The Moscow zoo, along with the city Department of Culture and Mosgortour travel agency are planning to offer ‘green’ tours to parks, historic estates and nature reserves with rare animals (including facilities which are closed to the public). Tourists will be offered accommodation in one of the Moscow region’s eco-hotels. MOSLENTA decided to take a closer look at the programme.
What Is Ecotourism?
The theory of ecotourism is based on traveling to ‘terra incognita’ to talk among undisturbed natural areas. This type of tourism is fairly widespread abroad, and it’s now finally making its way to Russia. The most popular destinations include natural parks and reserves, mountainous areas, forests, caverns and so forth. Now several Moscow region locations have been chosen to host this kind of trip.
“We’ve begun polling visitors,” Moscow Zoo director Svetlana Akulova told MOSLENTA. “It turns out that 10% of them know virtually everything there is know about tropical animals, sharks, etc, but have no idea about Russian fauna. There are about 700 types of birds and 300 mammals living in our country. So we thought – how can it be that we Russians know nothing about our own wildlife?”
Muscovites will be the first ones to be offered eco-tours. After the trial run, the organisers plan to expand their ecotourism programme onto the national level. “The span of our attractions is impressive: we have resorts from Crimea to the Caucasian Mineral Waters (a group of spa resorts). We haven’t settled on the final list yet though,” said Vasily Ovchinnikov, a representative of Mosgortour.
The price of tours will be dependent upon the customer's place of origin. As Svetlana Akulova explained, “Income levels vary from region to region, not everyone will be able to afford tours priced for Muscovites, for example. So the price will depend on where a client comes from.”
One of the programme's objectives is education, so organisers want to make sure that their tours are kid-friendly. Mosgortour promised to help with that.
“We’ve found that our kids are simply not ready to experience nature. Many countries have camp programmes which teach children how to interact with nature, how to survive, how to act during earthquakes, for example. Our camps are primarily focused on sports, arts, humanities. We’d like to fix this imbalance,” said Mosgortour director Vasily Ovchinnikov.
Psychologist Oksana Orlova told MOSLENTA that kids of all ages could be sent on eco tours; being taught how to interact with animals should be done as early as possible. “Even if they can’t walk, it’s not too early.There are already popular eco camps for kids, which teach them about ornithology. Kids are taught how to observe animals in the wild and how to help them,” she explained.
The ecotourism programme is still in development. There are some policies which have already been established – most tours will take 1-4 days and will include transfer, accommodation in eco-hotels and dining. The list of locations has not been finalised. It will likely include the Moscow zoo sanctuary, located near Volokolamsk, which is generally closed to visitors. It hosts rare and endangered animals, such as the Amur tiger, Amur leopard, Siberian crane and others – a total of 160 species. It also acts as a shelter for rescued animals.
Meanwhile the Moscow zoo has invited locals to participate in developing the programme. According to Moscow zoo director Svetlana Akulova, the “trial” tourists will have to go through a strict screening process. Volunteers are able to apply though the official Moscow zoo website by submitting a written test. Candidates will be selected based on their experience of camping in the wild – the more experience, the better.
“If you are familiar with Russian fauna and know interesting destinations, or are aware of hidden gems that are often overlooked, then tell us where to go and what to see. We need tourists who’d make their own tours,” said Akulova.
Author: Yana Kremnyova