“Tracking a poacher is difficult work”: Life at Sayano-Shushensky Biosphere Reserve

“Tracking a poacher is difficult work”: Life at Sayano-Shushensky Biosphere Reserve

18 September 2017

Director of the Sayano-Shushensky Biosphere Reserve Gennady Kiselyov was interviewed by Newslab.ru.

Question: You have been at the head of the Sayano-Shushensky Biosphere Reserve for six years. What has changed during this time?


Gennady Kiselyov: My staff and I have worked hard to protect the territory, conduct research, as well as promote educational tourism and environmental awareness. Currently, the Sayano-Shushensky Biosphere Reserve is involved in national environmental educational programmes and cooperates with other reserves and national parks both within the Association of Reserves and National Parks of the Altai-Sayansky Ecoregion and the country as a whole.


Our reserve is unique in being the habitat for 60 animal species, over 250 bird species and more than one thousand various plants. Its biosphere is very rich indeed.


It also boasts three Red Data Book species, one of which is the snow leopard (irbis).  Trail camera photographs have recorded 15 snow leopards and you can distinguish the details of their colouration. Each leopard has a unique fur pattern consisting of spots and rosettes, like human fingerprints. The other local Red Data Book species are Pallas’s cat and forest reindeer.


Question: Do animals ever disappear because they are hunted by poachers?


Gennady Kiselyov: Poaching is one of our main problems. Poachers are not only people who do it for gain but also local villagers who can’t reconcile themselves with the fact that the land, where they hunted and fished since time immemorial, has been converted to a nature reserve.


More often than not poachers set traps for male musk deer because their musk gland can fetch a good price on the market. But the loop trap is indiscriminate and can kill anything – musk deer, roes, Siberian mountain goats and even bigger animals. Once, a female snow leopard got caught in a trap. Even though the leopardess managed to extricate itself (an extremely rare thing), she later died anyway due to her injuries.


Question: Tracking a poacher is difficult, painstaking work. You have to find his tracks in the taiga, catch up with and detain him, bring him to Shushenskoye and hand him over to the police.


Gennady Kiselyov: There were cases of poachers threatening wardens with arms. There were tragedies too, when poachers killed wardens. Earlier this year, we built a monument at the Shugur lodge to employees of nature reserves and nature parks, who died in the line of duty. It was from Shugur that four wardens – Sergei Lavrov, Nikolai Lineitsev, Alexei Novosyolov and Valery Kononov – set off on September 3, 1994. This was their last inspection trip, the last time anyone saw them alive. Fifty rescuers combed the taiga for two months but found nothing. Only a year later someone chanced upon their saddles and other belongings in the mountains. But neither the wardens’ remains nor their killers have been found to this day.


Today the monument bears the names of 57 wardens. We decided to commemorate all Russian wardens, who sacrificed their life in the performance of duty. This is Russia’s first monument to dead wardens and it is highly significant that we opened it in the Year of the Environment. We are celebrating one hundred years of the nature reserve system and it is more important than ever to remember the people who were devoted to the nature conservation ideals to the bitter end and did not back down from danger. And, of course, one would like to hope that there will be no new names on the list.


We hope that tourists will visit the reserve more often now that we have opened the monument. In this case, we will be able to expand our environmental education work.


Question: How has the Year of the Environment influenced your work?


Gennady Kiselyov: That 2017 was declared the Year of the Environment has helped us greatly. We can invite more people to participate in environmental education events and reach new information venues.


In 2017, the public is focused on conservation areas. This is a great responsibility and I hope we will be up to the mark.


Question: This year, you have launched the Conservation Session project. What is it that you have managed to teach the children?


Gennady Kiselyov: We are focused on helping the upcoming generation raise their environmental awareness. The Conservation Session is a national educational project implemented at 12 specially protected natural areas and 11 businesses in eight Russian regions. Participants in each Conservation Session expedition watch operations at a nature reserve and visit some businesses in a region to participate in educational games.


In 2017, the Conservation Session at the Sayano-Shushensky Biosphere Reserve opened with the Krasnoyarsk Territory: From the village of Shushenskoye to the Sayano-Shushenskaya Hydro Power Station expedition. We showed to children how the power station and the nature reserve operated. A guided tour in Shushenskoye, where they visited its historical and cultural sights, was also of importance. This is certainly a very instructive and interesting project, which we have joined by courtesy of En+Group and the Strana Zapovednaya (Preserved Realm) Foundation.  


During this Conservation Session, 25 school students will visit the Sayano-Shushenskaya Hydro Power Station and the Abakan Solar Power Station. They will also attend a Russian folk festival at an early 20th-century village and, guided by a Shushensky Bor park employee, they will also walk along an eco-trail, where they will set trail cameras to track animals and birds. 


Most importantly, the participants in the project will change their outlook on certain things. They will not only do more to help protect the environment themselves but will try to convince others to do the same. Children return to their schools and set up brain rings, create quizzes and even organise eco-classes about nature reserves. In this way, the number of friends of nature reserves grows exponentially.


Participants in the environmental and industrial expeditions help us to promote environmental education. Given the number of specially protected natural areas involved in the Conservation Session project, we can say that this project has been approved by this country’s nature reserves and national parks. The year 2017 will see a total of 20 educational shifts involving about 1,000 children and adolescents.


Question: How popular is the environmental volunteer movement at the nature reserve and in Siberia in general? How does this help your nature reserve?


Gennady Kiselyov: Every year, we hold events to raise environmental awareness. These are, for example, March of the Parks, Day of the Forest, Day of the Earth, Day of the Yenisei, and other eco-festivals. Jointly with the Khakassia Branch of the Russian Geographical Society and the Khakassky Nature Reserve, we have staged the My Snow Leopard international media wildlife festival for five years in a row.  We are implementing the Ecobus environmental educational project at general education schools. Our nature reserve has been involved in the Green Spring national day of volunteering for two years.


I would like to note in particular that in 2017, our nature reserve has become a partner of the 360 Minutes national volunteers’ eco-marathon. Its events are part of En+Group’s programme to protect Lake Baikal and protected areas. Importantly, volunteers travelled with us by plane to the Arzhaan-Uru mineral spring in the nature reserve and cleared the territory around. They collected 50 sacks of rubbish. We issue no more than 200 passes to the spring per year; people travel for its restorative properties but still manage to leave litter.  Thanks to the 360 Minutes marathon, we cleaned the spring’s traditional health promotion area and worship site. Earlier, this was impossible on such a large scale.


Also as part of the marathon, we made a system of paths and installed some elements of a monument. Under the same programme, there are plans make a viewing point at the environmental and excursion facility in the territory of the Kurgol lodge, to organise an eco-trail at the nature reserve’s administrative and excursion facility, and to spend several days collecting rubbish within the limits of the village of Shushenskoye, including on the banks of the Shush River, a territorial natural monument.  


The 360 Minutes project is rightly called Russia’s main volunteers’ eco-marathon. For the Sayano-Shushensky Nature Reserve, it is an opportunity to give environmentally alert people a chance to make their contribution to local development. I think that subsequently the 360 Minutes project will only expand and involve even more volunteers. And I would like to thank its organisers from the bottom of my heart.


The En+Group is giving much support to environmental and educational events. The company is an example of an environmentally responsible organisation. We are glad to work with them.


Question: What are your plans for the near future?


Gennady Kiselyov: To fight poachers, of course! For this, we have modernised our lodges, gave wardens better communications equipment, installed powerful radio stations at the lodges and provided new motor vehicles. We have also reintroduced horse patrols to enable wardens to cover longer distances.


We continue to promote educational tourism. Right now we are planning to launch helicopter tours to the Shugur lodge. We are contemplating a joint project with the Republic of Tatarstan. Scientists in that republic want to restore its snow leopard population. They will raise kittens and then bring them to our nature reserve to adapt to living in the wild.