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The Sable (Martes zibellina L.)

Source:  The material is submitted by the Republic of Buryatia Russian Agricultural Control Office

All the taiga forestry within the present-day borders of Buryatia was inhabited by the sable in the 30s of the 18th century, which is proved by the analysis of tax and customs logs (Monakhov, 1960). Sharp decrease of the number of sables was recorded in a century. By the early 19th century the natural habitat of the sable in Buryatia had consisted of a number of patches with continuing splitting up. In the early 20th century alongside with the general sable quantity depression new negative factors started to display: the Baikal round railway was under construction, the population was growing, more perfect hunting tools and methods were used, the demand for sable furs was growing as well as forest fires were frequent. As a result of long and excessive hunting the species was under threat of extinction. For preserving the sable a number of measures were taken: hunting was banned in 1913-1916, in 1916 the Barguzin nature reserve was founded and in 1928 the sable game reserves were organized the Golondinsky, the Vydrino and the Kabansk ones, the hunting periods were limited (Bakeyev, Monakhov, 1986).
In 1935 the sable remained in 4 separate patches on the territory of Buryatia. The biggest one was on the territory of the Barguzin nature reserve. The smaller ones were in the Khamar-Daban mountain range, in the upper reaches of the Snezhnaya, the Pereyemnaya, the Mishikha rivers as well as in the Ulan-Burgasy mountain range along the rivers of Turka and Itantsa (Nadeyev, Timofeyev, 1955). The quantity of the animals was extremely low, furs storing up almost stopped.
To restore the natural habitat and the sable resources on the territory of Buryatia in 1930-1950 a number of measures were taken. Sable hunting was banned for 12 years on the whole territory of Buryatia. It was also closed for 3-5 years in the regions of the sable habitat and it was not held in the places with low density. In 1940 in the country including Buryatia hunting licenses were first used.
One of the main activities was the sable reacclimatization. 674 animals were settled all over the territory of the republic in 1930-1958 (Kiris, 1973). All the sables were caught within the administrative borders of the republic. The most serious delay in the sable quantity restoration was in two big places, the Khamar-Daban mountain range and in the Vitim upland region in the Baunt aimak (district). These regions have got the biggest number of reacclimatized animals, including the Khamar-Daban 228 (33.8% of all the settled animals) and the Baunt aimak together with the neighbouring Yeravna one 274 (40.7%). All other releases in those years in Buryatia were of local meaning.
To settle the animals in other regions of Siberia and the Far East 1,664 sables were sent there in 1939-1953 (Atutov and oth., 1982). The system of work to restore the sable stock helped increase the quantity and the natural habitat of the sable in Buryatia and let store up the furs, first in small quantities and then increasing it. From 1932 to 1998 228.1 thousand furs were stored up in the republic. At an average about 4 thousand furs a year had been stored up for 57 years. The biggest quantity was recorded in 1961. Until that year the number of sables had been growing in Buryatia.
Sharp decrease of storing up furs was  a little later, in 1969. The low level of the furs storing up is characteristic of that period until 1984. At an average 3.2 thousand furs were stored up (from 2.4 to 3.8 thousand). Only 50.2 thousand furs had been stored up for 16 years (22.0%). The reason of furs storing up decrease is over-hunting. The quantity of the sable in that period was estimated as 12 to 13 thousand a year. Then there was a short period of 1985-1988 with an average level of storing up of 5.3 thousand furs a year. 21.4 thousand furs had been stored up for 4 years. The quantity of the sable in that period is estimated 20-30%, or 16-17 thousand higher than in the previous period. The increase of the quantity was influenced by the combination of favorable economic and ecological factors. On the one hand, economic unstability, and on the other hand, extremely unfavourable fodder conditions in 1988-1989 marked the beginning of the period which has been going on until now, with the lowest level of the furs storing up. For the last 10 years 27.05 furs have been stored up. The average yearly level of storing up is 2.7 thousand furs which is 2.8 times lower than the analogous index in 1952-1968, 2.3 times lower than in 1985-1988. The quantity of the sable was going down gradually in 1989-1998: 14-15 thousand head in 1989-1994, 11-12 thousand head in 1995-1997. Thus, nowadays we can ascertain 2.2-2.6 times decrease in the sable quantity on the hunting territory in comparison with the most favourable 60s.
The present-day quantity of the sable is at the minimum level of the years 1985-1988. The optimal quantity, as the calculations show, should be almost twice as big.
Such a situation with the sable resources and furs storing up has resulted from the combination of the main factors: excessive press of hunting (both legal and illegal) and furs realization at illegal sales markets.
Intensive sable hunting in the republic does not decrease nowadays. Together with lower sable hunting in the distant northern territories the loading of hunting in the territories near the railway became greater. Unproportionally small numbers of the caught sables are received by the procurement system, they mostly stay in the hunters hands. The real hunting amount in the recent years can be estimated 2-2.1 times higher than the level of storing up including the game reserves and the territories with allocated limits of hunting, and it is now 4-4.5 thousand head. 100-110% of the whole number of the caught animals stay with hunters. One of the reasons of such situation is ineffective price formation. Hunters are always in two minds: either to give the furs to a procurement organization or to sell them to somebody else at a price 2-3 or sometimes even 5 times higher than the procurement price.
The second reason is that hunters often get the furs in such conditions, by such means and at such work input that it is difficult to cover the expenses with the procurement prices.
Taking into consideration the hunters individual work character it is necessary to admit that it is impossible to neutralize the black market in full by administrative means.
According to the survey made among the district game wardens, for the recent 10 years the sable population has been negatively influenced by poaching in 8 districts out of 14, forest fires in 5 districts, hunting in 2 districts, forest cutting in 2 districts. In a number of districts complex anthropogenic influence is recorded: in the Kurumkan district all the above mentioned, in the Kizhinga district cuttings and fires, in the Selenginsk district hunting and poaching. Besides the influence of practically each factor is felt in each district though to smaller extent. First of all poaching influence is significant everywhere. According to the poll data in 14 districts, alongside with 226 hunters who hunt the sable legally, 380 hunt it illegally. The situation is especially serious in the territories without allocated hunting limits, in such places as the Mukhorshibir, Kyakhta, Dzhida, Zakamensk and Yeravna districts. This is what it is in reality: dozens of hunters go to catch other fur animals and often, as the polls say, hunt the sable illegally. All the efforts of game wardens to fight the sable poaching bring very insignificant results nowadays. The situation with poaching is admitted to be of mass and critical character.
The total land territory of the republic being 35,000 thousand hectares 41 hunting users had 28,080.6 thousand hectares (80.2%) at their disposal in 1997, the state reserve fund had 2,337.2 thousand hectares (6.7%). In 1997-1998 20 hunting users were hunting the sable on the territory of the total 20,236.1 thousand hectares which makes up 72.1% of the allotted hunting territories. Now the area of the sable habitat on that territory is 12,573 thousand hectares. In 1970-1980 the sable was hunted on the territory of 15,000-16,000 thousand hectares. Thus the decrease is about 2,500-3,500 thousand hectares, or in other words it is 16.6-21.8% and it reflect the total decrease of the sable quantity. The sable depression is felt in a number of territories including the Khorinsk, Yeravna, Dzhida and Zakamensk districts where the sable furs used to be stored up. Since 1988-1990 there is no official hunting there, the density is very low, less than 0.5 animals per 1 thousand hectares, and about 50% of those territories are not inhabited by the sable, according to the poll data. The natural  habitats have also decreased in the territories where there has been hunting in recent years, the Kurumkan, Selenginsk districts and others.
To restore the local sable populations settling them over Buryatia was organized in 1987-1991 (Sutula, Noskov, 1996). All in all 76 animal were let out including 49 in the Khorinsk district, 18 in the Bichura district, 9 in the Zakamensk district. Such work supported the local sable populations. According to the polls data 5 districts out of 14 need such kind of work now, letting out 90-105 animals. In the Baikal nature reserve in 1987-1991 89 sables were caught and delivered to be let out in the republic and outside it, and nowadays there is experience and opportunities. But there has been no work since 1991 because of lack of money.
In 1997 1,948.2 thousand hectares (5.5% of the land stock) were allotted to specially protected territories inhabited by the sable, including 1,036.2 thousand hectares (6.7%) to different kinds of 22 game reserves, 267 thousand hectares (0.8%) to 1 national park and 645 thousand hectares (1.8%) to 3 nature reserves. To preserve the sable the role of nature reserves is commonly acknowledged as the resources reservates and reproduction nucleus (Gusev 1961, 1966, Chernikin 1970, 1974 and oth.) including the Baikalsky reserve in the Khamar-Daban mountains or the Barguzin reserve in the North Eastern Baikal land. The average number of migrants and the hunting lands of the Baikalsky nature reserve are estimated as 150 animals (Popov, Sutula, 1991), an exclusively high role of the Barguzin nature reserve is shown for the sable population in the region.
In most districts of Buryatia there are game reserves and reproduction sections. But the poll data show that their role as reservates is much lower because of poaching.
In the recent 10 years mass sable migrations have been registered three times, in 1988-1989, 1993-1994 and 1996-1997. It is known that they were caused by high animals density in the distant taiga territories, by lack of the main food, low quantity of mouselike rodents, bad harvest of cedar nuts and other fruit and berries, as well as by early and heavy snowfalls. During the migrations sables were observed in the biotopes absolutely non-characteristic of them, near populated areas. The animal were easily attracted by baits, therefore poaching increased as well as illegal hunting with relatively small expenses. Observations show that years with poor harvest of the sables main food become more frequent in Buryatia in recent years, especially in the North Eastern Baikal land (Pribaikalye) (Chernikin, 1966).
According to observations on the territory of Buryatia and test analysis, in most districts there is a tendency of the colorographic structure changes in recent years. First of all the change means brightening of the sable fur and increase in the part of the Amur block. This field needs special research. Scientific information is also necessary nowadays to estimate the sable population and to forecast its quantity, including the migrations, quantity dynamics, sex and age structure, food base, physiological condition and reproductive process.  




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