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Explore the Spectacular Shulgan Tash Reserve

The Shulgan-Tash reserve in Russia's southern Ural Mountains features spectacular rolling hills, imposing cliffs, densely forested areas, flowering meadows, sparkling rivers and ancient, mysterious caves, offering adventurous travelers a host of options to explore. Classified as a protected area, or Zapovednik, Shulgan-Tash is prohibited from being developed and is intended to remain an untamed region in this vast country of contrasts. The reserve is home to the hardy, but rare, Buzyan honeybees which are prolific producers of honey, even in the harsh winter temperatures of the Ural Mountains. The bees are protected and cared for by trained beekeepers who harvest the honey in much the same way as has been done for centuries. The indigenous fireweed and linden trees the bees harvest nectar from, give the honey its unique flavor.

Eroded by the relentless forces of the Shulgan River over countless years, the underground caverns known as the Kap Caves penetrate almost three kilometers into the mountainside. Evidence of human habitation going back around 15,000 years includes drawings on the cave walls depicting various large animals and hunting scenes. These drawings are considered to be the most ancient in Eastern Europe.

Shulgan-Tash has a wide variety of flora and fauna, among which are a large population of brown bears (Ursus arctos). The brown bear is often associated with Russia, and is seen as its national symbol by many. Adult bears can weigh up to 635 kg and have very large, curved claws which they used effectively to hunt, fish, and ward of threats. In fact, apart from man, brown bears to not have any predators to fear. They are also partial to honey and can devastate a bee colony if they gain access to one.

Other animals commonly found in Shulgan-Tash include badgers, otters, moose, wild boar and hedgehogs. Rodents found in the reserve include mountain hares, red squirrels, Siberian flying squirrels, Siberian chipmunks and common shrews. As its name suggests, the flying squirrel's best defense against its predators is to "fly" between trees and branches. It does this by spreading its legs out wide, thereby opening up flaps of skin stretching between its front and rear legs. This membrane, called a patagium, allows the little animal to glide between trees for up to a distance of a hundred meters – an amazing sight and an effective means of escape.

Birding enthusiasts will have plenty to see, as the reserve is home to almost two hundred species, including tawny and grey owls, common buzzard, osprey, peregrine falcon, white-tailed eagles and short-toed snake-eagle, as well as cranes, quails, crakes, woodpeckers, capercaille and greenshanks. Certainly, this protected area of Russia is a nature-lover's treasure trove.


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