Europe and Central Asia
3 Feb 2018

Saluting the brave Nature’s Heroes of Belarus

The three Nature's Heroes chosen by APB—BirdLife Belarus can be considered heroes in a more conventional sense.

Dr Vladimir Ivanovskihas pioneered tecniques for raptor protection in Belarus
Dr Vladimir Ivanovskihas pioneered tecniques for raptor protection in Belarus
By Nick Langley

The three Nature's Heroes chosen by Akhova Ptushak Batskaushchyny (APB—BirdLife Belarus) can be considered heroes in a more conventional sense. One climbs to dizzying heights to study the nests of raptors, with only a few old canvas straps to keep him from falling. The second confronted and defeated a horde of foreign hunters intent on killing the breeding ducks and other wildlife for which he is responsible. The third challenged a poacher and was shot and permanently disabled; but though no longer able to work as a protected area manager, has established a new career as one of Belarus's most respected wildlife photographers, and inspires many people to become conservationists.

Dr Vladimir Ivanovski, an APB member since the BirdLife Partner organisation was founded, is the “father” of raptor protection in Belarus. He pioneered techniques such as the provision of nesting platforms for rare raptors, and nestboxes for owls, in places where few natural nesting sites exist, and introduced supplementary winter feeding for raptors.

He has located and protected literally hundreds of raptor nests

With the help of a network of foresters, hunters and other people in remote and wild places, he has located and protected literally hundreds of raptor nests, and is especially well known for his work with Merlins and various species of eagle. A Short-toed Eagle has nested on one of his platforms, probably the first time this species has ever used an artificial nest; and he has designed an artificial nest for merlins specially adapted for raised bog habitats.

Though born in Russia, Dr Ivanovski has lived in Belarus since 1972. In 1986 he completed his PhD on "Rare birds of prey of Byelorussian Poozerie (lake system) and ways of conserving them". Since 2008, he has been Senior Lecturer in Ecology and Nature Conservation at Vitebsk State University. Popular with journalists as well as with students, Vladimir Ivanovski has developed a large following of people who have introduced his methods of protecting and encouraging nesting raptors throughout Belarus. The hero of a number of documentary films, he also works with children and students raising awareness of wildlife conservation.

The stunning Pripyat river floodplain IBA © V Malyshchyc

Mikhail Ermolich

The legal spring hunting of birds as they arrive to breed in the national parks of Belarus has long been a major concern for APB. While parts of the Belarus government are strongly opposed to such hunting, other parts see the annual influx of foreign hunters, especially from Italy, as important contributors to the economy. There is evidence that legal spring hunting is used as a cover for poaching, and some National Park staff and others officially employed in wildlife protection have been found to be involved in the lucrative business of legal and illegal spring hunting. Wildlife inspectors have been frightened to intervene.

His actions actually ended spring hunting as well as poaching in the territories under his inspection, and saved many birds

In the spring of 2017, Mikhail Ermolich, an inspector with the State Inspectorate for Fauna and Flora Protection, stepped in to arrest Italian hunters in the Pripyat river floodplain. They were shooting female ducks, which are protected in the breeding season, and other protected species. 


“His actions actually ended spring hunting as well as poaching in the territories under his inspection, and saved many birds. We were very excited”, said APB's Vintchevski. Mikhail Ermolich's brave action has encouraged others to stand up to illegal hunting, and he now has many local contacts who inform him about poaching.


Mikalaу Vаrabeу

Mikalaу Vаrabeу is an APB member, and was formerly a biologist employed to manage the Vyhanashchanskaye Republican Landscape Reserve, a Ramsar wetland of international importance. The reserve, a mixture of dense forest and marsh, overlaps with the Vyhanaščanskija baloty Important Bird and Biodiversity area, for which he was also a volunteer IBA caretaker.

In December 2010, while on his official duties, he was shot in the legs by a local poacher. He is now disabled, and unable to work in his former role, but has instead developed his skills as a photographer. His pictures are used in many APB publications. An inspiring figure whose story has been featured in the media, he communicates his enthusiasm for nature and conservation to children and adults.

Mikalaу Vаrabeу out in the field © Mikalaу Vаrabeу

Mikalay's surname, Varabey, means "sparrow" in Russian. "He likes to take pictures of them", Alexandre Vintchevski recalled. "Once, when he won an APB photo contest with pictures of sparrows, he said that his name obliges him to defend the interests of the sparrow!"


Mikalaу Vаrabeу feels obliged to defend the interests of sparrows: and he takes wonderful images of them too!  © Mikalaу Vаrabeу


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