur leopard are huge, solitary cats that weigh hundreds of kilograms. These specific subspecies are found only in the Far East.
  • Baikal Seals: The only mammal to live in the world’s deepest lake, these playful animals are also the world’s only exclusively freshwater seal.
  • Musk deer: Sometimes called the saber-tooth deer, this throwback to the ice age belies its fierce looks, but its numbers have declined due to hunting.

With so much uninhabited territory across Russia, there are likely countless unidentified species. As recently as 2019, the adorable Water Deer species was discovered within Siberian forests.

Threats and Conservation in the World’s Largest Country

Unfortunately, human activity is expanding ever further into the untouched regions of Russia. Both air pollution and industrial waste consisting of heavy metals, chemicals, and radioactive pollutants are a major problem across the country. On top of this oil and gas extraction, poaching, and land degradation are causing a decline in wildlife. The latter is particularly damaging to the old forests and taiga ecosystem, with up to 2.1 million hectares of forest destroyed every year.

However Russia does have a large network of federal reserves, known as Zapovedniks, along with 40 national parks. The word Zapovednik means ‘sacred, prohibited from disturbance’ and it is in principle an area where no economic use is permitted, although different reserves have slightly different rules. In total these reserves cover 330,000 square kilometers, 1.4% of the country’s total land area. The reserves include Arctic desert, tundra, taiga, deciduous forest, and steppe ecosystems. International cooperation has also been shown as scientists collaborated with their US counterparts to track and monitor polar bears and ice seals across the countries’ arctic borders in an effort to help conservation efforts in the Arctic. Furthermore, initiatives from NGOs such as WWF Russia, or donations from local benefactors such as Vaguit Alekperov (Lukoil), Iskander Makhmudov (UMMC) or Vladimir Potanine (Norilsk Nickel) also play a role in the preservation of the Russian fauna. These initiatives echo similar preservation actions across the world, such as Thomas Kaplan‘s Panthera Corporation in the US or Wang Wenliang, who is on a mission to save Alaska’s wildlife.

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