Wild Russia Home PageNature Reserve ProfilesWild Russia PhotographersPublicationsAbout CRNCContact Us

Established: 1985
Size: 1,433,000 ha (14,330 km2)
Buffer Zone: 1,050,000 ha
(10,500 km2)

Contact information:
Gorokhov, Dmitry Nikolaevich, Director

Russia 678400, Sakha Republic (Yakutia), Bulunsky raion, Tiksi, ul. Academika Fyodorova, 28

Tel no: (7-411-67) 5-39-39, 5-28-09
Email: lena@tiksi.rospac.ru

The enormous delta of the Lena River - with its thousands of islands, lakes, and channels - is one of the most spectacular wonders of the Russian Arctic. The delta is the second largest in the world, fanning out over 32,000 km2 - an area about the size of Maryland. Beginning as a tiny spring in the mountains near Lake Baikal, the Lena grows into a massive river several kilometers wide in the Yakutian Republic (Sakha), then fans out into a broad delta before the Laptev Sea. Under a fragile layer of Arctic tundra, a layer of ice over 1000 meters thick penetrates the Earth. Frozen tundra transforms into fertile wetlands during the brief summer. Swans, geese, ducks, plovers, sandpipers, and gulls are only a few of the birds from around the world that migrate to Ust-Lensky Zapovednik to raise their chicks in the nutrient-rich and relatively predator-free environment of this Arctic nature reserve.

Photo © 1994 Laura Williams

Zapovednik Images
Zapovednik Facts

Images of Ust-Lensky
Click on each photo to see a large version.

© 1994 Laura Williams

The Lena River carries dead trees from the taiga to its delta.

© 1994 Laura Williams

Five species of poppies grow in the zapovednik.

© 1994 Peter Prokosch

Yellow and pink louseworts bloom in the tundra in summer.

© 1994 Laura Williams

Polygon-shaped lakes are formed by freezing meltwater.

© 1994 Peter Prokosch

The black-capped marmot burrows in the southern part of the zapovednik.

© 1994 Laura Williams

Stolb Island marks the beginning of the Lena Delta.

© 1994 Laura Williams

Scientists use the "Lena-Nordenskiöld" Biological Station to monitor the delta.

© 1994 Peter Prokosch

The rare Ross's gull has a pink breast with a black "necklace."


Zapovednik Facts:

The severe climate in the Lena Delta deters most animals from staying year round. Yet, polar bear (Ursus maritimus), Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus), mountain hare (Lepus timidus), root vole (Microtus oeconomus), and other hardy animals are found here even in the dark of winter. In summer, wild reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) migrate to the delta to feed on rich grasses and escape from mosquitoes. Wolves (Canis lupis) follow on the heels of reindeer. Bighorn sheep (Ovis nivicola), black-capped marmot (Marmota camtschatica), and Northern pika (Ochotona hyperborea) inhabit the low mountains in the south of the zapovednik. Siberian lemmings (Lemmus sibiricus) and collared lemmings (Dicrostonyx torquatus) form the base of the food chain for many predators in the delta: the rodents' "boom and bust" population cycles impact predator numbers. In all, 27 species of land mammals and five species of marine mammals are found in the reserve.

Beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) swim in the outer reaches of the Lena Delta and the Laptev Sea; in 1987, a herd of 120 whales was observed in the largest of the delta's channels. The narwhal (Monodon monoceros) can be seen on occasion. A small walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) population inhabits islands near the coast. Bearded seal (Erignatus barbatus), one of the rarest mammals in the Laptev Sea, and ringed seal (Phoca hispida) feed in the delta and coastal area. Seven mammals and 20 birds are listed in the IUCN, Russian, and Yakutian Red Books.

Waterfowl and shorebirds from all continents of the globe are attracted to the delta to breed each year. The birds are drawn by the variety of plant habitats and productive lakes, and the relatively low density of predators. Scientists have identified 109 species of birds in the zapovednik, including 60 nesting species. Thousands of noisy geese launch the breeding season: bean geese (Anser fabalis) arrive in late May when snow still blankets the land; while greater white-fronted geese (A. albifrons) come in June as the tundra thaws. Two subspecies of Brent geese (Branta bernicla nigricans and B.b. bernicla) fly in from Indochina and Europe to nest in the delta. Around 7,000 red-throated loons (Gavia stellata) and 25,000 black-throated loons (G. arctica) build their nests near lakes in the polygon tundra. Ross's gull (Rhodostethia rosea) and Sabine's gull (Xema sabini) form noisy breeding colonies along the Laptev Sea coast. Green-winged teal (Anas recca), Northern pintail (A. acuta), King eider (Somateria spectabilis), Steller's eider (S. stelleri), and long-tailed duck (Clangula hyemalis) lay their eggs on small hummocks in the marshy tundra. The birds' breeding cycle is well timed: chicks hatch in July when insects and vegetation are abundant; their feathers are fully developed and bodies conditioned in time for the long-distance migration in the fall. Snowy owls (Nyctea scandiaca) and willow and rock ptarmigans (Lagopus lagopus and L. mutus) are some of the few birds that remain in the delta year round.

The thousands of river channels and lakes in the delta provide plankton-rich habitat for 36 varieties of fish. Arctic brook lamphrey (Lethenteron camtschaticus), Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus), eelpout (Lota lota), nelma (Stenodus leucichthys nelma), and Arctic cisco (Coregonus autumnalis) spawn in the delta. Ciscos (Coregonus spp.), often found at the boundary of salt and fresh water, are thought to have originated here. Members of this genus include: Coregonus tugun, C. sardinella, C. peled, C. muksun, and C. nasus. Boreal species like sturgeon (Acipenser baeri), taimen (Hucho taimen), lenok (Brachymystax lenok), Arctic grayling (Thymallus arcticus), and roach (Rutilus rutilus) are also found in the mouth of the Lena.


Moist tundra vegetation covers a large part of the Lena Delta. A thin soil layer from 10-120 cm deep thaws each summer, when a soft mattress of mosses, lichens, and creeping plants appears from beneath the snow. Slow nutrient cycling due to the cold climate causes accumulation of plant remains in a partially-decomposed peat-like mixture. Permafrost, a permanent layer of ice more than 1000 meters deep, lies just beneath the surface. Ice is responsible for the formation of the unique polygon tundra phenomenon - shallow, regular shaped ponds bordered by mounds of earth, which expand each winter as melt water runs into cracks in the ice and freezes, pushing the soil layers up. Floodwaters of the Lena rise more than 20 meters each spring, reshaping the delta with over 15 million tons of sediment. Driftwood is carried to the delta from forested areas in the boreal region, providing nutrients for tundra vegetation, as well as firewood for people living in the delta.

Habitat types in the delta range from rocky and sparsely vegetated terrain in the mountain region to rich and highly productive tundra in the delta. Tundra covers 41% of the zapovednik, freshwater habitats take up 42%, while wetlands and sand bars or non-vegetated sites cover 12% and 5%, respectively. The plant composition is a mixture of circumpolar and Eastern Siberian species. Subarctic and boreal species dominate in the southern portion of the zapovednik, while arctic species grow in the northern territory. Beautiful white and cream flowers from the Claytonia genus brighten gray, rocky areas in summer, while creeping carnations (Dianthus repens) form a carpet of pink and purple flowers on open sands of river terraces and southern slopes. Sorrel, persicaria, and other plants in the Polygonaceae family (Rumex, Oxalis, and Oxyria spp.) are used as food by indigenous peoples.

In all, there are 402 species of higher plants and 153 types of aquatic plants in the delta. Over 200 species of lichens blanket the tundra from the Cetraria, Alectoria, Peltigera, Stereocaulon, Sphaerophorus, and Thamnolia groups. The tundra and swamps are entangled with 112 species of leafy and sphagnum mosses. The Yakutian Red Book lists 24 species as endangered, including: Erigeron komarovii, Taraxacum lenaense, Papaver czekanowskii, Potentilla pulchella, Artemisia triniana, and Rhodiola rosea. The latter species, also referred to as golden root, is a valuable medicinal herb found on rocky outcrops. The plant was collected intensively before creation of the zapovednik and nearly disappeared altogether. Trautvetters's bluegrass (Poa trautvetteri) is endemic to the lower Lena region.

Geographical Features

Ust-Lensky Zapovednik is located in the northern part of the Bulunsky District in the Republic of Sakha, also known as Yakutia. The zapovednik consists of two territories: "Sokol" (meaning "Falcon" - 1330 km2 or 9% of the reserve), which protects the northern tip of the Kharaulakhsky Mountains; and "Delta" (13,000 km2 or 91% of the reserve), which protects half of the Lena Delta. The headquarters of the zapovednik are located in the northern seaport of Tiksi, 60 km from the nearest point in the reserve. The entire reserve is well within the Arctic Circle (from 71° to 74° latitude). Elevations in the zapovednik range from 0 to 560 meters above sea level.

The Lena River begins near Lake Baikal and flows 4270 km to reach the Laptev Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean. The Lena is the ninth largest river in the world, transporting 500 km3 of water across the delta at an average rate of 16,300 m2/s. The delta with its alluvial plains covers 32,000 km2, making it the second largest in the world after the Mississippi Delta. The delta begins to branch like a hand at Stolb Island, breaking into five major channels with hundreds of smaller streams running between them. The largest channels are: Arynskaya (178 km long), Bykovskaya (106 km), Bolshaya Tumatskaya (a continuation of the Lena River), and Oleneskaya.

The delta is frozen for seven months a year during the long, harsh winters. While the sun never rises in winter (polar winter), it never sets in summer (polar day). Driving winds and snowstorms can last for up to three weeks. Temperatures in January drop to more than 30 °C below zero. The lowest temperature recorded is -53°C, in February. Summers in the delta are short and cool. Mid-July to mid-August is the warmest time of the year, when the maximum temperature rises to 26°-30°C. The high level of humidity in the delta (78-93%), combined with low temperatures, often create foggy conditions. The northern part of the delta receives about 170 mm of precipitation a year, whereas the southern portion of the reserve gets more than 200 mm per year.

Conservation Status

The President of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia), Mikhail Nikolaev, pledged to preserve at least 20% of the Republic's territory in protected areas by the year 2005. A step in this direction was the creation of the Lena Delta Nature Refuge in 1996 over an area of 73,650 km2 to protect the entire eastern portion of the delta and the islands of the Novosibirsky Archipelago. However, intensive fishing in this refuge, particularly in cisco spawning areas, could threaten the integrity of this and other fish populations.

In 1995, an international biological monitoring station was opened in the zapovednik, with support from the World Wildlife Fund (Sweden) and President Nikolaev of the Sakha Republic. The scientific station, named "Lena-Nordenskiöld" after the Swedish explorer who mapped the Northern sea route, is used by Yakutian, Russian, and international scientists to study biological processes in the Lena Delta. The station is located in the south of the delta on the Bykovskaya Channel where tundra, mountain, and freshwater ecosystems are all easily accessible.



Zapovedniks of Russia: Siberia, Volume I. Pavlov, D.C., V.E. Sokolov, and E.E. Syroechkovsky, eds. Logata. Moscow, 1999.

Lena Delta and the New Siberian Islands Nature Reserve. WWF Arctic Programme Brochure. ISBN 82-90980-09-4. Printed by Nordahls Trykkeri. Olso, Norway, December 1998.

Text written by Laura Williams.


| Top | Home | Tour | Photo Gallery | Publications | About CRNC | Contact Us |

Brought to you by the Center for Russian Nature Conservation