435 species of land vertebrates inhabit the territory of Buryatia. Broader than others the birds class is represented (340 species) and the mammals (83), there are fewer reptiles (7) and amphibia (5). Because of man’s unwise economic activity the number of land vertebrates is being decreased. On the list of rare and threatened animals of Buryatia there are 2 species of amphibia, 4 species of reptiles, 63 species of birds and 25 species of mammals. Rare and threatened animals are the red wolf, the wild cat (manul), the snow leopard, the river otter, the mountain goat, the reindeer, the Dauria hedgehog and others.
One of the complicated problems is the task to preserve the animal diversity, the fur animals and the forest game, as well as hunting optimization.
Rare animals are the species which are not threatened to be extinct yet, but there are so few of them on such limited territories, that they can become threatened under unfavourable changes of the habitat under the influence of natural or anthropogenic factors.
Threatened animals are those species which are threatened to become extinct and it is impossible to save them without taking special measures.
To preserve the rare and threatened animals there is strictly and completely banned hunting, maximum preservation of the habitat, organizing special nurseries, national parks, reserves and game reserves.
The Baikal Seal (Nerpa)
The Baikal is one of the few continent water reservoirs where the nerpa (seal) lives, the only Baikal mammal endemic. The nerpa is a big animal, up to 120-150 cm long, weighing up to100-120 kg and living a long life. Among the game there are individuals 50 years old and more. Throughout her life a female gives birth to about 2 dozens of the young bearing them for about 11 months. The young are born in late winter – early spring.
It is still a mystery how that animal found itself in the centre of the Asian continent. Some researchers think that the nerpa has got into the lake from the Arctic ocean during one of interglacial transgressions, when the ocean waters spread along the Yenisei valley as far as the mouth of the Tunguska. It is known that seals often enter rivers and go quite far upwards. Sometimes they even travel by land from one river to another.
In the Baikal the living conditions for the nerpa are favourable – there is much food such as the golomyanka fish and pelagian bullheads, the ice situation makes customary conditions for reproduction and moult and there is quite a spacious area and depths. Nerpas hibernate under the ice, and each animal takes several open air-holes.
Since old times the animal has been a valuable hunting object. The Baikal nerpa has got wonderful fur, healing fat and tender meat. According to archaeologists’ data the nerpa had been attracting people to the shores of the lake since times immemorial, it was used as the means of exchange; for some tribes it used to be a totem.
The Barguzin Sable
The sable is a fur-bearing animal, “the tsar of wild furs”. The darker is the sable, the more expensive its fur is. The Barguzin sable is the most valuable of Siberian ones. It is 56 cm long, the tail is up to 20 cm long. It lives in cedar forests and in the upper reaches of the mountain rivers.
The Red Wolf (Ulaan Shono)
The red wolf is not a big animal looking like both the wolf and the fox. The general colouring is reddish. It lives in mountainous parts of the Baikal basin and feeds on hoofed animals. The red wolf is a threatened species, it is in the Red Books of Russia, Buryatia and the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Hunting that animal is strictly prohibited.
The Jerboa (Alag Daagan)
The jerboa is in the Red Book of Buryatia as a rare species. It is 130-160 mm long, the tail is 172-220 mm long. Its extremities have got 5 fingers, the hind legs are 3-4 times longer than the fore legs. Moving slowly it uses all the four legs, but running it uses only two hind ones. It has got big eyes and long ears as well as a long tail which has got a bunch of hair at the end. The jerboa has got soft and thick hair. The back is sand-coloured or dark yellow the belly is a little lighter. It lives in the steppe part of the Baikal basin. In winter it hibernates. It feeds on vegetation, insects and their larvae.
It lives in the mountains among stone placers, in the valleys it lives in damp ravines. It hibernates in the holes abandoned by susliks, tarbagans (kind of marmots) and in deep rock clefts. It is about 1 m long. The main food is eggs and small birds’ nestlings whose nests are on the ground. It can be found on the territory of the Tunka, Barguzin and Kurumkan districts. The main reason why the number of species decrease is the adders’ habit to stay in the same place within a small territory (60-100 km).
The Big Cormorant
The big cormorant is a representative of the totimplate order, the cormorants family. They live near water in big colonies. It catches fish diving under the water. In the past the cormorants were among the most numerous birds by the Baikal. Not for nothing three Baikal islands are named the Baklanyi (Cormorants). Nowadays it is in the category of the species which are practically extinct. By the end of the 40’s of the 20th century the quantity of the big cormorants at the lake had decreased greatly. Since 1959 the cormorant does not nest by the Baikal. Scientists think that the main reason why the cormorant has disappeared at the Baikal is man’s activity. Many places of the cormorant’s settlings were flooded because of the water level raise caused by the construction of the Irkutsk hydro power station. The cormorants feed on fish and many fishermen blamed them of valuable fish species disappearance, so the birds were hunted, their eggs were collected in the colonies, the young were killed and the adult birds were shot.
The bustard is one of the biggest and valuable birds of our country. It can weigh up to 16 kg. It can be distinguished from other birds by its big size, strong legs and multi-coloured feathers. It lives in the steppe and forest-steppe regions. It is a bird of passage, it flies for Mongolia and China for winter. It comes back in April-May and leaves in September-October. The flight of the bird is light and swift, but it takes off heavily, with a running start.
It is a very cautious bird, with good eyesight. It builds its nests on the ground digging a hole and lays 2-3 eggs. The bustard feeds on young grass sprouts, wild and cultivated cereals, insects, rodents, lizards and frogs.
The decrease of its quantity is caused by man’s economic activity, chemical weed-killers and pest-killers application in agriculture, poaching and unfavourable climatic conditions.
The Steppe Eagle
In the Baikal land 7 species of eagles and sea eagles live: the golden eagle, the steppe eagle, the dwarf eagle, the white-tailed sea eagle, the long-tailed sea eagle and others. There is no such diversity of eagles anywhere else in Northern Asia. The Aquila heliaca Savigny eagle is considered to be one of the most beautiful and magnificent birds of prey. It is the real natural prototype of the legendary “bald eagle”. The wing-spread of it is 2 m. This eagle lives only on the Baikal island of Olkhon and in its neighbourhood.
The Long-Tailed Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus Leucoryphus)
This kind of eagle is included into the Red Books of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Buryatia as a threatened species. It is 75-100 cm long. Its main food is fish, swimming birds or small mammals. The nest places are trees or large bushes. Because of broad development of the territory of Buryatia the number of birds has been reduced.
The White-Tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus Albicilla)
Haliaeetus albicilla lives in the coastal landscapes all over the territory of Russia with the exception of the tundra on the Arctic coast including the Kola peninsula and the Anadyr basin, but it is extremely rare there. The nesting places are sea coasts, big rivers valleys, lake coasts and islands. They are connected with the presence of big trees with thick trunks appropriate for nesting. The second necessary condition is a lake abundant in game. In the treeless landscapes it can nest on rocks. They start reproduction at the age of 5 or 6, the couples remain throughout their whole lives (about 20 years). They have got permanent nesting and hunting places.
The swan is one of the biggest birds of Buryatia. It weighs 7-10 kg and it is up to 150-180 cm long. The wing is 56-63 cm long. They live in shallow waters, for the neck is long enough to get the food from the bottom. The feathers are splendid and snow-white. It is called the “calling” swan because of its loud, blaring voice. It is a beautiful, proud and magnificent bird.
The Baikal ichthyofauna has formed as a result of the fishes of several fresh water complexes coming to the lake.
All the fishes can be divided into several groups in accordance with their origin and the living conditions:
- the fishes characteristic of Siberian plain water reservoirs (the sturgeon, the pike, the burbot, the ide, the roach, the perch and others (they live in the coastal shallow waters, half-closed bays-sors and in the river deltas));
- the fishes of the Siberian mountain rivers (the grayling, the taymen, the lenok (they live in small lake tributaries and in its coastal zone));
- the fishes of the estuary-arctic complex (the omul, the sig (the omul inhabits both the open and the coastal part of the Baikal, whereas the sig lives only in the coastal part));
- the bullheads. About 25 species of these small original fishes are recorded. The most interesting kind of them is the golomyankas, the main numerous inhabitants of the Baikal.
The omul is the symbol of the Baikal. There are 5 omul populations in the lake: the Selenga, the Chivyrkui, the North Baikal, the Barguzin and the Posolsk ones. They are different morphologically and their spawning places are different, too.
The Baikal omul reaches puberty at the age of 5-14. For reproduction it raises to the Baikal tributaries – the Upper Angara, the Kichera, the Selenga or small rivers flowing into the Posolsky and the Chivyrkuisky bays. In spring the young appear and they are swept to the Baikal by the rivers’ water. The omul spends many months of winter at the depth of about 300 m, at the bottom. In summer, in pursuit of substantial and abundant food, the omul raises to the upper water layers and rushes to shallow water places rich in epuishura. There it makes up big schools and becomes the catch of fishermen and poachers.
The golomyanka is a vivaparous Baikal wonder. It is pale pink, light and graceful in its native element, it is as if covered with mother of pearl shot with all the rainbow colours. It has no fin, and its skeleton is clearly seen through its thin skin. The body of the golomyanka is so transparent that it does not cast a shadow and one can read a text printed in big black letters through its tail part.
Fishes usually spawn to produce the young, in some time small fishes come out of the spawn. Unlike other Baikal fishes the golomyanka gives birth to the living young which are able to feed on tiny organisms, the epishura and the Crustacean young.
Another wonderful trait of the golomyanka is great quantity of fat, up to 40% of its own weight, that why being put out in the hot July sun it’ll just “melt”. Its fat is highly appreciated by the Tibetan medicine. The golomyanka is the favourite food of the nerpa, another Baikal endemic. One big golomyanka weighing 40 g has 3 times more calories than the sturgeon.
The sturgeon is the tsar-fish of the Baikal. The sturgeons live up to 50-60 and more years of age, they weigh up to 100-130 kg and are up to 180 cm long. That fish grows very slowly: first they put on 100g every year, then they make up for it 2-3 kg a year.
The main natural habitat of the sturgeon is the coast where the rivers of Selenga, Barguzin and Upper Angara flow into the lake. Feeding on the bottom animals, the sturgeon keeps close to the bottom. The sturgeon has been hunted since very old time can be proved by cave pictures with the sturgeon on them. Destructive fishing, especially in the early 20th century, reduced the stock of that valuable fish in the Baikal. Now the fish is included into the “Red Book of Rare and Threatened Species”.
The White Grayling
The grayling is a fish of prey. It lives mostly in the eastern part of the coast and rivers flowing into the Baikal. It spawns in the rivers of Dzhida, Khilok, Chikoi. It is up to 48 cm long and weighs 1-2 kg. It feeds on the Gammaridae, molluscs, flying insects and small fish.
The Baikal invertebrate are:
- infusorias (about 4,000 species);
- sponges (10 species)
- worms (over 100 species)
- worms – Nematodes (about 80 species)
- the arthropoda (about 70 species)
- the molluscs (over 170 species)
Systematic composition of the Baikal invertebrate can not be considered to be finally established. Every year zoological specialists record dozens of new species; animals are discovered not known to science at all.
In accordance with the place of living in the Baikal, as well as in any other lake, 3 groups of organisms are distinguished:
- the benthos ones living at the bottom
- the benthos pellagic ones living in the bottom layers of water
- the pellagic ones living in the thick of water.
The Endemic Sponge (Lubomirskia Baikalensis)
The sponges look like fantastic plants. Cork and branchy forms of the endemic sponge make up underwater forests at the depth of 2 to 40 m. They are one of the first multicellular which had appeared on the Earth. Their green colour is produced by small symbiotic water plants, zoochrellas.
The Planaria Worms (Baikaloplana valida)
There are the biggest fresh water planariae – baikaloplana Valida. In the creeping conditions they are up to 40 cm. They can be found mostly at the depths of over 100 m, they are predatories, that’s why the baikaloplana has got over 100 suckers at each side of the body.
It is a small crustacean of about 1.5 mm long, one of the mostly famous invertebrate of the Baikal. The epishura plays an important role in the pelagic ecosystem living throughout the thick of water and forming up to 90% of biomass and more than that. The epishura feeds mostly on the Baikal seaweeds and is an important part of the omul ration.