The Barguzin is a graceful mustelid carnivore found in the forests of northern Asia, highly valued for its thin, delicate fur. The color of the fur ranges from extremely dark to light brown. The darker the color of the skin, the higher the price for it at fur auctions. The name Barguzin sable has Slavic roots and has taken root in many Western European languages, probably as a result of the fur trade in the early Middle Ages. Therefore, Russian sable (sobol) turned out to be German Zobel, Portuguese zibelina, French zibeline, Finnish soopeli, Dutch Sabel, etc.

Species origin and description

Photo: Barguzin

Photo: Barguzin

Carl von Linne described the barguzin in 1758 in his book “Nature” under the name Mustela zibellina. The classification according to the mustelidae genus (Mustelidae) was made by Sergey Ognev back in 1925. In general, the Barguzin Martes zibellina is most morphologically similar to the pine marten (M. martes), the American marten (M. americana) and the Japanese marten (M. melampus). However, it has a shorter tail and a darker, shinier and silkier coat.

Video: Barguzin

M. zibellina sable was previously thought to include M. melampus as subspecies, but recent genetic studies confirm the rank of two separate species for the barguzin and the Japanese marten.

Interesting fact: The largest barguzins are found in Kamchatka, medium-sized ones in Altai and the Urals, and the smallest individuals live in the Ussuri and Amur regions in the Russian Far East and in Hokkaido in Japan. They also chose areas near Baikal, Yakutia and Amur, where their color is especially dark. But in the Trans-Urals there are bright varieties of sable.

Many scientists have tried to divide the species into subspecies. From two to thirty-four possible subspecies are named. The task of separation is complicated by the fact that the sable was often relocated to other areas. In addition, sable in one population is so variable that it is hardly possible to find common features that distinguish it from other Barguzin populations.

The fur companies of pre-revolutionary Russia sold 25,000 skins each year, and almost nine-tenths of these were exported to Germany and France. Sables were caught in steel traps, as well as minks with martens. Intensive hunting in Russia in the 19th and early 20th centuries caused a rather serious decline in the number of barguzins, so in 1935 a five-year ban on hunting this animal was implemented, followed by seasonal restrictions on hunting. These quotas, combined with the development of Barguzin farms, have allowed the species to recolonize much of its original range and reach healthy population rates.

Appearance and Features

Photo: Animal Barguzin

Photo: Animal Barguzin

Due to differences in the appearance of Barguzins in different geographic locations, there has been some debate about the exact number of subspecies that can be clearly identified. Today, seventeen different subspecies are recognized, but other recent scientific sources have identified possible variants from seven to thirty.

The physique of the barguzin, like many martens, is characterized by an elongated, thin body and rather short limbs. Morphologically, the barguzin resembles the pine marten, but is slightly larger and has a shorter tail, and the coat is more silky and soft.

The coat color varies from light brown to black. The head is usually slightly lighter than the body. Occasionally, individual whitish or yellowish hairs are found in the coat. In this case, the individual fur color becomes lighter ventrally and darker on the back and legs. Some individuals develop light fur on the throat, which can be gray, white or pale yellow. The winter attire has very long and silky hairs, while in summer they become shorter, coarser and darker. Moulting takes place from March to May and from August to November.

M. zibellina shows sexual dimorphism between males and females. Sables reach a body length of 32 to 53 cm (males) or 30 to 48 cm (females). Thick tail from 30.5 to 46 cm in length. On average, males are 9% larger than females. The weight of males is from 1150 to 1850 grams, females from 650 to 1600 grams. In winter, the weight increases by 7-10%.

Where does the barguzin live?

Photo: Barguzin in Russia

Photo: Barguzin in Russia

Barguzin sable is found throughout northern Asia when — then the area of ​​​​its distribution covered the territory from Scandinavia to Northern China. Currently, the habitat of the beast does not extend far to the west, but it is still found throughout Siberia and northern China.

Interesting fact: In Russia, the distribution of the barguzin is associated with massive reintroductions 19,000 animals into the environment from 1940 to 1965

The original range of the Barguzin covered most of northern Eurasia, and also included Scandinavia. In some areas of their distribution, they have disappeared; therefore, today they do not reside west of the Ural Mountains.

Current distribution areas include:

  • Russia: almost all of Siberia east of the Urals, including Sakhalin;
  • Kazakhstan: in the extreme northeast along the Bukhtarma and Uba rivers;
  • China: distribution range includes three separate zones: on the edge of Altai in Xinjiang, in the Greater Khingan mountains and possibly also in the Lesser Khingan mountains, in the Changbaishan mountains;
  • Mongolia: in the Altai and in the forests;
  • North Korea: in the Changbaishan mountains and south of the mountains;
  • Japan: on the island of Hokkaido.

The western distribution of the Barguzin covers the Ural Mountains, where they coexist sympatrically with the red pine martens. This species prefers dense taiga forests, on the plains and in the mountainous regions of northern Asia. Barguzin M. zibellina is found in the spruce and cedar forests of Eastern Siberia, as well as in the larch and pine forests of Siberia. He only seems to avoid extremely barren high mountain peaks. The species is mostly terrestrial and builds burrows on the forest floor.

What does the barguzin eat?

Photo: Barguzin in nature

Photo: Barguzin in nature

The diet of barguzin varies depending on the season. They mainly feed on predatory mice, chipmunks, squirrels, bird eggs, small birds and even fish. Animals can also eat berries, pine nuts and vegetation when the main food sources are not available. When severe weather conditions set in, the M. zibellina bargusine stores prey inside its den to support itself until it can hunt again. The animals also prey on ermine, birds and small weasels.

Sometimes barguzins follow in the footsteps of wolves or bears and feed on the remnants of their feasts. The animal may feed on shellfish, such as slugs, which they rub against the ground to remove mucus. Sables sometimes eat fish that they catch with their front paws. Most of their food consists of small rodents. In Siberia, mice make up more than 50% of the sable food spectrum. In winter, when they take shelter from frost and snow, they often feed on wild berries.

Other mammals on the menu may include:

  • squirrels;
  • pikas;
  • muskrats;
  • marmots;
  • hares;
  • small musk deer (musk deer).

Animal food also includes birds, fish and insects. In addition, the animal licks honey from bee nests. Plants make up a significant part of their food. In the center of the Yenisei, it was found that the local sable feeds on 20% of pine and blueberry seeds. Barguzins hunt mainly by sound and smell, and they have acute hearing. They mark their territory with the smell produced by the glands on their stomachs.

Now you know how to feed the barguzin. Let’s see how he lives in the wild.

Character and lifestyle features

Photo: Barguzin in winter

Photo: Barguzin in winter

Sables mostly move on the ground but can climb well. They make several nests within their territory near riverbanks and in the densest parts of the forest, mostly in hollow tree trunks, in crevices or under tree roots, which they line with dry plants or hair. These burrows are made as safe as possible.

The territory of the Barguzin ranges from 4 to 30 km². The size depends on the habitat, and therefore potential food, as well as the age of the animal. Every day, the sable passes within its space of 6.5-12 km. In exceptional cases, the distance may be 30 km, but migrations of 300 km have been detected.

Sable is mainly active at dusk, but can also move at night, but rarely during the day. In very cold weather, they often spend several days in their nest. Forward movement occurs due to small jumps from 40 to 70 cm wide. Theoretically, sable can make jumps up to 4 m wide. Their den is well camouflaged, covered with grass and fur, but can be temporary, especially in winter, when the animal travels in search of prey to large distances.

An interesting fact: The age structure of the species, determined by the aging method, is as follows: juveniles 62.7%; annual 12.5%; 2-4 years — 2.7–5.5%; 5–7 years old — 1.5–3.7%, animals 8 years and older — 0.4–1.7% in the Urals and 75.6%, 5.7%, 2.7–4.9%, 0.8–2.5% and 0.2–1.4%, respectively, in the Western Sayan. Annual survival rate of sables: 19.9% ​​for fledglings, 44.0% for one-year-olds and 75.9–79.4% of animals for 2–9 years in the Urals and 33.0%, 59.6% and 49.3–75 .8% respectively in the Western Sayan.

Barguzins live up to 18 years on farms, while in the wild sable individuals have a maximum lifespan of 9-10 years, older barguzins are very rare. Approximately two-thirds of the wild sable population is under two years of age.

Social Structure and Reproduction

Photo: Little Barguzin

Photo: Little Barguzin

It is observed that males, marking their territory, form ruts or small grooves in the snow about a meter long, accompanied by frequent urination. Mating occurs between June 15 and August 15, with the date varying by geographic location. In areas where individuals are scarce, courtship rituals include running, jumping, and “cat sounds” between males and females. However, in areas where the distribution ranges of males overlap, competition for females can lead to fierce battles.

After insemination, the fertilized cell does not implant into the wall of the female’s uterus. Implantation occurs after eight months, and embryonic development takes only 25-30 days. However, the total gestation time is between 250 and 300 days. The female’s litter ranges from 1 to 7 cubs, but smaller litters of 2-3 are more common. Some barguzins show paternal care, as males protect the territory of females and even provide food for lactating mothers and their offspring.

Newborn barguzins are born helpless, with their eyes closed and a very thin layer of hair. The juveniles weigh between 25 and 35 grams and are on average 10 cm long. Barguzies open their eyes between 30 and 36 days of age and leave the nest shortly thereafter. Seven weeks after birth, they are weaned and receive chewed food from their mother. Barguzins reach sexual maturity in their second year of life.

Barguzins’ natural enemies

Photo: Barguzin

Photo: Barguzin

In addition to natural deaths, barguzins can be attacked by eight species of mammals and eight species of birds. Sable competitors in its habitat — omnivores and carnivores. The animal may suffer from the presence of 34 species of helminths, 19 species of fleas and three species of gamasid mites, described as parasites of the sable.

The main predators of the barguzin include a number of larger animals, namely:

  • wolves;
  • wolverines;
  • lynxes;
  • eagles;
  • owls;
  • foxes;
  • other birds of prey (falcon-like birds);
  • tigers;
  • large owls.

Barguzins are equipped with sharp claws and sharp teeth, allowing them to effectively defend themselves against many predators. However, the most dangerous predator is a man, because for centuries it was believed that the sable has one of the most valuable skins. Animals were widely known already in the 3rd century BC. Out of respect, the Scythian peoples sent valuable fur to the Greek world via the Black Sea.

Later, sable skins became a status symbol, especially in Russia. The crown of Russian tsars was adorned with precious sable fur until the 17th century. The conquered peoples of Siberia paid tribute in sable skins. Therefore, due to overhunting, sable became a rarity in the early 20th century. The price of sable in 2010 was $167 for sable fur and $138 for wild hunting. The main market now is skins from farmed animals.

Population and species status

Photo: Animal barguzin

Photo: Animal barguzin

Sable belongs to the category of animals causing the least concern, since according to preliminary estimates, more than two million individuals. There is no danger of decline in most of its range, despite declines in some countries that together make up only a small part of its range.

Fun Fact: Barguzin hunting and fishing were prohibited in the Soviet Union between 194 and 1960, during which time 20,000 sables were released from farms into the wild. These measures have led to the fact that today the barguzin populations in the country have fully recovered to their original level, and the IUCN considers that nothing threatens the animal now.

The main factor in the decline in numbers is winter hunting. However, in Russia the sable is exploited in accordance with scientifically based quotas, so this hunting does not pose a threat to the species. Some habitat is being lost as a result of deforestation, the construction of communications and the development of new mines, oil and gas fields.

Barguzin is protected in state nature reserves and national parks. Outside of protected areas, sable hunting in Russia is strictly regulated by hunting quotas for each region and is limited in time October 15 — February 29th. The main areas where barguzin are protected are 41 state nature reserves with a total area of ​​164,960 km².

In China, hunting is prohibited throughout the entire area of ​​215,678 km² where the species is kept. In Mongolia, it is classified as vulnerable. In North Korea, the barguzin is classified as endangered. In Japan, the local subspecies has been protected since 1920 and is currently listed as endangered. There are no population estimates for Japan, Korea, or Kazakhstan, the inhabited parts of each of these countries make up only a small part of the global range of the species.

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