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Area: 660,000 ha (6,600 km2)
Buffer zone: none
Established: 1986

Contact information:
Zaytz, Aleksandr Mikhailovich, Director

Russia 664026 Irkutsk, ul. Dekabrskikh sobytii 47

Tel/fax: (7-395-2) 33-20-07

Lake Baikal - the jewel of Siberia and a World Heritage Site - is the deepest lake in the world, holding one-fifth of the planet's freshwater. This enormous abyss extends like a long, deep gash in the Earth's crust filled with water from hundreds of pure rivers and streams, flowing from a rim of lofty mountains, rocky cliffs, and rolling hills. Baikalo-Lensky Zapovednik, in the Irkutsk Oblast, guards the northwestern rim of Lake Baikal. Habitats, ranging from coastal lakes to boreal forests and alpine meadows, provide refuge for bears, reindeer, musk deer, as well as many endemic plants and animals, such as the Baikal seal. One of the great Russian rivers, the Lena, which extends more than 4000 km North to the Arctic Ocean, begins as a tiny trickle in the mountains of this nature reserve.

Photo © 1995 Laura Williams

Zapovednik Images
Zapovednik Facts

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

© 1996 Boyd Norton

The Baikal Mountain Range towers over the northwestern shore of Lake Baikal.

© 1998 Igor Shpilenok

Chipmunks rely on pine nuts to last them through the winter.

© 1996
Boyd Norton

The origin of the Baikal seal in Lake Baikal still puzzles scientists.

© 1999 Boyd Norton

Lake Baikal's crystal clear water hosts thousands of fish.

© 1995 Laura Williams

Hurricane-like winds pick up over Baikal during frequent storms.

© 1995 Laura Williams

Fall paints the slopes of Baikal in red and golden hues.

© 1999 Boyd Norton

Wildflowers grow among tall summer grasses along the shore of Baikal.

© 1998 Igor Shpilenok

The mighty Lena River begins in the mountains of Baikalo-Lensky Zapovednik


Zapovednik Facts:

Animals from a range of biomes - boreal, steppe, and alpine - mingle in the mountains near Lake Baikal. Scientists have identified 49 species of mammals, including 11 predatory species and 16 kinds of rodents. Red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) and Siberian chipmunks (Tamias sibiricus) franticly scuttle about gathering pine nuts to store for the winter. Long-tailed Siberian sousliks (Citellus undulatus) dart in and out of holes in the arid steppe. Black-capped marmots (Marmota camtschatica) bask in the sun on rocks in the high mountains. Mountain hare (Lepus timidus) and Northern pika (Ochotona hyperborea) forage on grasses, staying alert to avoid predation by lynx (Felix lynx), wolverine (Gulo gulo), or wolf (Canis lupis).

Brown bears (Ursus arctos) descend in numbers from the mountains in the spring to the Baikal shore, also known as the "Brown Bear Coast." Having recently emerged from their dens, the hungry bears gather to feed on caddis flies (Trichoptera) that hatch by the thousands, covering the rocks on the coast in a flutter of newly-found wings. The Barguzin sable (Martes zibelllina) eats just about anything it can catch, mainly small rodents, but the small predator also likes to nibble on berries. The sable's luxurious fur was the reason behind its near extinction at the beginning of the 20th century, but the resilient creature has bounced back to become the most abundant predator in the zapovednik today. River otters (Lutra lutra), rare in Siberia, frolick in the streams and lakes around Baikal. Siberian wapiti (Cervus elaphus sibirica) overwinter in the reserve in small herds, while Siberian roe deer (Capreolus pygargus) graze along the Baikal coast year round. Wild reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) graze on lichens and grasses in the high mountains in summertime.

The origin of the Baikal seal (Phoca sibirica) is one of the great mysteries of Siberia. A land-locked seal and an endemic of Baikal, its ancestors probably swam up the Yenesei River from the Arctic Ocean during the last iceage. Baikal seals can dive more than 100 meters into the dark waters of Baikal in search of fish, later climbing onto rocks to warm themselves in the sun.

Sixty percent of Baikal's bird life (240 species) is represented in Baikalo-Lensky Zapovednik. One of the most noticeable birds in the forests around Baikal is the spotted nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes). The small brown bird with white specks flutters from pine tree to pine tree, gathering pine nuts in a small sack in its beak, then hiding them under moss and grass in the forest. Abandoned seed stashes sprout the following spring, sometimes several kilometers from their source, bringing new generations of trees to life. Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), northern hazelhen (Tetrastes bonasia), and Northern black grouse (Lyrurus tetrix) share the coniferous forest with the nutcracker year round. Willow and rock ptarmigans (Lagopus lagopus, L. mutus) nest in thickets and mossy swamps in the mountains, along with solitary snipe (Gallinago solitaria). Eurasian dippers (Cinclus cinclus) run along the bottom of mountain streams, feeding on small invertebrates. Black stork (Ciconia nigra), white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), white-winged scooter (Melanitta fusca), ruddy shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea), and osprey (Pandion haliaëtus) are some of the rare birds granted protection in the zapovednik. Several steppe species inhabit the Baikal shore, including saker falcon (Falco cherrug), Siberian meadow and rock buntings (Emberiza cioides, E. cia), and Isabelline wheateater (Oenanthe isabellina).

Commercially valuable fish like Siberian grayling (Thymallus arcticus), lenok (Brachymystax lenok), taimen (Hucho taimen), Siberian whitefish (Coregonus tugun), and others are protected in lakes and streams in the zapovednik.


Dark coniferous taiga forests conceal the western slopes and foothills of the Baikal Range, made up of Siberian fir (Abies sibirica), Siberian spruce (Picea obovata), Siberian or "cedar" pine (Pinus sibirica), and Siberian larch (Larix sibirica). The Eastern slopes of the mountains are covered with lighter-colored Siberian pine and larch forests. Birch (Betula spp.) and aspen (Populus tremula) take over areas where fires or other disturbances have occurred. Dwarf forms of birch (Betula divaricata) and mountain pine (Pinus pumila) hover bush-like over boggy terrain in the highlands. Poplar (Populus spp.) groves brim over river valleys. Meadows and swamps are interspersed throughout the forest and alpine areas. Remnants of prairie-like steppe stretch along the Baikal coast in the southern part of the zapovednik on the Ryty, Anyutkhe, and Shartla capes. Further North, steppe is replaced with larch forests, which in turn are taken over by taiga forests mixed with Siberian pine. In autumn, deciduous trees on the slopes near Baikal turn a fiery red and yellow, with conifers staying forever emerald. Cowberries (Vaccinium vitus-idaea) turn ruby red in fall, bursting with bittersweet juices sought after by birds, bears, and other animals.

In the mountains, trees become sparse higher than 900 m above sea level. Dwarf mountain pine climbs slopes in a thick mat above 1800 m. High mountain meadows give way to rocky terrain covered with colorful lichens and mosses. Creamy white reindeer moss (Cladonia rangiferina) feels soft and moist underfoot. A diversity of lichens and mosses grow in the reserve with more than 230 species of each. At least 100 species of mushrooms have been identified in the zapovednik. Unique plant communities cling to bare cliffs, with rare species such as Rhododendron adamsii and Arctous alpina. In all, there are 800 species of higher plants in the zapovednik, 27 of these are rare and endangered and 36 species are endemic - found nowhere else but near Baikal.

Geographical Features

Baikalo-Lensky Zapovednik is situated on the northwestern shore of Lake Baikal in the Irkutsk Oblast. More than 100 km of Baikal's stony shoreline is protected in the zapovednik, from the Elokhin River in the North and Kheirem River in the South. The reserve includes the southern portion of the Baikal Mountain Range, encompassing the upper reaches of the Lena River, and its tributaries - the Tongoda, Kirenga, and the Small and Big Anoi rivers. The Lena River, which flows more than 4000 km North to the Arctic Ocean, begins in the mountains near Baikal as a small trickle out of a string of alpine lakes.

The Baikal Mountain Range was formed by tectonic processes and glaciation in the late Pleistectonic. Yuzhno-Kedrovsky and Solnechny Mountains are the cones of ancient volcanoes. A spectacular 10 km long gorge called "Rytoye" in the southern portion of the zapovednik cuts deep into the mountain range from Lake Baikal.

Lake ecosystems are an intricate part of Baikalo-Lensky Zapovednik. Alpine lakes support an abundance of fish and bird life. Down below, Baikal's water level fluctuates a meter or more, from dams and hydroelectric stations on the Angara River, the only outlet from Lake Baikal. Warm shallow lakes along Baikal's shore fill with water from waves and flooding. Lake Baikal itself is relatively warm compared to the frigid waters of glacial lakes in the mountains.

The climate near Baikal is continental. The west-facing slopes of the Baikal Range are colder and wetter than the slopes facing Lake Baikal. The summers are short and harsh, temperatures can drop below zero in the mountains. Fierce winds coming off the mountains pick up with little notice, blowing anything not attached to the ground into Baikal's beating waves. July is the warmest month of the year, where the average temperature in the mountains is 14 °C. The coldest month of the year is January, when mountain temperatures average -24 °C. Since the deep water of Baikal helps to stabilize the climate near the shore, temperatures along the coast are slightly warmer. Baikal freezes over in the winter. Deep snows engulf the mountain valleys, driving all but the most rugged creatures further south or to the lower foothills.

Conservation Status

Perhaps the biggest problem facing Baikalo-Lensky Zapovednik - its remoteness - is also the reason that the territory has been so well preserved. The zapovednik headquarters, located in the capital city of Irkutsk, is more than 300 km South of the reserve itself. Parts of the zapovednik cannot be reached by road at all, others can be reached only by ship in the summer, or by driving along the highway of Baikal's ice in the winter. On the one hand, this is a positive aspect in order to deter poachers or other violators. But, the inaccessibility of the reserve to zapovednik staff makes management, scientific monitoring, and nature conservation difficult and expensive. Often scientists and rangers cannot reach the reserve to conduct research or routine patrols, because transportation costs are too high.

Ecological tourism could potentially provide income to the zapovednik in order to resolve some of its financial woes. The zapovednik has organized three routes to take adventurous tourists on expeditions in the Baikal mountains, where they can experience the beauty and remote wilderness of Baikal with a knowledgeable guide. Routes offered include: rafting down the Lena River; a trip in the mountains to the source of the Lena River; and an expedition along the Baikal shore.


"Baikalo-Lensky Zapovednik." Informational brochure prepared by the zapovednik staff. Published by Logata. Moscow, 1998.

Popov, V.V., Ed. Scientific works of the Baikalo-Lensky State Nature Zapovednik. Inkombuk. Moscow, 1998

Ustinov, S.K. In the forests near Baikal: sketches of an ecologist. Oblmashinform. Irkutsk, 1998.

Zabelina, N.M, L.S. Isaeva-Petrova, and L.V. Kuleshova. Zapovedniks and National Parks of Russia. Logata. Mosow, 1998.

Text prepared by Laura Williams.

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