“Shaytan-Tau” Natural State Reserve

Shaitan-Tau is a low mountain ridge, located at the border areas of Orenburg Oblast and the Republic of Bashkortostan, being in fact the most southern spur of the Ural.

Since ancient times this land has caught the man’s attention. According to one legend, the ridge was named Shaitan-Tau (from Bashkir «Devil’s Mountain») by the local Bashkir population and nomads because of its harsh climate conditions (characterized by frequent strong winds and large swings in temperature) and complex topography (the hight difference ranging between 237 m to 557,6 above the sea level).

The second name of the ridge is Dzyautyube (from Bashkir «the Warrior’s Mountain») and dates back to the nomad’s times, when the Bashkir and Kazach tribes often met in battles on top of the mountains, slopes and the forest valley lowlands of Shaitan-Tau.

In the 20th Century, this territory has consistently attracted the geographers and the biologists as a unique forest-steppe, situated at the intersection of landscape zones, orographic areas, and the habitats of particularly valuable and rare species of animals and plants. The major value of this area are the sylvan forest-steppes, being the best in their degree of conservation all around Eastern European steppe, from Prikarpattya to the Southern Urals.

The youngest Russian reserve “Shaitan-Tau” (established on October 9, 2014) is located in the North of Kuvandyksky District, of Orenburg Oblast’ and covers the middle part of the eponymous mountain range, on the right bank of the river Sakmara. The total area of the protected territory is 6.726 hectares.

The flora of the “Shaitan-Tau” ridge is composed of two main vegetation complexes, forming a combination of Eastern-European deciduous oak and linden forests, and different versions of grass-forb meadows and rocky steppes.

The forests are situated on saddles and stretch in the form of strips and tongues at the top of the eastern and northern slopes, going down to the Valley spurs of the Sakmara river.

The oak reigns over the eastern slopes of the exposures, but in the western slopes it is accompanied by the elm and linden, aspen and birch. The oak and the mixed deciduous forests lay in the center, and the top of the slopes, rising as tapering tongues in decomposition.

Mesophilic and hygro mesophilic forests with black alder in combination with shrubs and meadow communities can be seen growing over the narrow valleys of the rivers and streams. The slopes of the northern and other nearby exposures have higher forestry.

The flat watershed tops of Shaitan-Tau are reigned by steppes. The rocky peaks of the ridge and the tops of the southern slopes are treeless too. They are covered with rocky areas, feather grass and shrubland. The outputs of rocks, especially the limestones are rich in clumps of juniper Cossack. Down in the hollows a meadow steppe has its development.

The vegetation of Shaitan-Tau is of great scientific interest thanks to its border of expansion of diverse forest species, the bizarre combination of taiga (Orthilia secunda, Larix sibirica, and others.) and arid forms, and also thanks to the richness of relict and endemic species.

The Flora is represented by the following plant species: Dianthus uralensis, Dianthus acicularis, Hedȳsarum razoumoviānum, thyme of Mugalzhar,  Silene baschkirorum, Onosma guberlinensis, Festuca drymeja, Geranium robertianum, Aspérula graveólens, Orostachys, Linaria altaica, Sedum albertii, Juniperus sabina and many others.

The plants that are featured in the Red Book of Russian Federation are – Schivereckia podolica, Lilium tigrinum, Cypripedium calceolus, Iris humīlis, Stipa zalesskii, Stipa pulcherrima, Hedȳsarum razoumoviānum, Cephalanthera rubra, Fritillaria ruthenica.

The main characteristic of the animal world of Shaitan-Tau is the combination of steppe and forest species, featuring 40 species of mammals, 101 species of birds, 6 species of reptiles, 6 species of amphibians. The insect fauna is particularly rich-  43 species of beetles, 138 species of butterflies, 9 species of  Hymenopterans, 21 species of Diptera. Shaitan-Tau is the southern boundary of the expansion in Ural of the brown bear and capercaillie.

The entomofauna of the Shaitan-Tau territory is very diverse. This is due to the great variety of landscape conditions of habitat and plant communities, each of them having its own group of insects. Insects of different communities can be found here: steppe, meadow, forest, along the banks and streams — the water and wetland. The greatest diversity of insects is observed in the forest habitats, especially on the rich herbaceous forest meadows and fringes.

Several species of amphibians (Smooth newt, European fire-bellied toad, marsh frog, moor frog, common frog, also known as the European common frog) and reptiles (European pond turtle, slow worm, sand lizard, viviparous lizard or common lizard, the grass snake and Vipera ursinii) have established their dwelling on the territory of the reserve.

Representative birds include: eastern imperial eagle, european honey buzzard, hen harrier, black kite, sparrowhawk, black grouse or blackcock, short-eared owl, Eurasian golden oriole, great spotted woodpecker, crow,  grey partridge, ortolan bunting, and many others.

The mountain ridge of Shaitan-Tau is also home of such rare Russian species as, osprey, buzzard, serpent eagle, short-toed eagle, steppe eagle, spotted eagle, saker falcon, peregrine falcon, willow ptarmigan, Eurasian eagle-owl, as well as the western capercaillie and the tawny owl, which are protected in the oblast’ of Orenburg.

Among the 40 species of mammals living on the territory of Shaitan-Tau, the most characteristic are: elk, wild boars, brown bears, wolf, red fox, lynx, pine marten, European badger, American mink, mountain hare, Ural field mouse, steppe pika, russet ground squirrel, common vole, northern mole vole, common shrew.

Shaitan-Tau ridge remains today the least unchanged spot of the mountain sylvan forest-steppe, being unique in Russia, thence it is highly important to preserve its key habitats of the valuable mammal and bird species on the boundaries of the areals and habitats of the rare endemic and relict species of plants and animals, and to support high biological diversity.

The reserve is included in the united management of reservations of Orenburg and Shaitan-Tau  (FSBI “ Reserves of Orenburg).

Author: Polina Polezhankina

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