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Lake Baikal

Brief Description

Situated in south-east Siberia, the 3.15-million-ha Lake Baikal is the oldest (25 million years) and deepest (1,700 m) lake in the world. It contains 20% of the world's total unfrozen freshwater reserve. Known as the 'Galapagos of Russia', its age and isolation have produced one of the world's richest and most unusual freshwater faunas, which is of exceptional value to evolutionary science.

Justification for Inscription

The Committee inscribed Lake Baikal as the most outstanding example of a freshwater ecosystem on the basis of natrual criteria (vii), (viii), (ix) and (x). It is the oldest and deepest of the world´s lakes containing nearly 20% of the world´s unfrozen freshwater reserve. The lake contains an outstanding variety of endemic flora and fauna, which is of exceptional value to evolutionary science. It is also surrounded by a system of protected areas that have high scenic and other natural values. The Committee took note of the confirmation of the revised boundaries of the site, which correspond to the core areas defined in the Baikal Law (excluding the five urban developed areas). It also noted that the special Lake Baikal Law is now in its second reading in the Duma. Finally, it noted concern over a number of integrity issues including pollution, which should be brought to the attention of the Russian authorities.

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The Lake of Baikal is situated in East Siberia and is justly regarded as one of the miracles of Nature. It is the deepest (1,637 m) and the most ancient lake on the Earth – it is more than 25 million years old. Despite its age, Lake Baikal is not going to die, quite the opposite, its shores are drifting apart at the speed of 2 cm a year and geophysicists say that Baikal is an incipient ocean. Being 600 km long and from 27 to 79 km wide, Baikal contains huge water volumes – 23,000 m3, which is more than the volume of all the American Great Lakes together.
Lake Baikal contains 20% of the Earth’s fresh surface water. The remarkable clarity of its waters is maintained thanks to a small quantity of suspended substances and endemic plankton crayfish – epishura. The water’s transparency at Baikal comes up to 40 metres. This pearl of Russia is surrounded by beautiful mountain ranges: the Primorsky, Baikalsky, Barguzinsky and the Khamar-Daban ridges. More than 300 rivers flow into Lake Baikal, the largest of them is the Selenga River. Only one river – Angara – flows out of the lake, it is called “Daughter of Baikal”. There are 22 islands at Baikal; the most famous is Olkhon Island. A legend says that Olkhon is a place of wild spirits. Olkhon is famous for its large number of sunny days – the sun there shines brightly more than 300 days a year. There is also a famous Shaman-Stone, a place, where shamans lived in old times.
Lake Baikal is a biodiversity champion. 75% of 2635 species of animals and plants discovered at the lake are endemic – they can be found nowhere else in the world. The lake is a breeding ground for the only sea mammal – Baikal seal, and Lake Baikal is also famous for its omul-fish. The indigenous people of Baikal are the Evenks, then about 700 years ago there settled the Buryats. The Russians came to Pribaikalie in the 17-th century with the arrival of the 50-year-old Kurbat Ivanov who drew a map of Baikal. What does the name of the lake mean? According to the most popular theory, the word “Baikal” is of Turkic descent and is originated from “bai” – “rich”, “kul” – “lake”. So we have: “rich lake”.
In 1996 Baikal was declared a site of UNESCO World Heritage. The total area of Baikal World Heritage Site by UNESCO is 8.8 million ha, 3.15 million of them are the lake surface and 1.9 of them are occupied by three reserves (Baikalsky, Zabaikalsky, Barguzinsky) and two national parks (Pribaikalsky, Tunkinsky). Five urbanized industrially developed territories are excluded from the Site (Baikalsk, Sludyanka, Kultuk, Babushkin and Severobaikalsk). The Selenga river delta is under the protection of the RAMSAR Convention on wetlands as it is a key spot of Norh Asia in the flyway of migrant birds of the world.

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People at the Baikal

In the first half of the first millenium AD Turkic people separated out from the Hun tribes inhabiting that time southern Siberia. They spread all over the vast areas of Siberia, Altai, Central Asia, the Caucasus and Turkey.
Scientists believe in the late Stone Age (and possibly in the Bronze Age) Turkic peoples – the Kurykans – lived around the Baikal. These ancient tribes were semi-nomads and lived in large permanent settlements. Their major activities were hunting and fishing. They prey on mammoths, bison, and deer. These people could make a fire, had a calendar and counting system. Since the late Stone Age there have preserved numerous rock carvings in the Baikal mountains depicting animals and people – sailing in boats or hunting. They manufactured instruments of rocks and bones, could make clothing and crockery, constructed both permanent dwellings of poles, turf and flagstones, and light temporary dwellings (Maltinsky site, Olkhin site). Excavations reveled ancient instruments and hunting weapon in caves near the Obuteikha bay, the Skriper bay, the town of Koty, Kadilny cape, the Aya bay and the Anga river, the Olkhon Island, the Bolshoy Ushkaniy Island, the Pescherka bay, Ludar cape, Boguchansky cape and other sites. The most prominent site depicting the architecture, culture and lifestyle of the period (2nd century BC – 1st century AD) is Ivolginskoe settlement with the adjoining burial ground. The basic activities of the inhabitants were cattle-breeding, farming, iron and bronze casting, smithery.
Another ancient ethnic group inhabiting the Baikal area was Tungus group – the Evenks and the Evens. Up to the early 18th century Evenks inhabited the entire shoreline of the lake and the nearby taiga forests. Today Evenks live in Bauntovsky, Severo-Baikalsky and Kurumkansky districts.
In the beginning of 13th century Mongol tribes populated the Baikal and nearby areas. The tribes had totem names after animals and birds. The tribes had diversified activities – some were engaged in hunting, other tribes were “majoring” in fishing and cattle breeding. By the late 17th century the scattered tribes formed the Buryat people. They intensified their cattle breeding and agriculture. They used to grow millet, buckwheat, and barley. They developed blacksmith and other crafts. Men manufactured weapons and household hardware, wooden frames for yurta’s (tents) and carts, produced ropes and harness. Women processed leather and made footwear and clothing, as well as the felt for covering their yurta’s. The villages were mostly situated along rivers. Unlike the Tungus and other peoples, the Buryats had permanent settlements. Shamanism is widely spread among the Buryats as a form of religion; it is based on a belief in the shaman who can communicate with spirits during his ritual ecstasies: shamans dressed in special clothing play the tambourine and use frantic dances, hypnosis, ventriloquism, and different tricks to get into the world of spirits. Every shaman had special ritual clothing, tambourine, a special stick and pictures of spirits (ongons). A tambourine symbolized the universe. It called for the spirits and frightened away enemies. Pendants and bells all over the clothing were to call for or frighten away the spirits. Shamans were the first medics who tried to cure bodies by healing a spirit.


The Baikal region natural areas of preferential protection

The Baikal region has 5 natural reserves, 3 national parks, 25 conservation areas and over 200 natural monuments and other unique objects.
The areas of national parks have different standards of preferential protection according to their natural, historical, cultural and other peculiarities. The national parks may establish different functional zones including a reserved zone (prohibiting any economic and recreation activity); zone of preferential protection (with strictly limited admission); zone of environmental tourism; recreation zone for regular tourists; zone of historical and cultural objects protection; tourism service zone; technical zone (facilities of a national park).
Any activity, which may damage the natural complex, flora, fauna and historical-cultural objects, is prohibited within the national parks’ area. The administration of parks and reserves annually assigns the tariffs for visitors.
Tourists and other visitors may not enter reserves except for specially approved routes.

Protected areas of the Baikal region

I. Barguzinsky State Natural Biosphere Reserve
Barguzinsky State Natural Biosphere Reserve is a natural area of preferential federal protection; it entirely belongs to “Lake Baikal” World Heritage item. Barguzinsky Reserve is one of the oldest natural reserves in Russia. It was established as early as 1916 to protect the population of the barguzinsky sable. Today the Reserve is a complex establishment, i.e. it is aimed at protection and studying the entire natural objects within: animals, plants, biocenosis, and natural complexes. The environmental system of the Reserve has never been affected by anthropogenous factors except for hunting of the local population till 1916. The adjacent areas hadn’t any economic activities either but for hunting.
The Reserve is located on the northeast shore of Lake Baikal covering western slope of the Barguzinsky ridge central part. In the west the Reserve borders upon the lake’s shore and 3-km water area; in the south it borders upon Zabaikalsky National Park. Along the shoreline the Reserve covers about 100 km. The Reserve’s area is 374 thousand hectares, including 15 thousand hectares of the lake’s water area and 111 thousand hectares – the biosphere ground.
The Reserve is of paramount importance in preserving the region’s biological diversity: 2 species of birds nesting within the area – the erne and the black stork – are listed in the World Red Book. Among the rare and endangered species of Russia there are 3 species of lichen, 5 species of flowers, 16 species of birds, 2 species of fishes, and 2 species of insects. Among the endangered species of Buryatia there are 6 species of lichen, 38 species of flowers, 6 species of mammals, 49 species of birds, 3 species of reptiles, 1 species of amphibian, 3 species of fishes and 2 species of insects.

II. Pribaikalsky National Park
Pribaikalsky National Parkwas established in 1986. It is situated on the western shore of the lake between Kultuk town in the south and Kocherikovsky (Onkholoy) cape in the north. The total area of the Park is 418 thousand hectares. The park covers eastern (proper Baikal) slopes of the Olkhinskoe plateau and the Primorsky ridge, as well as the Olkhon Island and islands of the Maloe More strait. The Park has 54 natural memorial sites (geological, hydrological, botanic, zoological and complex ones). Those are first of all objects associated with specific forms of natural processes both in recent times and long ago. Vulture eagle (World Red Book, List of globally rare bird species, Red Book of RF) builds its aerie only within northern parts of the Baikal area (the Olkhon Island and its area). The eagle is a true prototype of the sacred “White-headed Eagle”, that is one of the top divinities of the Buryat shamanism.
The Park’s rivers and lakes have about 25 species of fishes. The most valuable species are taymen, lenok, and black grayling. An important mission of the Park is to discover and protect spawning areas. Among the terrestrial vertebrates of the Park there are 7 species of amphibians and reptiles, 62 species of mammals (including 10 insectivorous, 2 hares, 8 chiropterans, 22 rodents, 13 predators, 5 hoofed species and 1 pinnipedian) and over 300 species of birds.
The Park’s flora consists of over 1,100 species of vascular plants, one-third of which requires preferential protection (endemic species, relic species, species with limited dissemination, extinctive species, and other). Among those there are 21 endemic species of the Western Baikal area, about 30 species of common Baikal endemic species, 30 relic species, over 100 species inhabiting the borders of the area, and numerous small-population specious as well as especially valuable dominating plant associations with limited or specific dissemination. Officially only 70 species are entitled to the Red Book protection, that is absolutely insufficient.
Botanic memorials are local rare species and associations (relic fir-wood on the Olkhon Island), some detached outstanding trees (Courage of Life cedar on a rocky cliff of Vnuchka bay).
Zoological memorials are colonies of aquatic birds and waterfowls at small rocky islands of the Maloe More strait. That is the area of largest Baikal colonies of silver gulls, quite large nesting-places of ducks. This area provides for the largest “winter quarters” in East Siberia for waterfowls. The Angara-river outflow makes a huge ice-hole on the lake’s surface big enough to house up to 10-15 thousand ducks (mostly golden-eyes).

III. Zabaikalsky National Park
Zabaikalsky National Park was established in 1986 within the territory of the Republic of Buryatia in order to protect a unique natural complex of the Baikal drainage basin. The Park comprises such outstanding complexes of extraordinary beauty as Svyatoy Nos peninsula, southern part of the Barguzinsky ridge down to Barguzinsky Reserve, Chivyrkuisky and Barguzinsky bays, the Ushkaniy Islands archipelago, etc.
Zabaikalsky National Park is one of the few Russian national parks that completely meet the UNESCO recommendations for “Unique, well-preserved natural environment systems and landscapes, located within compact territories with sufficient areas”. Within the Park’s borders there are 3 settlements with the total population of 180 people.
The National Park’s area is 269.1 thousand hectares, all the lands are property of the Park; and 37 thousand hectares of the lake’s water area (13.8% of the total Park’s area).
Zabaikalsky National Park is located within a typical mountain-taiga region; it has a mountainous relief. There are the following large orographic units within the Park’s area: the Svyato-Nossky ridge, the Barguzinsky ridge, Chivyrkuisky isthmus and the Ushkaniy Islands. Chivyrkuisky isthmus connects Svyatoy Nos peninsula with eastern shore of the Baikal. The Ushkaniy Islands (the Bolshoi Ushkaniy Island and the Small Ushkaniy Islands) are summits of the Academichesky ridge, which divides the Baikal hollow into two depressions: northern and southern. A terrestrial border of the National Park follows the watershed of the Barguzin-river basin, which flows outside the Park. Within the National Park there are lots of small rivers. All of them have closed drainage basins and flow into the Baikal. The most significant rivers are: the Big Cheremshana, the Small Cheremshana, and the Big Chivyrkuy.
The largest lakes of the Park are the Arangatuy and the Small Arangatuy; they are located at Chivyrkuisky isthmus and connected with Chivyrkuisky bay. The third largest lake is the Barmashovo. It is known for its mineral waters. Besides the Park has over two dozens of karst lakes.
The Park has over 10 thousand hectares of valuable plantations, including pine (Pinus sylvestris), Gmelin larch (Larix gmelinii), cedar (Pinus sibirica), and Siberian silver fir (Abies sibirica) of 200 years of age and older. Among the especially valuable there are the associations of cedar creeper (Pinus pumila) and low cedar thicket (Betula divaricata). Another rare valuable species of the area is chosenia (Chosenia arbutifolia). Preliminary estimates indicate that the Park’s flora comprises over 700 species of vascular plants. The Park has a lot of species subject to the Red Book of Russian Federation, 19 endemic species, 9 species rare in the Baikal area, including Triling borodinia (Borodinia tilingii); 291 species of terrestrial vertebrates – 44 species of mammals, 241 – birds, 3 – reptiles, and 3 – amphibians. The Ushkaniy Islands are the most important rookery the Baikal seal (Phoca sibirica). 49 species of terrestrial vertebrates of the Park are listed in the Red Book of Russia and/or Buryatia.
The National Park has lots of unique natural objects, 17 items were declared natural memorials even before the Park was established. Those are landscape natural memorials (Ongo-Konsky cape, the Bolshoi Baklany Island, the Ushkaniy Islands), geological objects (Malo-Cheremshanskaya cave, singing sands, the Bolshoi Kyltygey Island and the Maly Kyltygey Island, the Kameshek-Bezymyanny Island), water objects (springs: Zmeiny, Kulinykh Bolot, Nechaevsky; Lake Arangatuy), botanic objects (Cheremshanskaya grove).
The Park’s historical and cultural complex comprises objects of natural history (the intersections: Monakhovskaya, Nizhne-Izgolovskaya, Zimoveyno-Mysskaya, Shimayskaya), lots of archaeological sites including Stone Age sites, burial sites of II century BC and later nomads of XIV-XV centuries, traces of ancient irrigation system, 35 settlements of the Bronze Age and earlier Iron Age. The Dzherginsky State Natural Reserve was established in 1992 on the basis of Dzherginsky state complex reserve (42.2 thousand hectares), which had been set up in 1974 subordinate to Hunting Industry Department of Buryatia. Dzherginsky State Natural Reserve was enlarged by means of areas of Verkhne-Barguzinsky forestry of Buryatia.

IV. Dzherginsky State Natural Reserve
Dzherginsky State Natural Reserve is locates in Kurumkansky District of Buryatia. The central facilities of the Reserve are situated in Maysky town. The geographical position of the Reserve is unique: it is locates in the eastern part of Northeast Baikal area, at the junction of three large mountain ridges – the Barguzinsky, the Ikatsky and the South-Muysky ridge. The district belongs to a vault raising of the Stanovoy ridge towards the Baikal mountain belt. The Amurskaya relic glacial hollow is a charming and admirable heart of the Reserve. The hollow has a network of crystal-clear lakes. The Reserve’s area is 238,088 hectares, including 894 hectares of water areas. The Reserve covers 19% of Kurumkansky District. It has lots of sights: hot mineral springs (Allinsky, Kuchigersky, Umkheysky, Garginsky, Seyuisky), deserts, lakes of the Amur hollow, Ininsky stone garden, stone graveyard in Barguzin valley. Today there have been discovered plantation sites of 18 rare and endangered species of vascular plants in different attitude belts, including those enlisted in the World red Book.

V. Baikalsky Reserve
The Biosphere Reserve. It was established in 1969 and located south of Lake Baikal, the republic of Buryatia, Kabansky District; the total area is 165,724 hectares. The Reserve includes the central part of the Khamar-Daban ridge (both slopes) and some parts of southern shore of the Baikal adjacent to the northern slope of the ridge. The Reserve is located within territories of three districts of Buryatia: Kabansky, Selenginsky and Dzhidinsky. The highest massifs (up to 2 – 2.3 km above sea level) are located in the central parts of the Reserve with the highest peak Sokhor (2,316 m).
In 1986 the Reserve was classified as a biosphere reserve, i.e. the one including both protection and research activities within and outside its borders. The Reserve has become a safe place for many wild animals and plants (787 plant species including 180 valuable medical, technical, forage and food plants). The Reserve has about 40 rare Siberian plants, some of them are listed in the Russian Red Book. The Khamar-Daban mountains are the only place for an endemic species – an extraordinarily beautiful and mysterious dark-blue flower with a bright yellow kernel – the Baikal Svercia. The western part of the reserve has silver fir plantations. The local fauna includes 48 species of mammals and 260 species of birds. Only northwest areas of the Reserve were disturbed by economic activities – the Reserve borders upon a railroad mainline there. The Reserve has over 300 species of vertebrates including some very rare species – golden eagle, erne, sparrow-hawk. For many migrating species the Reserve is a shelter, which preserves their total population at the optimal level.

VI. Tunkinsky National Park
The National Park was established in 1991. It covers the area of 1,183 hectares. The Park is a beautiful place of nature and one of the largest national parks in Russia. Its features include Tunkin loach, diverse landscapes, and numerous healing springs. It has rare and unique plant species and a diverse fauna, including 62 species of birds enlisted in the Red Book of Buryatia. The Park preserves snow leopard, Siberian mountain goat, black stork, Gumennik goose, golden eagle, erne, and other rare species.
Tunkinsky National Park was established in 1991. It comprises almost the entire territory of Tunkinsky District. The idea was to protect the natural complex of specific environmental, historical and aesthetic value, and to carry out the traditional economic activities in a combined mode (i.e. limited activities).
The Park has numerous geological memorials: mineral springs in valleys (Arshan, Nilova Poustyn), Buddhist and pagan sanctuaries, shamanism ceremonies sites. Extinct volcanoes near Saganur and Khuray-Khobok villages are of Quaternary period.
“Bely Yar” outcrop near Tunka village is of the most interesting and explored sections of Quaternary sediments of Tunkinsky valley. A waterfall at the Kyngerga-river sheds its waters from a 12-meter height. It is a popular tourist sight. Among other sights of the Park one can mention mineral springs (over 200 known springs), carbonic radon thermae of Shumak, carbonic resort of Arshan, methane thermae of Zhemchugsky spring with a hydropathical clinic, chalybeate springs of Khongor-Uuly, siliceous radon thermae of Nilova Poustyn, and hydro-sulfuric springs of Khalun-Ugun. Baikal-Lensky Reserve

VII. Baikalo-Lensky Reserve
It was established in 1986. The total area is 659,912 hectares, including the lands withdrawn from Kachugsky forestry enterprise (613,555 hectares), Olkhonsky forestry lands (45,915 hectares), and Olkhonsky collective farm lands (449 hectares). The Reserve is located on northwest shore of Lake Baikal. This is the largest natural reserve area at the Baikal (and 14th largest reserve in Russia). The reserve includes 110 km of the shoreline from the Kheyrem-river to Elokhin cape, a part of the Baikalsky ridge, and upper Lena – a great Siberian river – with its tributaries. The Lena (4,400 km long) is the longest river in Russia and number 10 in the world. Elokhon cape is a border between Irkutsk Region and the Republic of Buryatia.
The major part of the Reserve’s territory is covered with taiga forests of different types. The shore has traces of ancient relic steppes. The Reserve has over 800 plant species, including 36 endemic species and 9 species entitled in the Red Book; diverse mosses (230 species), lichens (248 species) and mushrooms (about 100 species). Besides the Reserve has 50 species of animals, and about 240 species of birds. The Reserve is famous for its brown bear population; one of the floristries was named “Brown Bears’ Shore”. The Reserve has such rare and interesting birds as erne, black stork, scoter, and gray crane.
The territory has lots of interesting tourist sights: upper Lena, Solntsepad mountain crossing, Ryty cape, the remains of the eldest volcanoes on the planet – cape Pokoyniki and cape Sredny Kedrovy.
The local flora consists of over 800 species of vascular plants, including 27 rare species, 10 species of the Red Book, and 36 endemic species. The Reserve has diverse mosses (230 species), lichens (248 species) and mushrooms (about 100 species).
The fauna includes Siberian complex with elements of mountain-taiga, southern taiga, as well as mountain and steppe fauna. The Reserve has 49 mammal species, 241 species of birds, that is 60% of ornithological fauna of the Baikal area.
The cape Zavorotny and cape Sredny Kedrovy are the place of the only Russian deposit of abrasive quartzite, developed by the expedition “Baikal Quartz Samotsvety”. These 8,546 hectares of land disturbed by economic activities are not included into the Reserve territory; they are its protecting zone. The expedition completely shut down its activity.



Date of

Area, sq. hectares

Management and protection objects

Barguzinsky (biosphere) reserve




Environmental system of northeast shore of Lake Baikal and barguzinsky sable

Baikalsky reserve




Mountain-taiga complex of the Khamar-Daban ridge and south shore of Lake Baikal

Dzherginsky reserve




Natural complex of the Upper Barguzin river

Baikalo-Lensky reserve

Olkhonsky, Kachugsky



Environmental system of southwest shore of Lake Baikal

Sokhondinsky (biosphere) reserve




Natural landscape complex of the Upper Chikoy river






Zabaikalsky national park




Environmental system of east shore of Lake Baikal

Tunkinsky national park




Natural complex of the Eastern Saiany ridge

Pribaikalsky national park

Irkursky, Olkhonsky and Slyudyansky



Environmental system of west shore of Lake Baikal






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