Ushkan Islands are situated in the middle part of Baikal Lake
7 km to the west from the peninsula Holy Nose (Svyatoy Nos) The total area of the islands is 10 sq.km. The archipelago consists of 4 islands: Bolshoy (means “Big”), Tonky (means “thin”), Krugly (“round”), and Dolgy (“long”).
The islands were named so due to the originated word “ushkan”, as people in Siberia called hares. But these animals did not inhabit these islands. The name came from the North of Russia where the Pomory (people living near the White Sea) called sea seals “sea hares”, Russian natives from the European North having seen many Baikal freshwater seals “nerpa” (ringed seal) called them “Zayachy (Hare’s) and so it was registered on the map of Semyon Remezov in 1701. Then the name “ zayachy” was pronounced in the Siberian way “Ushkany” and this name have been kept till present times. The Ushkany islands remain a favorite place of seals.
The Archipelago Many scientists consider the Ushkany archipelago to have been raised from the depth due to the local tectonic raising of the bottom of the lake in the middle of the Quaternary period. The question of the islands’ origin remains disputable to our time. Two volcanoes and remains of the lava flow dated back approximately 60 mln years and apparently connected with the beginning of the formation of Baikal rift hollow were discovered on the islands. The developed terraces significative of changes of water level in the Baikal or a tectonic raising of islands are characteristic for these islands, 8 terraces were noted on the island of Bolshoy Ushkany, except for the scientific suggestions, there is also a legendary version of the origin of the Ushkan Islands.
Pallas collected the first scientific information about the Ushkany islands in 1772 and the navigator A. Pushkaryov plotted them on the map just at that time. I.D. Chersky carried out geological researches on these islands in 1878. Topographical shooting, the definition of the exact position and size of the islands were made by F.K. Drizhenko. In 1914 V.N. Sukachov described vegetation of the Bolshoy Ushkany Island and from 1954 till 1955 M.G. Popov made botanic researches there. The status of the nature reserve was conferred upon the Ushkan Islands by the decision of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Buryatia in 1980.
Bolshoy Ushkany Island is famous also for three caves in the north-eastern shore with discovered encampment dated back to the New Stone Age (5000-4000 years ago). One of the caves is 4m long, 6m wide and 3,1m high (the arch). The Bolshoy Ushkany Island has the permanent meteorological station and the cordon of the national park.
Visiting Ushkany Islands allowed only by the park administration.
Fauna and Flora. The islands possess original fauna and flora, specific continental mild climate, 90-97% of humidity in summer. The precipitations are only 300mm per year. Winter is warmer and summer is cooler.
Forest. Protogenic forest including high larches and pines has been well preserved on the Bolshoy Ushkany Island. Under trees there is a thick thicket of Daur rhododendron, in spring its bushes are covered with lots of bright violet flowers. Some species of them have features inherent to flora only of these islands.
On the Bolshoy Ushkany Island, one can meet a Daur larch with a bottle-like thickening of a park at the bottom of a trunk, “ Ushkany” birch with black bark and sharp-teeth leaves (deep cuts on its edges) and flag-like crones of trees
The isolation of the islands from the continent influenced the development of fauna. One of the most interesting phenomena of islands is the anthills. The density of anthills on the Bolshoy Island is the highest in the world, 18-20 anthills per 100 sq.m, the total number of them is about 5 thousand. The settlements of ants have suffered from fires in recent years.
Bolshoy Island rises from the water like a mountain 216 m high and stretches 5km from the west to the South, its width is about 3km. Three small islands are only 17-22 m high above the surface of Baikal Lake. They are formed of ancient pre-Cambrian rocks: marble, crystal, limestone with layers of quartzites. In small quantity marble of rare emerald-green color used to be extracted in the northern part of the Bolshoy Island, 1-1,5 km far from the shore.