Status of component parts: State Biosphere Nature Reserve, Nature Park, Natural Monument
Area: 0.3 million ha
Situation: Included into the World Heritage List in 1999
Criteria: (ix) (x)
The following organizations took part in preparation of the nomination: NABU, Geography Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Dresden University of Technology, "Northern Caucasus" Workgroup, Greenpeace Russia, Kavkazsky Reserve
The World Heritage status has been received by the hard-to-reach highlands almost not disturbed by human activity which have once served for Tsar's and Grand Duke's hunting and now are bearing the status of Kavkazsky Biosphere Reserve. Apart from the Reserve, the mountain forest massif includes several protected areas of lesser size. Located in the Western part of the Great Caucasus in the headwaters of Kuban' river tributaries - Malaya Laba and Belaya, the site has an area of over 300 000 ha.
Distinguished by vividly marked altitude zonation (broadleaf forests, conifer forests, dwarf forests, mountain meadows, nival belt), the region is acknowledged as one of the European largest mountain forest reservates. Forests occupy no less then 60% of the area here. These are beech, oak, maple, hornbeam, chestnut, fir, spruce, etc. In total the local flora counts over 3 000 species, half of which relates to vascular plants, moreover, every third specie is an endemic and every tenth is a relic of past epochs. About 250 bird species is noted at the preserved area, including such rare birds of prey as golden eagle, osprey, griffon vulture, etc., which are nesting here. Among approx. 80 mammal species the largest are European bison, maral, Caucasian tur, Caucasian subspecie of brown bear, wolf.
Of special value is the local herd of European bison counting several hundreds of specimen. It is known that formerly this massive wild bull had been widely spread in Europe and Caucasus, however later it has been completely exterminated: in early 1920-s last free-dwelling specimen have been shot. Only extra measures, first of which was the establishment of the Kavkazsky Reserve in 1924, helped to restore an almost extinct animal. However, the genetic purity of the Caucasian mountain subspecie has been lost and the core of the present herd is made of hybrids - Bialowieza-Caucasus bison and North American-European bison.
In total within the area are noted over 6 000 flora and fauna species which makes it a unique biodiversity center not only for Caucasus, but also for the whole Europe. Besides, many species have been acknowledged as rare and disappearing and inscribed into the Red Book of Russia, and some even into the International Red Book.
Within the Reserve and at the adjacent areas are accumulated more than ten peaks of over 3 000 m high. Here one can find many peculiar rocks and deep canyons, unique weathering forms, waterfalls (up to 250 m high), mountainous lakes. Besides those there are different karst formations in limestone - caves, wells and cavities with subsurface rivers, lakes and waterfalls (including the 15-km vault under the Fisht mountain), dozens of mountain glaciers, trough valleys, cirques, corrie lakes, moraines. We should also note the deepest (up to 1 km with the length of 10 km) Abadzekhskoye gorge in the headwaters of Tsitsa river and the unique ammonite discoveries in the river Belaya valley: ancient fossil shells reaching 1 m in diameter.
Thus, the outstanding landscape and biological diversity of the Kavkazsky Reserve and its localities allow affirming that this region is to the highest extent representative for the larger areal - namely the whole Greater Caucasus.