Russian Desman Comes to Light

Desman. Photo by: Nikolai Shpilenok
Desman. Photo by: Nikolai Shpilenok

The field phase of the “Chuvash Prisurie, the region to save the Russian desman” project came to an end in the Prisursky State Nature Reserve.  For several months, scientists examined the territory of Nizhnee Prisurie where this animal is supposed to inhabit. The Russian desman is a rare animal that hasn’t been found in the Chuvash Republic and neighboring regions since 2001.

The Russian desman (Desmana moschata) is an insectivorous mammal of the mole family, able to swim and dig underground holes, but rarely coming to the surface. In the XIX century desmans were exterminated because of their valuable fur, which led to a sharp decrease in the number of these animals. It is roughly estimated that today the population of "water moles" is about 30 thousand individuals. The Russian desman inhabits the territory of Central Russia; its natural habitat is limited by the Don, Dnieper, Volga and Ural River basins. Very rarely the animal can be found in Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine. The Russian desman is one of two surviving species of the tribe Desmanini, the other being the Pyrenean desman, found in the Pyrenean Mountains between France and Spain, as well as in the mountains of Central Portugal.

In the Red Book of Chuvashia the Russian desman was recognized as extinct. But in 2016, scientists found that the animal inhabits some lakes in the western part of the Prisursky reserve. In the summer of 2018 samples of invertebrates that are basis of desmans’ diet were collected on the bottom of some lakes. The obtained data was used to monitor 26 floodplain lakes in October 2018.

"Preliminary data suggest the presence of a stable population of Russian desmans. Their number in large forest lakes that are of the most interest for the animal can reach five families”, said Director of the Prisursky Nature Reserve Evgeny Osmelkin.

Participants of the project will discussed proposals for the protection of the desman habitats in the Chuvash Republic at a round table in November. The Natural Resources and Ecology Ministry of the Chuvash Republic and the Environmental and Scientific Community will take part in the November meeting. In the future, a specially protected natural area for the preservation of the Russian desman will be created. 

The Prisursky State Nature Reserve is located in Chuvashia and is divided into three parts covering the central zone of the Prisursky forest. The reserve preserves a large number of species of plants, animals and birds listed in the National Red Book and the Red Book of the Russian Federation.