Population of elks growing in Tatarstan

How effective a programme on their revival has turned out to be and what other animals our forests will be replenished with

Population of elks growing in Tatarstan

Employees of the republican State Committee for Biological Resources visited a nature reserve in Bilyar. The specialists went there to feed marals — a subspecies of the red deer whose population Tatarstan is trying to restore. It turned out that they used to live in our forests. The first Altai marals appeared in game reserves of the republic seven years ago, after adaptation they began to be released, nowadays their population in the republic already total over 500 animals. Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent learnt the specifics of breeding these animals and why precisely they were chosen.

Given its specifics, the maral is what we need

Historical sources and results of digs of campfire pits near ancient settlements show that deer could be met in forests on the territory of today’s Tatarstan some 200 years ago. But the environment changed, hunters made their contribution too so that many species of these animals gradually went extinct. Specialists say that even reindeer used to live in the republic’s forests approximately 150 years ago. It was decided to restore the population of the red deer in Tatarstan just some 10 years ago, and a big programme kicked off on the Tatarstan president’s initiative in 2012.

The biggest and most spread subspecies of the red deer — maral — was chosen. This animal mostly lives in Altai and the south of Eastern Siberia. But we can say this animal has become almost domesticated, even a special agricultural breed was developed — Altai wapiti. There are several arguments why precisely this subspecies of deer was chosen in Tatarstan’s forests. Firstly, it isn’t prone to conflict with a man, due to being domesticated it isn’t afraid of people, secondly, it is omnivorous, and thirdly, it can live both in broad-leaved and coniferous forests.

As ex-employee of the State Committee Yury Pavlov who participated in the programme and today chairs Khalzan farm of rare birds in Sverdlovsk Oblast told Realnoe Vremya, “launching the maral programme we clearly understood that the maral was the structure they were lost, given not the name but its functional specifics it was what we needed. It will occupy the niche that at the moment nobody occupies among this species in Tatarstan’s forests.

The biggest and most spread subspecies of the red deer — maral — was chosen

Number of marals grows and they migrate

The first batch of the species — 27 heads — was brought to the republic in winter 2013, in general 300 marals have been brought from Altai in several years. Today the marals amount to more than 560 species: 210 inhabit the natural environment, the rest is kept in open-air cages, head of the department that monitors the animal world in the State Committee for Biological Resources Ilfat Valeyev told our newspaper. Specialists don’t yet say the target number of the animals, as their amount is small enough, they still have to determine the economically feasible amount of the animals.

The programme on red deer breeding is designed for 15 years at the moment. Everything will depend on the population’s dynamics. The committee’s experts estimate that marals settle down quite quickly in local conditions and proliferate. For instance, 13 female deer annually give birth to 8 calves in the Bilyar reserve.

Marals began to be released into the wild in 2016: the first 30 marals were released in the Meshensky and Bilyar nature reserves where, as representatives of the State Committee for Biological Resources say, there is no reason for concern, there is no hunting. They try to accommodate the deer in a place less populated with wild carnivorous animals — wolves, bears — who pose an obvious threat to the growth of the population of marals, mostly it is specially protected areas, particularly public game reserves. According to Ilfat Valeyev, the animals that were released into the wild nature quickly adapted to the natural habitat and constantly breed.

“Their number grows, they migrate, inhabit other districts. Those marals that were released in the Bilyar nature reserve in Aksubayevo District and their progeny can already be seen in Alekseyevsk, Spassk, Nurlat and Tetyushi Districts. Hunting in Tatarstan nature reserves in general is prohibited until 2024, excluding the regulation of the number of carnivorous animals and boars. And such conditions favour the life and growth of the population of marals.”

Roe deer and sika deer will diversify the animal world

Marals aren’t typical animals for our area. They primarily live in Siberia’s mountains. In general, around 80% of the marals that live on the territory of Russia live in Altai, on its snowless slopes, eat branches of trees, bushes, grass and roots. The only difficulty they have to face that happens mainly in winter is a very thick snow cover because of which it is hard for marals to get food. Then nature and game reserves come to the rescue — they prepare branches, hay, buy grain in advance. As specialist of the Bilyark state reserve Yury Isayev says where 30 red deer live, “a maral eats half a kilo of grain a day, while we purchase 16 tonnes of barley and 7 tonnes of bran for them, this should be more than enough”.

By the way, not only marals but also roe and sika deer are brought to Tatarstan forests within the programme. The latter account for around 250 species in open-air cages. Next year, the committee plans to release 50 sika deer to the wild, which will diversify the animal world of our forests more. As for roe deer, their population has increased to 5,000 in the last 10 years. If hunting on them is banned, now the State Committee for Biological Resources grants 120 permits to hunt this subspecies of deer to control the population. The programme is funded by both the Tatarstan budget and users of game reserves who allocate some part of the profit to develop their households. Today game reserves in seven districts actively breed marals in Tatarstan.

By Angelina Panchenko