The Askania Nowa nature reserve in southern Ukraine owes its existence to a German baron who settled exotic plants and animals in this area over the century. Today, the largest steppe landscape in Europe is used for research purposes and safari excursions.
The Askania Nowa nature reserve on the Black Sea in southern Ukraine is one of the few natural steppe areas in Europe and was established primarily for research purposes. More than 50 rare animal species live on an area of about 33,000 hectares in the middle of Kherson Oblast north of the Crimean peninsula. It has been part of UNESCO's International System of Protected Areas since 1984 and one of Ukraine's Seven Wonders of the World since 2008.
Emergence of the Askania Nowa Nature Reserve
The nature reserve originally owes its existence to Duke Ferdinand von Anhalt-Köthen, who in 1828 gave birth to the idea of breeding sheep in Ukraine. The Russian government at the time was interested in refined breeds of sheep from Germany and gave the Duke almost 500 square kilometres of pastureland in the south of Ukraine at the time, the then "Steppe 21″. From his travels, the nature-loving baron brought exotic animals and plants to Askania Nowa, which he suspected could survive in the Ukrainian steppe.
Twelve years later, there were already around 8,000 sheep and a variety of other mammals. Even kangaroos are said to have been at home here. Nevertheless, the enterprise remained unprofitable and had to be sold 20 years later at a loss.
The new owners were from the German-Russian noble family Falz-Fein, who abandoned sheep breeding and built a zoo and a botanical garden instead. In the latter, 200 different species of trees from all over the world were planted and cultivated in the south of Ukraine. In addition to sheep, eland were soon bred - with greater success, the herds still exist today. At the beginning of the 19th century, wild Przewalski horses, the original form of our present-day horses, were brought to Askania Nowa from the Gobi desert and bred.
During the October Revolution in autumn 1917, the estate was severely devastated and the family fled to Germany. Today, the current head of the Falz-Feins family lives in his villa Askania Nowa in Liechtenstein.
The nature reserve today
The nature reserve, which was founded in 1921 as a steppe reserve, takes its name from the Ascanians, the old duchy from the German Anhalt. In the centre there is a settlement of the same name, where among other things the botanical garden, the zoo and aresearch facility for breeding steppe cattle are still located. Other research institutes deal with phytotechnology ("plant cultivation"), the breeding of farm animals and experimental agriculture.
Bisons, antelopes, wild horses, llamas, zebras, emus, ostriches, parrots, flamingos, cranes and a variety of other birds have found a protected habitat in the Askania Nowa nature reserve. The world's largest herd of small Przewalski's horses can be found here. In addition, some 600 different trees and shrubs thrive in the nature reserve, 16 of which are endangered species. The 11,000 hectares of Askania Nowa are a true open-air museum for nature lovers.
During the Second World War, the nature reserve was occupied by German troops, who lost many animals and almost all scientific documents. Today, the Askania Nowa Nature Reserve is under the control of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences.
Askania Nowa is best explored by car, but also on horseback. There are public bus connections from Kherson (takes just under 2 hours) or also from Kiev (13 hours). In summer, it may not be possible to go on safaris, as the risk of fire on the steppe is too great due to the drought. Depending on the month, the steppe is covered in a different colour dress. In April, the colourful tulips are in bloom, and when the flax is in flower, the Askania Nowa is covered with a snow-white blanket.