The annual winter route audit of animals has begun in the Peskov Voronezh State Biosphere Natural Reserve on Friday, January 26. RIA “Voronezh” reporters went to count animals together with the staff of the reserve.

A wiped out story

– In winter, we count hoofed mammals – deer, moose, wild boars, roe deer as well as wolves, foxes, stoats, hares and martens. The audit involves 36 people of the personnel who will have to cover the total of 122 kilometers. There are 14 routes with length from 7 to 12 km on the reserve territory. Some are easier, some are more difficult which can be related to the lay of the terrain or the necessity to cross rivers by ice. It is important for the route to be as far from feeding sites, where animals gather, as possible: naturally, there will be more animal tracks near them, - Deputy Research Director of the reserve Yelena Starodubtseva told.

The auditors can take the route only the day after a snowfall. It is enough for the fresh snow to become covered with animal tracks. According to Yelena Starodubtseva, the reserve staff takes the same route twice for more calculation accuracy. On the first day they wipe out the tracks of the animals they see after the calculation to find new tracks in same places on the next day.

Specialists used to use the so called “chasing” method of counting animals. People used to block a certain part of the reserve and then by screaming, handclapping and other sounds chase animals while counting them.

Now the auditors work in couples. They have a radio set and a GPS; they mark each track they see in a notebook and “tie” it to a certain point on the map using the gadget. In the end of the audit, they compile a map of winter geographic distribution of animals using the information received.

Tracks of unseen animals

RIA “Voronezh” reporters took the ten-kilometer route together with Chief Research Officer of the reserve Pyotr Vengerov, who had been conducting winter animal audits for almost 35 years, and Wildlife Protection Inspector Valery Kornev. Our team was taken to the start point in an UAZ Patriot. The rattling sound of skis came from the trunk of the offroader: without them there’s nothing to do in a winter forest.

Prior to moving off, the specialists measured the depth of the snow.

– So far the amount of snow in the woods is less the average – 31 centimeter. And it is among the factors affecting the frequency of animals’ movement in a winter forest. But the main factor is food. If there is a lot of food close to their homes, they will move less, and hunger, on the contrary, will make the animal go searching for a new place to feed. Wild boars are the best at making new paths: it presses forward like a tank creating a path fit for three which will be used by deer and roe deer. Even if it gets wiped out by a snow storm, animals will instinctively find it anyway. Wolves, foxes, hares and martens, on the other hand, don’t really need a path: they simply run on snow, - professor Vengerov told.

The chain of skiers moved off following the border between the Voronezh and Lipetsk regions, passed the ruins of the long abandoned Krutovsky Cordon and went further into the woods.

The ski trail was crossed by the tracks of roe deer, hares and foxes. Pyotr Vengerov and Valery Kornev stopped by each of them, took out the GPS, marked the spot in it and then made notes in the notebook specifying the number of animal tracks.

The scientists stopped by one of the tracks for several minutes.

– The snow is still crumbly, unsettled, so animals sink into it, and sometimes you have to dig into the snow with your bare hands to reach the footprint and examine it, - Valery Kornev explained.

It turned out to be the tracks of a young deer which had passed by a couple hours ago.

Suddenly, a big cinereous tit came out of nowhere and started flying back and forth literally right over our heads.

– It’s a male. It’s hungry, and so it is attracted to people – it thinks it can get some food from us. – Vengerov explained.

Valery Kornev came up to a stump, took a package of prepared biscuit crumbs out of his pocket and poured the bird treat out. The tit started pecking the food without a bit of hesitation.

– Forest animals, on the contrary, try to avoid humans, especially in winter, when they are hungry. They can feel a human from hundreds of meters and run away. There was once an accident when a moose tried to attack a member of the reserve staff, even chased him, but later it turned out that the animal had rabies, - Pyotr Vengerov told about a case from his experience.

Together with the auditors, the RIA “Voronezh” journalists covered 2.5 kilometers through the woods. During this time, we found four deer tracks, two fox tracks, three roe deer tracks and one of a weasel. Pyotr Vengerov and Valery Kornev were to cover another 7.5 kilometers of the route across the winter forest already without us.

– The obtained data will be compiled into special maps, and approximately in a month we will have the results of the winter animal audit. Each region has a special system of calculation indexes which allow determining the population of animals on the territory of the reserve by their tracks with minimal deviation. The numbers, as usual, will allow our specialists food for thought and help us outline the fields of work for the nearest future, - Yelena Starodubtseva summed up.

RIA “Voronezh” note for information

The Voronezh State Biosphere Reserve n.a. Vasily Peskov was founded on May 19 of 1927 and is located on the border of two regions – the Voronezh Region and the Lipetsk Region. The area of the reserve is 31,053 hectares. It includes 217 registered species of birds, 60 animal species, 39 fish species, 9 species of amphibians, 8 species of snakes and one of lampreys.