Fauna of Pshav-Khevsureti

There is a bird, whose voice is always heard in Pshavi and Khevsureti as well as in all the highest passes and peaks of Caucasus. This is Caucasian Snowcock- quite big (the size of a hen) and an almost invisible bird, whose whistle is one of the most common sounds of in the Caucasus. Still this bird is rarely seen by travellers. The snowcock lives in upland areas, during winter it lives at a height of 3000 meters, while during the spring months of April and May, it descends to relatively low altitudes. Khevsuri people say: He who can kill the Snowcock can also kill the female Jikhvi – East Caucasian Tur. In fact both Snowcocks and Turs live at the same altitude and are considered a most wanted loot. Many legends are told about the coexistence of these two animals they say Snowcocks guard Turs and warn them about danger, in return they find food in the snow uncovered by Turs. The Tur is a real beauty of the Caucasian mountains, especially the male Tur with their huge horns. All year around they inhabit the unreachable lower peaks and only during November do they leave these places for lower latitudes for the mating season. These animals have an incredible strength and ability to adapt to their environment. A group of frightened Turs can overcome absolutely vertical cliffs. Because they live in unreachable cliff strongholds they prefer to dwell on the northern steep slopes of the Caucasus. They are mostly encountered in the Northern Khevsureti and very rarely in the Southern areas. Below the subalpine and alpine meadows where the Turs live, another hoofed animal dwells- Chamois. It has a lesser stature and is a beautiful creature, which lives in small groups. If you encounter a solitary Chamois, it’s an aged male. The species is often encountered in an area around mount Borbalo. In subalpine forest and slopes where rhododendrons are widespread the Caucasian Grouse dwells. For a long time this bird was considered to be the Black Grouse. The history of this species is connected with the Polish naturalist Mlokosevich. This interesting man lived in the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. He worked as a forester in the Lagodekhi forest reserve which belonged to Russian prince Demidov. He was the first one to notice that grouse living in the Caucasus were different from their European cousin. He had caught several birds and sent them to a University in Warsaw. There, experts declared them to be an independent species and gave them the Latin Like Snowcock, grouse is also a native of the Caucasian mountains. It spends winter time in evergreen rhododendron thickets, where it makes tunnels in the snow. During spring, when the snow becomes heavy and wet it migrates to the southern slopes. This is the easiest time to see this bird, especially the male, whose black cover is On the Borders of Khevsureti and Chechnya, on the cliffs near Anatori, one can still encounter Bezoar Goats. Except for this place, on Georgian territory this animal can only be found in Tusheti. This wild goat lives on steep and sometimes completely vertical slopes covered by forests. Unfortunately, there are very few Bezoar Goats left in Georgia, the population of this species requires special care There is no more Red Deer to be found in Pshav-Khevsureti. Pshavi’s places for prayer are still abundant with horns of slain Deer. Mountain dwellers sacrificed their loot to the gods, in order to bring them luck when next hunting. Icons of Khevsureti are covered with Tur horns, while Icons of Pshavi are covered with deer antlers. No one is allowed to touch these sacrifices or move them from these places. Till this day deer antlers lay on icons in simple construction, while the noble animal itself is no longer seen in Pshavi. A small brother of the Deer – the Roe Deer is frequently encountered in Pshav-Khevsureti. Its home is within deciduous forests. If this animal is not bothered, it can dwell near a human environment and quickly multiply. At high altitudes one can encounter traces of Brown Bear. Bears living in the Caucasus region are not aggressive and cautious; they are very hard to spot. In Pshav-Khevsureti and all over Georgia the population is quite stable, but the bear as with all other species are often targeted by poachers. The other noticeable predators of Pshav-Khevsureti are: Wolf, Lynx, Fox, Cliff Marten and little, but the most widespread is the Least Weasel, which lives right next to human settlements. In the distant past Khevsureti was a home to the Leopard as well, people used to call them tigers. Scientists still hope that somewhere in Northern Khevsureti and Tusheti there might still be Leopards. Several expeditions have been made to find one; unfortunately they have not been successful. The last Leopard on Georgian territory was seen in the most south-eastern region-natural reserve of Vashlovani. The first time it was seen in 2003, however in 2009 its tracks were lost. Information about the animal species comes from very old sources. Its existence in the mountains let to the creation of the Georgian national epic the “Tiger and the Young Man”, which tells a story of the battle between two worthy opponents, a young hunter and a tiger. This is a hymn of praise for bravery and more importantly humanism. Both rivals die during the battle. The poem ends with the mother of the hunter crying over her son’s death. She decides to find the mother of the tiger so they can both mourn the death of their sons together. The formation of the Pshav-Khevsuri people’s mentality has been shaped during direct contact with nature. In their faith and tradition predator birds play an important role. Khevsuri people believed that there exist “wise” birds- such as Crane, Wagtail and Cuckoo, which are possessed by the souls of dead people. Killing such birds was a terrible sin and would cause misfortune. Khevsuri even called the other worlds “the country of Cuckoos”. East Caucasus in inhabited by many interesting birds. This region is especially good for a kind of ecotourism called “birdwatching”. Apart from the already mentioned Shurtkhi and Rocho, good targets for birdwatching are the Great Rosefinch and Guldenstadts Redstart. Also of rare beauty is a small bird called the Wallcreaper, whose Khevsurian name “Cliff Fire” is very appropriate as it jumps from one cliff to another with its red wings and looks like a real fire.  Mornings in the villages of Pshav-Khevsureti usually start with the song of the common Gosefinch, Goldfinch and Wheatear. Cuckoos song during their mating season is the main musical theme in the area. Obviously the mountains are impossible to imagine without large bird predators. The unchallenged ruler in the mountains is the Golden Eagle. Everyone who has ever seen this powerful bird flying has to recognize its majesty. This massive bird reaches an incredible speed while diving from above with folded wings. Even the cautious Snowcock cannot escape it. The other predatory birds one will encounter in Pshav Khevsureti are: Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Common Buzzard and Sparrowhawk. From scavengers one can find here the Griffon Vulture (Gyps) and the Lammergeier (Bearded Vulture). The last one is one of the most beautiful birds in the Caucasus. No one knows why the Bearded Vulture takes mineral baths but these are the remains of minerals that give it a golden colour. The bearded Vulture and Gyps belong to the elite group of scavenger birds. They have excellent sight and as soon as they spot carrion they appear as if from nowhere. However they might circle their food for a very long time, until a bird of larger intelligence, the Raven, comes first. When the Raven starts eating the carrion it is a signal that there is no danger. When summer days are over in Pshav-Khevsureti, the areas where cattle and sheep are sacrificed are full of animal remains. After the human has finished, it is time for the birds to feast. This is also a part of a natural cycle unique to this area.