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The Kazbegi Nature Reserve

The Kazbegi Nature Reserve was established in 1976, covering an area of8,707ha. It lies at the divide between the Central and Eastern Caucasian ranges, with average precipitation in Kazbegi town of640mm per year and temperatures of -5.2°C in January and 14.4°C in August (an annual average of 4.9°C). At 3,652m (the Gergeti glacier weather station) it's far colder, with temperatures of -15°C in January, 3.4°C in August, and an annual average of -6.1°C.

There are 1,347 plant species in the reserve, of which 105 are trees. Around half the trees are birch, with pine, beech, and large areas of Rhododendron caucasicurn, and smaller areas of barberry, buckthorn, aspen, willow, maple and juniper. There are many alpine flowers in the hay meadows, with campanulas and gentians above the treeline, and cushion alpines on the scree slopes. Mammals include the Caucasian goat or tur (Capra caucasica), chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra), hare (Lepus europaeus), fox (Vulpes vulpes), marten (Martes martes), weasel (Mustek nivalis), wildcat (Felis silvestris), squirrel (Sciurus sp) and birch mouse (Sicista kazbegica).

Bird species include lots of raptors, such as the bearded vulture or lammergeyer (Gypaetus barbatus), Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), Eurasian black vulture (Aegypius monachus), Eurasian griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus fulvus), golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetus fulva), imperial eagle (A. heliaca), lesser spotted eagle (A. pomarina), white-tailed eagle (Haliaetus albicilla), pallid harrier (Circus macrourus), long-legged buzzard (Buteo rufinus), lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni), peregrine (Falco peregrinus); also the jay (Garrulus glandarius krynicki), black francolin (Francolinus francolinus), chukar (Alectoris chukar), Caucasian snowcock (Tetraogallus caucasicus), Caucasian black grouse (Tetrao mlokosiewicz), great rosefinch (Carpodacus rubicilla), white-winged redstart (Phoenicurus erythrogaster) and red-fronted serin (Serinus pusillus).

The meadows are presently overgrazed and increasingly suffering from erosion; from Kazbegi southwards sheep flocks migrate along the verges of the Georgian Military Highway in spring and autumn as they move between their home villages and the high meadows, and the damage done can easily be seen. On the other hand, the provision of natural gas has reduced the damage done to forests by the cutting of fuel wood. The WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature) is involved with projects here, including an ecotourism scheme. GCCW (the Georgian Centre for the Conservation of Wildlife) is also active, bringing groups of birders almost daily in May and June, and the economic impact has largely ended the poaching of Caucasian snowcock. June and July are also a good time to visit, with the rhododendron in bloom.