This isn’t the Siberia you think you know.
In fact, it’s not Siberia at all: in Russia, most territory east of Lake Baikal—that chasm of fresh water in the middle of the country—is the Russian Far East, not Siberia. It’s a vast region about twice the size of India, an unfathomable expanse of forest intersected by clean rivers and inhabited by very few people. Indeed, the entire Russian Far East has a human population of just more than six million people—about two million fewer than New York City alone.
The southern fringe of this poorly-known and little-visited corner of the globe is one of the most biologically-rich temperate forest zones in the world; an enclave for some of the rarest animals and plants on Earth.
Here, northern temperate and boreal mammals such as brown bears, Eurasian lynx, and red deer overlap with subtropical species such as Amur tigers, Amur leopards, and Asiatic black bears. Of the nearly seven hundred bird species found in the former Soviet Union, about half occur in the southern Russian Far East. Thirty percent of all endangered species in Russia are concentrated in only one percent of the country’s vast territory. Up to forty-eight of these species (fifteen percent of all endangered species in Russia) are endemic—they occur nowhere else.
The region’s unique assemblage of natural communities, along with the long list of threatened and endangered species (including many of global significance), make this region of crucial importance to global biodiversity conservation.
This article originally appeared on LiveScience.com. Follow the link for a slideshow of wildlife from the region.