Desmana moschata


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Desmana moschata
Species Authority: (Linnaeus, 1758)
Common Name(s):
English Russian Desman, RUSSIAN DESMAN
Spanish Desman Ruso, DESMAN RUSO
Taxonomic Notes: The only representative of its genus.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A2bc+4bc ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Tsytsulina, K., Formozov, N., Sheftel, B. & Zagorodnyuk, I.
Reviewer(s): Amori, G. (Small Nonvolant Mammal Red List Authority) & Temple, H. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)
A rare species with a fragmented distribution. Population size, area of occupancy, and habitat quality are all declining, and the species faces a number of serious threats including bycatch, habitat loss and degradation, water pollution, and competition from introduced species. Surveys in Russia indicate that the population declined from 39,000 in 1985 to 27,000 in 2000/2001, and it is suspected that rates of decline have increased since then. The desman recently went extinct in Belarus. Overall, it is suspected that declines exceed 30% over a ten-year period in the past or future, so the species is assessed as Vulnerable.
1996 Vulnerable

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: This species occurs in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan; it has recently disappeared from Belarus. At the beginning of the 20th century the desman was common in the Dnepr, Don, Volga and Ural rivers basins. Its current range is very fragmented, and it has disappeared from many areas where it formerly occurred. At the end of the 19th century it disappeared from Ukraine, but was reintroduced in the 1950s. In the 1990s it was found again in the Desna (a tributary of the Dnepr, Ukraine).
Kazakhstan; Russian Federation; Ukraine
Regionally extinct:
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: At the beginning of the 1970s in the Soviet Union there were about 70,000 individuals, of which the majority occurred in Russia, with about 1,500 individuals in Kazahstan and single records in Ukraine and Belarus. More recent surveys in the Russian Federation indicate that the population there declined from 39,000 in 1985 to 27,000 in 2000/2001, and it is suspected that rates of decline have increased since then owing to growing threats from fisheries bycatch. The 2000/2001 survey covered around 30,000 km of the banks of rivers, lakes and artificial reservoirs, and a uniform methodology was used (see the Biodiversity Conservation Centre website for further details). In Ukraine the desman is currently very rare and in Belarus it has recently been extirpated.
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: A riparian species, it is found in holes primarily along oxbow lakes, less frequently by rivers and ponds. It does not inhabit all water bodies within its range; it has quite strict habitat requirements and prefers water bodies with rich water-marsh vegetation, bushes and primary forests along the banks. Prefers lakes with 1-2 m depth with rich invertebrate fauna. Also found in small rivers with slow flow. In favourable years it is able to reproduce during the whole year, but usually has two reproduction peaks at the end of spring and autumn. Males participate in care of young. Omnivorous, recorded feeding on at least 72 species of water invertebrates and 30 plant species, as well as fish and amphibians.
Systems: Terrestrial; Freshwater

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The main threat to the Russian desman at present is the widespread use of fixed fishing nets. These nets, which are used by poachers, have become increasingly cheap and widely available in recent years: a recent study recorded 50 'outlets' freely selling these nets on the Moscow-Vladimir section of the Nizhny Novgorod highway alone ( The very low price and high durability of modern nets means that poachers often leave them in the water for days or even months, checking them only occasionally and often abandoning them. A desman dies on average within 5-10 minutes when trapped in a net.

The second most important threat is the use of 'electric landing nets' (or electric rods), which use an electric current to stun fish. These items of equipment, also used by poachers, have become widespread over the last 10-15 years. They are not believed to directly harm desmans, as a general rule, but they almost totally wipe out the fish and aquatic invertebrates that the desman depends upon.

A third major threat is habitat loss and degradation. During the second half of the twentieth century water pollution, creation of impoundments, drainage, clearance of riparian vegetation, and uncontrolled agricultural exploitation of flood plains became widespread and contributed to the decline in the species' population. However, this process has abated somewhat in the last decade, and its influence on the decline in the Russian desman population is today secondary. Competition for breeding sites with introduced nutria (Myocastor coypus) and muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) may also be a threat.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: The desman is listed in the Russian Red Data Book (under category 2: declining in number rare relict species). It is protected in the buffer zone of Okskiy, Voronezhskiy, Kaluzhskie Zaseki Zapovednik, and Ugra National Parks and several small protected areas. This species has been the subject of re-introductions attempts. Recently, conservationists tried to reintroduce it to the Desna basin, in the area of Bryanskiy Les Zapodnenik. The Biodiversity Conservation Centre has started a public campaign against nylon nets and electro-fishing.

Conservation measures recommended to stabilize and improve the condition of the Russian desman throughout its range include the following:
· Banning the unrestricted sale of nets and net-making materials;
· Developing a system of measures to combat electric landing nets; and
· Setting up specialized hunting reserves in the desman's key areas of habitation.

Citation: Tsytsulina, K., Formozov, N., Sheftel, B. & Zagorodnyuk, I. 2008. Desmana moschata. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <>. Downloaded on 01 July 2015.
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