Fauna on Lake Baikal

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Meeting faunal forms of the Siberian Sea was often surprising for the man, desirable or undesirable depending on the circumstances and, therefore, the places that got the names of animals are much more frequent than those having floral names. At that many of these names are represented by words of different languages. We have already mentioned three capes, the Lower, Middle and Upper Homuty (comes from an Evenk word meaning “bear”) in the southwestern part of the Baikal area; the areas in the northwestern side are often called the Bank of Brown Bears; near the village of Big Cats there is the Bear Valley, and at the Khamar-Daban mountain range near the village of Utulik there rises the Mount of Three Bears. Northeast there is the Kabany River and the Kabany Cape (comes from the word kaban – “a wild boar”); everyone knows the Ushkany Islands (comes from the word ushkan – “a rabbit”) and the Ushkany Fold near the village of Big Goloustnoye.

A lot of names appeared after meeting snakes; the Snake Bay in the Chivyrkuy Bay, Lake Kulinda (comes from the Evenk word snake) in the north of Lake Baikal, the Mogoyten that in the Buryat language means “the Snake Fold” that is situated near the Olkhon Gates. Northeast of Lake Baikal there is the Irinda Bay and River Irindakan; the names come from the word meaning “an ant”, which make us understand that there is a significant number of these insects in these places. The Orgokon Cape in the Evenk languge means “a seal rookery”, and the terrain, the river and the village of Buguldeika remind us that peoples living near Lake Baikal connected their existence with deer. The Deer Lake in the north, the river and the village of Vydrino (comes from the word vydra – “an otter gear”), River Kerma (comes from the Buryat word herme – “a squirrel”), that is a feeder of the Big River. All these names reflect the importance of wildlife for people.

Reverent treatment of animals, worshiping them, their cult was a characteristic feature of the historical past of any nation. We can recall those primitive drawings of ancient people made on rocks, bark and other natural materials; they all showed the animal world: oxen, buffaloes, bears, deer and many others. The Baikal ethnic groups had such traditions too. M. N. Khangalov cites the following forms of fauna adoration by the Buryats: 1) making gods of, for example, an eagle, owing to its heaven origin; 2) veneration of animals as embodiments of the father Bukha-Noyon sucg as a swan, a wolf, a burbot; 3) worshiping animals as god embodiments or the species masters, for example, a ferret, a marten, an ermine, a fox and a sable; 4) reverence to animals that have mind, such as a hedgehog; 5) respect to animals that have power – bears and snakes (323, v. 2, p. 266).

Such specific treatment of the animal world is based on certain psychological reasons or is supported by them. It is possible to point out following reasons for such veneration of animals:

  • Since originally in primitive societies many individuals did not have their own names, the attitude to them seemed to be determined by the way they showed their worth in everyday situations tsuch as obtaining food, competition, confrontation, rivalry or cooperation with animals, the ability to imitate the latter and many other situations. By association the names of animals often became the basis to name people: “the one who killed a wolf”, “the one who tricked a fox”, “strong as a bear”, “fast as a deer”, etc.

  • Sometimes people saw animals in their dreams as many other attributes of life; in such cases people thought of the symbolic character of their dreams, and tried to xplain tsuch dreams accordingly. They associated the animal in their dreams with some life situations and interpreted it as an omen or a warning, trying to come to some conclusion.

  • Animals often visited the places where people lived and this was considered a sign of the ancestors’ attention, and protection, and the animals were considered the spiritual embodiments of the ancestors.

  • Many animals and birds visited human burial place lead by quite a practical reason, and in this case people treated it as the embodiment of the departed soul as well.

  • All the legends and myths connected with ancestors’ contacts with various animals aroused in primitive people the feeling that their clans, tribes, families originated from a particular animal or bird. H. Spencer wrote that one should not be surprised by the facts a man of this kind, i.e., “devoid of knowledge and speaking a rough language, can imagine that one of the ancestors known as Tiger was really a tiger. We can see the results of such misunderstanding everywhere” [296, p. 279].

  • The idea of transition of a human soul into an animal caused the inverse association as well: under certain conditions an animal can turn into a human, which means that it could soon be your brother.

Environmental changes that take place in the world today encourage and force many people to recollect, their ancestors and traditions even if they are a little bit altered. Gradually but consistently the attitude towards animals is changing in the world; S. Yesenin called them “our younger brothers”. The poet himself wrote a poem about his relationship with his dog, his friend: “when we stole from the mother a hunk of bread we bit it in turn, sharing it decently”; he treated these brothers equal to a man, deserving attention and compassion. It is compassion to animals that makes moral responsibility arise in humans. There has been formulated a special Council of Europe Convention dedicated to “our younger brothers” that laid down “five animal freedoms” in order to protect them: they are the freedom from thirst, hunger, malnutrition; freedom from fear and stress, freedom to live normally. One of the initiators of the Environmental Ethics Code of the wildlife in general and animals in particular B. Boreiko believes that the man can and must provide animals with the following rights: 1) to live, 2) to be free from human intervention, 3) to be protected from undesirable suffering, 4) to continue the genus, 5) to have a healthy environment, 6) to pursuit happiness, 7) realize the evolution potential, 8) to be defended by the law, 9) to be dignified [45].

There is an expression in Russian that can be put like this: “The law is a taiga, the prosecutor is a bear”; it emphasizes “savage” and uncivilized relationships among people, their similarity with that of animals. But sometimes it turns to be just the opposite. Gazing into various habits of animals and itpondering about them people do not think about the connection of these habits with human psychology. As socialized creatures we often start thinking about the criteria of good and evil, right or wrong action, and we primarily consider this as moral, ethical issues relating first of all and foremost to the human race. But in tales, legends and myths of different peoples we shall see animals in them that are good or bad, generous or cruel, brave or cowardly. It would seem that the man just transfers human features to fairy-tale characters. But it is unlikely to be so. Most likely that many of human moral qualities originated from “our younger brothers” ones and the human morality is rooted in the animal kingdom. It is absolutely true that the man can learn a lot from “his younger brothers”.

The majority of animals follow the rules of a fair play and justice, and these rules are often stricter than human norms of honor. For example, the beast infuriated by its fellow beast or some enemy will never strike a blow behind the back, that is it does not direct its anger against anyone who is nearby, it strikes only the offender, and to take advantage of this opportunity it can often wait for its chance for quite a long time.

During the courtship season, there is a strong rivalry between males, but as soon as the female makes its choice, the contestants resign.

The responsibility for the youngsters is taken unconditionally, especially by the mother-female animals. There are a lot of examples when females are especially aggressive, but this occurs only in extreme situations when they fight ruthlessly to protect their offspring. However, female animals do not fight to defend their territory.

Originally magical rituals of fishing and hunting implements that many hunting and fishing peoples had were likely to have a lot of sense. They are based on the experience of hunters when they adapted to animal scent. In a Sami myth a deer, born by a maiden wants to marry a daughter of a human. The mother said to him: “Son, you will not be able to live with a human girl. She has a different smell. She cannot be as pure as you are. You are a myandash – a wild deer. Your ears will always droop because of her odor. You will not have enough patience to live in her house”. Numerous taboos and gun and net fumigation rituals are connected with the fear of a residential odor.

Being on a hunt the Buryats never threw wool, cloth, felt into the fire, that is, the objects that could release a strong odor when burnt and could scare off animals. It was prohibited to singe birds, animals, to dry footcloths in front of the fire. Hunters did not store their traps and nets in dwellings, protecting them from the dwelling odor that animals can smell. Hunters soaked traps in herbs infusions. The same situation could be observed with their relationships with women. On the eve of hunting many peoples’ hunters were prohibited to have sexual relations. These prohibitions and precautions, being rather rational, acquired magical character subsequently. For example, the woman of many nations was prohibited to look at a dead animal, touch it, eat some parts of its body (a head, a heart, etc).

For many indigenous peoples of Siberia the bear was a special animal; the Buryat, Evenki, and Yakut peoples had the cult of the bear. If a man had to kill a bear for a variety of needs, the process of killing it, touching, eating its meat and taking care of its remains were accompanied by a number of ceremonies. At that the Evenki and partly the Buryat were anxious to show that the dead animal is not gone forever, and soon it would revive, be reborn even in another animal of this species. This belief was primarily manifested in the use of various kinds of so to say sexual rituals during “the bear festival”. Usually it was a performance of erotic nature, or singing and dancing of indecent content, imitating intercourse, or hinting at it, in general, there was something that would emphasize the idea of animal breeding. It is interesting to note that rituals of a sexual nature were typical for the peoples of Northern Asia who dedicated them to other animals too. For example, at a festival in honor of a white whale the dancing Koryak women moved, as if devoting themselves to the animal, saying: “Dear guest arrived”.

Ancient Buryat hunters, having found a bear lair in the taiga (in Buryat oi hubshe), went there to kill it, and even between themselves they did not say that they were going to kill a bear. If they met people on their way and they asked: “Where are you going?” they answered: “There appeared boodhol pooshol (in Buryat), we are going to attack it and seize”. According to the custom, they did not speak about the bear even with their wifes. After killing the bear in his lair with a gunshot, from the moment when the carcass was dragged out from the lair, there started an important ritual: dragging the carcass out of the lair, all the hunters made sounds that mimiced cawing of crows (in Buryat heree). At the moment of dragging out the bear carcass, when it laid on the edge of the lair, the hunters jumped back as if frightened, then went two or three steps away and, shading their eyes with hand as if stealing, approached the bear a stone’s throw and all in one voice began expressing their regret: “We killed You, having taken You for the boodhol pooshol, take pity on us, forgive our mistake”, and so they stood for a long time, begging. At the same time they pulled out their knives and began to skin the bear. After skinning, they started dismantling the carcass.

They pulled away the left bear’s clutch and broke it at a joint, saying: “Destroy all barriers and obstacles (on my way), kill my enemies, preventing them from a successful hunt, put them away (from my way)”, and that was repeated several times [219, pp. 55 – 56].

The local researcher A.P. Kurbatov, who studied hunting and fishery in the Verkhneudinsk District, describes the process of bear killing in the Tungus culture that is analoguous to that in the Buryat culture: “When he kills a bear, a Tungus does not dare about it to boast in front of strangers; but approaching the yurt, he lets people know about the success making special sounds. All the family of the winner gets enraptured with inexpressible joy, and instantly responds in a peculiar sound. Then they ask the hunter about every little detail of the process. But a Tungus remains modest with the family: he should not ascribe his success to his bravado and skill; it is a chance that helped to achieve this success, he blames the gun in the death of the bear, noticing meanwhile that the gun was made by Russians; he expresses regret to the dead animal, calling it his dear fellow... some time later this dear fellow’ fat streams down the narrator’s lips» [316, p. 86].

When hunting bears, people got into different situations. The author of the book “Notes of a Hunter of the Eastern Siberia” A. Cherkasov describes the situation when two hunters the Tungus Gaugenov and the Russian Vagin came into a fight with a bear, they got into a savage combat, and despite all the difficulties they did managed to win. One episode was even more exotic when two industrialists, having failed to shoot a running bear immediately, seized his long hair with fright; pull through with him more than 20 yards and only then came to their senses. The industrialists were all right, but the bear died the next day from the bullets and bloody diarrhea that was caused by the fear the animal had experienced.

Such curious things (both real and imaginary) happened many times, and they happened not only to hunters. «The master of the taiga» itself often felt the influence of humans. The man increasingly penetrating into the taiga influenced the habits of bears in one way or another. The writer N. Shchukin described one of such interesting facts that happened in the first third of the XIXth century. “Sometimes in summer many horses die from anthrax on their way. Then a bear is free to do what he likes: it can profit by a jar of alcohol or a bag with flour or crumbs. The bear can uncork the jar, despite of its being clad with leather. Having drunk alcohol, it begins to play pranks: runs, tumbles over its head, rolls, roars, and then exhausted he falls asleep.

There is one more valuable animal that plays a great role in the Baikal region as well as in all the Siberia, it is a sable. A.N. Shchukin managed to describe it in a very colorful way in one of his letters: “I’ll start with the most famous fur animal whose fur is the most valuable, longwearing and warm, it is a sable; it was long pursued by Russians, and Yakuts, and Tunguses; it is an object of quarrels, murders, a guide to discovering new countries and peoples, the animator of the activity and spirit of industry in the local countries. Here are the political advantages that this little animal has!”.

The sable is an omnivorous little animal. It feeds on various small animals: mice, squirrels, ferret, and any birds, that he manages to catch. But it itself is hard to catch, especially in the taiga areas. In all more or less dense forests at the sight of a danger be it a human or a hungry animal, the sable begins to jump rapidly from one tree to another and rapidly escapes from any enemy. But still the man with his “tricky” methods managed to achieve great success in a sable hunt. And, as it has already been mentioned, it is the threat of this animal extinction in the Baikal taiga that was one of the reasons for creating the Barguzinsky Reserve at Lake Baikal. The measures taken, reservations and reserves activities contribute to the stable number of sables in the Baikal forests in the Irkutsk Oblast and the Republic of Buryatia.

Among some animal species there are open and hidden antagonist relations: a stronger and (or) more adapted animal, does not like a weak one and expels it from his territory. This is especially likely to happen if these different animals eat the same food: predators eat the same small rodents, and herbivores; herbivores eat the same plants. In the Baikal region this antagonism can be observed between the sable and the kolinsky, between the Siberian deer (a noble deer) and the elk.

The kolinsky is a bright yellow, slightly reddish animal of prey was widespread in the coastal lowlands of the sea. With the advent of the sable in these places, the latter one felt the kolinsky was its food rival and started to get rid of it in his territory in every possible way. With time passing, the kolinsky number reduced greately in the Barguzinsky region, and from the 50s their little number eked out a miserable existence, always being in fear of meeting with his formidable foe. This by no means can be interpreted as damage to wilderness protection. The kolinsky can exist in almost all the surroundings, even close to a human hand, and the sable is a persnickety animal, it does not bear undesirable meetings.

The Siberian deer is a very highly developed animal, as scientists say it is a progressive specimen of the deer that differs from the latter primarily by its grain size: some males can weigh up to 200 kilograms or even more. They have highly developed living systems, and hearing and smell abilities are striking. In the Baikal region the Siberian deer lives almost everywhere. In the 30 – 40s, feeling the benefits of reservation the elk began to penetrate into these places. At first, the Evenki, masters of the sea area, have agreed not to hunt it for it to propagate. And the elk did that very quickly! The rapidly growing elk population started oppressing the Siberian deer herd. Elks, as hardier, more powerful and not so fastidious to environmental surrounding animals, began to occupy the habitats of Siberian deers, and the population of this deer quickly subsided. In recent decades, for example, in the Barguzinsky Reserve there remained no more than fifty of them.

For all the animals of the Baikal forests, especially for the roe deer and Manchurian deer, the wolf is enemy № 2 (after poachers) and it lives in various parts of the region. But still in some places of the Baikal region, and especially in the Barguzinsky Reserve, wolves, despite their warlike temper, drag out a miserable existence. For example, in the sea area there are relatively few deer that is more accessible to these ferocious predators. The roe deer that makes a staple diet for the wolf is rather rare here as there are no pastures for them. The wolf can hunt elks and reindeer only on crust, and the latter is formed only in late March, or April, and by this time wolves have to survive but also to preserve their fighting strength. So, wolves avoid the protected areas, aiming at those areas where there are many suitable wild ungulates and in addition domestic sheep and goats.

Other inhabitants of the Baikal region, i.e., lagomorphs, famous mouse hares, possess an excellent quality. The anxious voice of this animal is well known to all the animals, and this watchdog signal makes the mouse hare enjoy great respecr in the taiga. The moment animals hear its voice they got alarmed. Animals know that mouse hares do not cause alarm for no reason. Mouse hares react on any suspicious rustling in the forest tutting very loudly.

But there are always exceptions in the rules. Thus, the sable gets along with the ermine very well in the protected Baikal areas. The ermine is a small animal with short, thick perlishly white fell; only the tail tip is jet black, which is a fine statement of the aesthetic contrast. The ermine, as the sable, basically feeds on mice, and it is doomed to be the bitterest enemy of the latter. But the trick is that the ermine very skillfully avoids meeting the sable. It sticks to places where the sable hardly calls on and what is more in the places located right under its formidable enemy’s nose. These places are rivers flood plains, overgrown with small bushes and springs and small springs estuarine areas, the coastal terraces of Lake Baikal, mountain areas rarely visited by the sable. Besides, the ermine rarely appears on the snow surface. Having run about fifty feet, he runs back into the shelter. It only likes running along the undermined river banks. It is hardly noticeable there, and the sable calls there on very rarely.

A mystery accompanies an interesting animal inhabiting the holy waters of the sea, i.e., the seal. It is a relative in a direct line of the sea seal and its closest counterpart inhabits the Arctic Ocean. How could the seal penetrate into the lake? This question has not got a clear answer yet. The Baikal seal feeds mainly on fish, preferring the Baikal oilfish as a delicacy. It swims fast, developing speed up to 20 km/h. In February or March after ten months of child-bearing females give birth to cubs, often one, but sometimes two. They look very nice as they have very thick white fur; they are a kind of “fluffies”. But soon this dressing changes grey. Thanks to its mother feeding, not only milk, but fish, in three months a baby animal becomes capable of independent life. In general, the seal is a very tenacious of life, the period between the birth and the death can be up to 60 years. But it is exposed to diseases including epidemic ones. In 1987 about 5,000 seals died out because of hardpad. The most fascinating fact is that at the same period of time there was a great epidemic of the same contagion among louts in the northern seas of Scotland, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian Peninsula and even Germany. Then there died 60% of northern louts which is a greater quantity than in the Baikal. The general quantity of seals in the Sacred Sea makes a total of about 80000 – 90000 populations; the quantity does not decrease.

The seal hunting is carried out in different ways. This may be done by nets, by hunting in boats and from the shore. But the procedure that was established by the Evenki long time ago is used more often. To do this it is necessary to take a usual sledge and set a shield of white sheet or some fabric on it; closer to the sledge bottom there is an opening for a gun. A hunter moves the construction on the lake ice on the leeward side towards a seal. The seal does not see the hunter and does not smell him, and that is why it basks quietly in the sun until its death.

The commercial value of the seal cannot be considered high, but in the earlier centuries it was also scanty. It is considered that in the XVIIIth, XIXth, XXth centuries, the annual production of seals ranged from 2000 to 4000 individuals. Seal fat was especially popular in the Baikal villages (and not only there), as well as the product made of seal fell. At the end of the XIXth century and the beginning of the XXth century seal fat was used instead of kerosene for lighting mines. Furriery was also widespread. In the 50s – 60s of the XXth century the author of these lines managed to see seal caps, boots, gloves, mats. Some of the products dressed by the Buryat and Russian skilled craftsman were decorated with original colored ornaments with pleasing colors ranging from pale silver (a young seal fell) to brownish (an old animal fell). They say that the seal meat smells fish. Maybe that is true but this mostly depends on the age of this inhabitant of Lake Baikal. At least when in winter of 1972 my father brought me a young seal meat with visible fat layer, many of my friends and fellow students living with me in a student hostel came to this unusual feast. This situation could be described by famous idioms like “impossible to stir pulling out ears” and “one could swallow the tongue” (perhaps, the latter could be explained by students’ habitual hunger and “a green serpent” for each person that usually accompanied such “feasts”). Still local gourmands believe that both seal meat and fat are tasty and, especially tasty are its fins that are a real delicacy.

The establishment of seal observatories in the Baikal settlements and the observation of the animals’ behaviuor revealed their interesting habits and even their creative abilities. It turned out that seals are great cissies and owners; they even have their own food bowls. Moreover, in their mental abilities seals do not yield to dolphins. Seals develop circus skills very quickly: they draw pictures, play a ball with the audience, rescue dolls out of water, and can count to five. In 2007 in the Irkutsk seal observatory, the seals named Laska, Tito and Nesi, learned to play the saxophone and the trumpet. And in 2008 “the actors” played walking-on parts in scenes of the A.S. Pushkin fairy tale about a goldfish. They learned to recite simple poems. Their trainers hope that soon the seals will stage more variety shows for the audience: some of them will sing, and some will accompany or paint. The author of these lines can boast that in June 24, 2009 he bought the picture made by Tito “Baikal Rainbow” (the granddaughter Olesya gave this name to this masterpiece) at the auction in this seal observatory. The organizers of the auction gave “the owner” a certificate.

People are getting more and more interested in seals. It is necessary to add that multimedia screens in the restored Baikal museum will also contribute to increasing tourists’ interest in seals. It will be a special hall where everything that happens on the Ushkany Islands will be projected from satellites to screens in real-time mode. Later on they plan to show real-time mode of life of other inhabitants of the Baikal region: sables, Manchurian deer, beamed, bears and many others. This innovation will, undoubtedly, satisfy people’s curiosity and at the same time it will contribute to the sea and forest wildlife protection.

The penetration of the man in the Baikal and its taiga areas could not but affected the wildlife safety. The extinction of some animals started long time ago and redoubled in the XIXth century. The German naturalist G. Radde, who visited the lake in 1855, wrote: “In the last four years there has been an extraordinary decline of red venison throughout all the southwest area; and meanwhile in 1852 in Kultuk neighborhood hunters caught fifty musk-deer, and for the last time its bag was rarely limited to one animal unit”. The significant swell in population in the Baikal region at the end of the XIXth, XXth centuries, the development of railways in the north and south of Lake Baikal, the growth of industrial facilities, growing economic crises, all these worked against the wildlife. According to the experts’ data from 1991 to 1996 in the Baikal forests the number of elks, Munchurian deer, reindeer, musk-deer, wild boars, sables, red foxes and other species markedly reduced. The task of many species conservation has become extremely challenging, and its solution requires a variety of methods including adding them to “The Red Books” of the country and the region.

Animals in “The Red Book” of the federal and regional levels are arranged into categories reflecting the necessary degree of their protection: 1 – species that are exposed to extinction; 2 – species the quantity of which is still relatively high but decreasing catastrophically fast; 3 – rare species that are not currently threatened with extinction, but occur in small numbers in very limited areas, 4 – species, the population size and condition of which is alarming, but the lack of information about them does not allow to attributed them to any of the first categories; 5 – recovered species, that are not subject to industrial cropping. In the Baikal region (Irkutsk and Chita Oblasts and Buryatia) by January 1, 1990 the number of animals registed in the official lists of rare and endangered species, figures up to more than 30, among them there is the dhole, the steep polecat, the Eurasian Beaver, the cormorant, the sand lizard, the silver mountain vole, the solitary snipe and many others ... And today, not to continue the list, we must act to protect the fauna and flora of the Lake Baikal world.

See also

Literature

  1. A.D. Karnyshev "The Many Faces of Multilingual and Mysterious Baikal"© BSU Publishing House, 2011

Выходные данные материала:

Жанр материала: English | Автор(ы): Karnyshev A.D. | Источник(и): The Many Faces of Multilingual and Mysterious Baikal. Ulan-Ude. 2012 | Дата публикации оригинала (хрестоматии): 2011 | Дата последней редакции в Иркипедии: 30 марта 2015

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Тематический указатель: Irkipedia English