Our beautiful planet: the hidden land of fire and ice | Eco Africa | DW | 13.10.2017
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Eco Africa

Our beautiful planet: the hidden land of fire and ice

For a century, Russia's nature reserves — with the world's strictest wildlife protections — have been largely off-limits to humans. One of them, Kronotsky, boasts geysers, active volcanoes and 800 brown bears.

This year marks a century since the last tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, formally approved a plan to close a vast swathe of Siberian forest to the public - one of his final acts before the Russian empire collapsed in the 1917 revolution.

The original aim was to prevent the extinction of a weasel-like creature called the Siberian Sable, highly valued for its fur. But it also founded a unique nature reserve system extending over an area the size of France and rated by the UN as having the world's highest level of protection for wildlife.

Kronotsky Nature Reserve in Russia. Photo credit: (picture-alliance/Wildlife/I. Shpilenok)

Kronotsky volcano looming large

The rules governing these nature reserves, known as zapovedniki in Russian, are so strict, and some are so remote, that very few of Russia's own population have ever been inside one.

Since their foundation, only scientists, rangers and students had been allowed to visit these nature reserves, which conservationists have strived hard to protect and study. But government initiatives launched in 2011 mean many of these nature reserves are opening to a limited number of visitors

Nature protection in these zapovedniki is stricter than for the world's national parks, such as Yellowstone in the US, where hikers can roam, which have hundreds of kilometers of paved roads, and where the attitude is recreation together with conservation.

Russia also has national parks, but these don't come with such high protections as their more than 100 zapovedniki.

Kronotsky Nature Reserve in Russia. Photo credit: Imago/Mint Images.

The geysers in Kronotsky Nature Reserve can be deadly

Kronotsky, in Russia's remote far east, is one of these nature reserves. It extends more than 10,000 square kilometers and is home to Russia's only geyser basin. A small valley, discovered in 1975, earned the name "death valley" after it was found to regularly kill animals who perish from the high concentration of poisonous gases, among hydrogen sulfide, rising from the earth.

Brown bears in Kronotsky Nature Reserve. Photo credit: Imago/Zumapress.

Brown bears in Kronotsky Nature Reserve enjoy the world's highest wildlife protections

It also boasts several volcanoes, both extinct and active. This, combined with its harsh, icy climate, has earned it the nickname the "Land of Fire and Ice."

The reserve also has around 800 brown bears, some weighing as much as 650kg, making it one of the species' largest protected populations in the world.

Few people have ever stepped foot inside Kronotsky Nature Reserve. Photo credit: Imago/ITAR-TASS.

Few people have ever stepped foot inside Kronotsky Nature Reserve

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