The Prioksko-Terrasny Nature Biosphere Reserve is an area almost totally (93%) covered with woods. Pine, spruce, linden, birch, and oak are the most well-known of more than 960 species of plants growing here. The most attractive feature of the reserve is its fauna: about 140 species of birds, 8 species of fish, 10 species of amphibia, 56 species of mammals and, finally, it's true gem — European and American bisons. There are many foxes. Elks usually come to spend the winter in the reserve. There are also boars, deers, roes, moles, hedgehogs, hares, martens, beavers, squirrels, rats, and mice.
The «bison» part of the reserve's history begins in 1948 when the Bison Breeding Centre was created here. The first thoroughbred bisons, used to restore the livestock population, had been brought fr om Poland and the Białowieża Forest. The breeding centre is now known all over the world and is a kind of a trademark for the Serpukhovsky District of the Moscow region: there's even a bison on the district's crest.
A bison is an unofficial symbol of the wildlife protection movement all over the world. It is the largest ungulate animal in Europe. Bison fossils found by scientists are 1.5 million years old which means that its ancestors saw the living mammoth first hand! There is another peculiar fact: the bison is a singular species in the world that has survived in captivity only, but it still exists, breeds and successfully returns to its natural habitat. In the wild the bison was totally exterminated in the 1920s. It took outstanding effort by biologists to get then to return to living nature.
The reserve's scientists specialize in restoring this dying species. The bisons brought up in the reserve are released into the areas of their natural habitat. Also, various biological and ecological studies of this animal are conducted, new breeding methods and wildlife preservation techniques are developed.
Adult bisons and their calves live in special enclosures, separated by wire-mesh fencing. Usually each enclosure is occupied by one family that consists of one male, several females and calves. When a bison is 10 months old he is separated from his parents and moved to a separate enclosure. The bisons brought up in the reserve are gradually released into the wild. They are sent to other regions of Russia as well as to Belarus, Ukraine, the Baltic States and other countries. In the Prioksko-Terrasny Nature Biosphere Reserve there are usually about 60 bisons of different age.
Visitors and all nature-lovers have the opportunity to take part in an ecological action called «Adopt a Bison», which started in 2004. For a relatively small fee you can adopt a little bison. It will be given a name chosen by a «parent» (it has to start with the «moo» syllable) and the parent gets a bison adoption certificate. The foster parent's name is put on a special plate in the enclosure. You can visit the bison and feed it. The reserve's employees hold special «parents» meetings» during which they report on the baby's life and development and how the money donated is being spent.
A walk around the reservation takes about an hour and a half. During this time guests cover a distance of about 1.5 kilometers and get to know bisons and wisents. One can also visit the Nature Museum to learn more about the flora and fauna of the south of the Moscow region. Finally, one can visit a station for a comprehensive background monitoring program, wh ere one see special meteorological and radiation control devices. For children there is a special program including a visit to the house of Leshy (a spirit of the woods in Slavic legends) and a funny game near an anthill during which one can learn a lot about how ants live.
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