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KHERSON - ASKANIA-NOVA (part 8)

Askania suffered greatly when it was occupied by the Hitlerite plunderers. Almost all the wild animals and "birds were exterminated, the park was partially cut down, the scientific museum and the library of 25 thousand volumes were pillaged, and many unique collections of plants and insects, stuffed animals and birds, as well as the scientific and experimental facilities of the Institute, were destroyed.

As soon as the Hitlerite invaders were driven out of Askania-Nova, the scientists proceeded to restore the scientific research centre. The remaining animals and birds were recovered, some 225 specimens of 20 species, while before the occupation there were tens of thousands of specimens and about 100 species. The Government allocated great funds for the restoration and expansion of this most valuable reservation.

Reorganised in 1956 into the Ukrainian Scientific and Research Institute of Animal Breeding in Steppe Regions named after Academician M. F. Ivanov, this Institute is now a complex scientific and research centre consisting of numerous departments and laboratories, zoological and botanical gardens, and steppe reservations. Working here is a large group of scientists, such as the well-known Academician K. A. Greben, Doctor of Biological Sciences V. D. Treus, candidates of sciences F. I. Krutyporokh, S. P. Kaplunovsky, F. L. Poznorikhin, S. J. Mokeyev, and others. Every year many students and post-graduates of numerous agricultural

higher institutes go through their practice in Askania-Nova.

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In the yard of the central building there is a memorial stone placed in the middle of the flower bed. The inscription says that in 1943—44, when the Kherson Region and the Crimea were being liberated from the German fascist invaders, the territory of Askania-Nova was the base of an air regiment commanded by the three times Hero of the Soviet Union, Alexander Ivanovich Pokryshkin.

In the zoo, or rather a farm, rare and valuable animals and birds are bred. In the thick growth there are ponds with hundreds and thousands of birds swimming on the smooth surfaces. You have probably never before seen such a host of wild ducks, geese, swans, mallards, cranes, etc. concentrated in one place.

A flock of white mute swans is swimming magestically and proudly on the silvery surface of the pond. They are not at all disturbed by the presence of people and feed from hands boldly.

Fantastically beautiful are the black Australian swans. Hooper swans, red-breasted geese, silvery pheasants, gray-lag geese, Egyptian geese, lesser snow geese from the Far North — all these wild birds are allowed complete freedom; they pass their winters in Askania, multiply, and generally feel quite at home.

And what are those graceful birds that resemble storks? Only their bills are very strange. These are roseate flamingoes! Even this capricious bird has got accustomed to Askania, only in winter time they are removed to a special room provided with a pool. These "inconveniences" are also shared with such lovers of warmth as sheldrakes, spoonbills, and others. One may sit for hours on a bench near a pond observing interesting scenes from the life of birds. Here you may be a witness of "dates" and "family scenes" which are often dramatic ones, and even of whole battles.

Then the visitors arc led along a path to the open-air cages where there are eagles, red-headed diving ducks, bustards, African crowned cranes, eagle owls, and other rare birds. The narrow path between the birds' cages turns into a wide passage strewn with yellow sand. On both sides there are large enclosures in which various animals are kept. Here you can see pampa deer, spotted deer and reindeer; an African vatussi ox with horns half a metre in circumference at the base; a white-tailed gnu, the wildest and most unmanageable animal, who will shun even those who feed it. You will also see a Chinese water deer without any antlers but with developed buck teeth instead, and European moufflons — the ancestors of the domestic sheep — whose best properties were turned to account by Academician M. F. Ivanov when breeding the so called mountainous merino. Acclimatised in Askania are the rarest animals — Prjewalski horses, as well as Asian buffaloes, Siberian ibexes, and fallow deer whose usual home is the forest, among whom exceptionally beautiful albino species are to be found. Especially attractive are the single-humped zebus. They give very rich milk, and this quality is inherited by the hybrid species. In the enclosures are maned rams from the African mountains, and quite recent "migrants" — onagers —who gave birth to their first offspring in captivity. Unfortunately, we cannot enumerate all the interesting animals for lack of space, but we should like to say a few words about one more specimen.

Great attention is now being paid by the scientists to the kana antelope from Africa. They have been so domesticated in Askania that they graze in the open steppe, multiply, and some does give plenty of milk — 600-700 litres of milk is given by each doe annually. This milk contains up to 14 per cent of fat, 8 per cent of albumin, and it is very curative. When used regularly, the milk cures most gastric and skin diseases.

The work of the scientists in Askania is aimed at reproducing, acclimatising, hybridising, taming and domesticating valuable and rare wild animals and birds. The research workers of Askania-Nova have already produced 83 hybrids of wild and domestic animals and birds. All of them are of great practical and scientific value. Besides, highly productive farm animals are bred here for pure-strain stations, collective and state farms.

The Askania Institute is also entrusted with the task of raising animals for the usual zoological gardens. In the postwar period more than two thousand animals and birds have been transferred to the zoos of this country and other lands.

Many scientists, including foreign specialists, praise highly the achievements of Askania's scientists and Askania in general, calling it the "biologists' Mecca".

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Fascinated by the unique specimens of the animal world we quite forget of the scorching southern sun. Now we feel it is the right time to invite you to the shade of the botanical garden. Our route lies along Frunze Street. It is not without reason that the street is named after the famous troop leader. At the end of October and beginning of November 1920 the South Front headquarters with M. V. Frunze as Commander-in-Chief were accommodated in house No. 7 in this street. Now the house bears a memorial plaque.

Not far from this house is the entrance to the garden. Close to the fence there is a water tower with adjoining service buildings and a stone wall somewhat like that of a medieval castle. The water tower, which is now a decorative item, has long become obsolete, for its capacity is quite insufficient for such a place like Askania-Nova. The irrigation system is now fed by powerful underground pumping units delivering life-giving liquid from the depth of 90 metres.

By the wall stands a statue of a Soviet Warrior in a mournful attitude. At the end of October 1941 a parachute landing group was dropped in the vicinity of Askania. Among the fifteen paratroopers was a young girl, a wireless operator. The Hitlerites managed to capture the group, and after inhuman tortures all the fifteen were shot at this very wall. In 1957 a monument was erected over the grave of the fallen.

On the irrigated land dozens of species of plants brought from different parts of the globe have been acclimatised. The total number of species of trees and shrubs has reached 659' by now, and if you take into consideration the 240 species of grass growing here, you can imagine what titanic research work is being carried out by the botanists.

In the park there are lots of most attractive places. Now a lane has taken us to the bank of an artificial pond with wild birds gliding on its smooth surface. In the depth one can see little shoals of golden fish.

A stone grotto catches one's eye at the bank of the pond-Well, you cannot possibly help having your photo taken at the grotto, especially when you learn that it is the very grotto where a number of sequences from the film "Captain Grant's-Children" have been taken.

Around the pond and in the park there are Colorado spruces, firs, pines, cedars and cypresses. Foliage trees are represented here by maples, nettle trees, ashes, honey locusts, pagoda-trees; and such rare trees and shrubs as yellow vir-gilia, incense cedar, roseate chestnut, deutzia, bush-like oak, etc.

Now and then through the growth of the park gleams a lawn covered with a velvety green carpet. These lawns have been laid out so that winds can penetrate throughout the park.

The whole park is divided into 60 sections. On the east side is a 16-hectare oak grove. The forest-steppe portion of the park stretches along the so-called "tchoomak road" which was used for many centuries (until the middle of the 19th century) by the tchoomaks two carted salt from the Si-vash estuary area to the northern regions of the country.

The plants grown in the park are valuable sources for obtaining seeds and for vegetative reproduction of naturalised and acclimatised species.

How bountiful is nature! But to make it serve mankind still better, enthusiastic scientists perform their hard duties in the Askania Botanical Garden.

Not far from the park is the colonnaded two-storey building of the Institute. Before the entrance stands the bust monument to Academician M. F. Ivanov.

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In Askania-Nova there is a third natural laboratory — the steppe reserve, a unique place, with an area of eleven thousand hectares, out of which over one and a half thousand hectares remain unmown and ungrazed. It is in this steppe reserve where the properties of wild plants, the soil characteristics, and improvements of nature introduced by man are tested. The steppes in the south of the Ukraine have changed considerably during the period of their cultivation. The preservation of the steppe reserve enables the scientists to study and investigate the principal types of soils and the vegetative cover of the southern Ukrainian steppes.

Two plants predominate in the steppe reserve — sheep's fescue and feather grass. Less territory is occupied by daisies, and the lower parts are noted for motley grass, such as yarrow, bedstraw, groundsel, etc.

In summer the steppe is scorched, but it is not devoid of a peculiar attractiveness of its own. It is in spring that we can see the steppe in all its beauty: tulips begin to bloom covering the earth with a brightly-coloured carpet, and the feather grass waves to and fro. Such was the steppe thousands of years ago, and such it is now.

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Now we see a solitary man walking in the scorched steppe. What is he drawn by in this boundless expanse? Why has he come out of the shade of the Askania oasis? Well, this is an agronomist assistant carrying out a scientific assignment. The data collected may help the scientists to solve such hard problems as the development of perspective food plants, soil moisture dynamics, vegetative cover, and others. Wonderful herbariums of wild plants may be collected in the steppe.

What is in prospect for this remarkable reserve? In the near future new departments of genetics of farm animals, of introduction and acclimatisation of trees and grasses will be created; new laboratories will be opened, such as a laboratory of physiology of farm animals, and those dealing with radiobiology, zoochemistry, meat and milk production. In the jubilee year of 1967 a new dendropark of 100 hectares was laid out. Besides, there is a forest park, a pond with a surface area of 200 hectares, and a green shelter belt — all of them made in the same year. Now the reconstruction and expansion of the zoological garden has been initiated.

A palace of culture, school, theatre, new hospital, boarding home, stadium, swimming pools, camping grounds, open-air stage, and other structures — all these are being built now.

From year to year grows the number of tourists to Askania. For specialists and trose who wish to get acquainted in detail with the research work of the Institute there is a scientific library and a reading-hall. Any question will be fully answered by the Askania scientists.

You may stay here in a modern hotel with a cafe and a dining-room.

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On leaving Askania-Nova you cannot help thinking that in this oasis you can see what the near future of the southern steppes is to be. It shows how, by the efforts of scientists and those working in the farms, the whole steppe will be transformed.

In the wide world every place is distinguished by its peculiar charm which makes it different from any other place. The same is with Kherson Region. And if you have enjoyed travelling in our southern steppes, tell your friends and acquaintances that they are welcome to our sunny Region of Kherson at all times.