Nature Reserve Near Sochi to Offer Snowmobile Safaris

SOCHI, January 25 (RIA Novosti) – A UNESCO World Heritage site situated next to a Sochi Olympics venue said Friday that it would offer snowmobile “safaris” for tourists – starting next winter.

The “extreme” tour will take visitors from the Krasnaya Polyana skiing resort and into the Caucasian State Nature Biosphere Reserve, a spokesman for the reserve said.

Krasnaya Polyana hosts several Olympics competitions and aspires to take on European skiing resorts after the Games.

Olympics-goers, however, will not be able to enjoy a snowmobile ride through the unique protected territory: The reserve would only launch the program after the Games, the spokesman said.

“Extreme tourism” in a wildlife reserve appears in line with the Russian government’s recent nature conservation policy.

A 2011 law required wildlife reserves in the country to develop tourism programs, marking a departure from a Soviet-era policy that banned tourists from such territories.

Environmentalists also claim that Russian wildlife reserves are endangered by a new law, fast-tracked through the parliament in December to permit reserves to be downgraded to nature parks.

Nature parks have a lower level of legal protection in Russia, and real estate development there is allowed under certain conditions.

Leading environmental groups, including Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund, unsuccessfully campaigned against the law, which they said would allow corrupt officials to build country houses for themselves on protected land or sell it to commercial developers.

A number of prominent Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin and Alexander Tkachyov, governor of the Krasnodar Region that houses the Caucasus reserve, have been accused of building houses on protected territory.

The allegations were never proven in court, and some of the accusers have faced legal action.

Russia currently has 103 wildlife reserves, which span a combined territory roughly the size of Finland.

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