Kabardino-Balkaria Alpine Reserve
Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, Cherkessky and Sovetsky Districts
Kabardino-Balkaria Alpine Reserve was created for the preservation of high-altitude landscapes of the Central Caucasus, their flora and fauna, and, above all, the Caucasian aurochs and Caucasian leopard.
The area and boundaries of the park were changed many times, with the territory becoming more and more “alpine” and growing in size as the lower-elevation meadows were cut off and high-altitude area was added instead. The reserve’s territory now covers 358,400 hectares.
The reserve occupies the highest parts of the Caucasus and of Russia as a whole. Apart from Elbrus and Kazbek, all of the Caucasus’s “Five-Thousanders” (mountains of more than 5,000m) are located here, with the reserve’s highest point being the mountain Dykh-Tau at 5204m, and the lowest at 1800m.
There are 256 glaciers, with a total area (including the rocky glacial outlets of the nival zone) of 61% of the park’s territory. A dense network of rivers can also be found within the reserve, all starting from the park’s many glaciers.
The biggest rivers are the Chegem, the Cherek Bezengiysky and the Cherek Balkarsky, which all start at glaciers on the main ridge.
In terms of climate, the reserve sits within the high-altitude zone of the Greater Caucasus. The temperature range is determined by the specifics of the park’s atmospheric circulation and the wide range of altitudes. The absolute minimum regular temperature at an elevation of 2000m is -30ºC, and at an elevation of 4000m, around -50ºC. The warmest month is July, with average temperatures around +13ºC.
Flora and fauna
Vegetation is very varied because of the wide range of altitudes and the terrain’s complexity. The high-altitude zone is particularly well pronounced: forests and forested meadows give way to a subalpine belt, and then alpine. At 3000m, there is no continuous plant cover. On rocks and cliffs, lichen can be found, as well as creeping willow (Salix reptans), whiplash saxifrage (Saxifraga flagellaris), alpine sorrel (Oxyria digyna), and other species.
The reserve’s flora boasts many valuable plants and endemic or rare species, including relatives of cultivars such as the currant (specifically Ribes biebersteinii), mountain raspberry, rosehip, hawthorn, strawberry, and Caucasian mountain-ash.
A typical inhabitant of the alpine region is the Caucasian aurochs. Aurochs in different valleys have, to some extent, their own unique features, whether it’s a difference in colouring, size, shape or curliness of its horns.
Brown bears can be found everywhere in the park, and there are enough of them that attacks on livestock and pets are not unheard of. Lynxes are also a common sight, and this species feels quite at home in the reserve—much rarer, though, is the Caucasian leopard, which some claim to have spotted.
Each altitudinal belt has its own typical avian inhabitants. The red crossbill and the bullfinch live in pine forest, along with the boreal owl; thrushes and woodpeckers have adopted all kinds of forest as their habitat; and the jackdaw and red-billed chough may typically be found near cliffs in alpine steppe. The accentor and great rosefinch have made their homes amongst rare plants, and the rock sparrow can be seen everywhere.
What to see
The mountains of the Caucasus have always attracted adventure tourists, but the region is also ideal for observers and enthusiasts of nature. With the sheer variety of vegetation, rare animals, and impressive landscapes, you’ll find it easy to completely forget the city grind, relax, and discover new things.