Desmana moschata 

Scope: Global

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Eulipotyphla Talpidae

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

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered A2ac ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2016-06-09
Assessor(s): Kennerley, R. & Turvey, S.T.
Reviewer(s): Amori, G.
Contributor(s): Rutovskaya, M., Zagorodnyuk, I., Formozov, N., Tsytsulina, K. & Sheftel, B.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Clayton, E.
The species has a fragmented distribution. Surveys in Russia indicated that the population declined from 27,120 in 2001 to 13,320 in surveys from 2009-2013, which is a 51% reduction. Area of occupancy and habitat quality are also thought to be declining, and the species faces a number of serious ongoing threats including bycatch, habitat loss and degradation, water pollution, and competition from introduced species.
Previously published Red List assessments:

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).
Countries occurrence:
Kazakhstan; Russian Federation; Ukraine
Regionally extinct:
Additional data:
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 Kazakhstan and single records in Ukraine and Belarus. Surveys in the Russian Federation indicate that the population there declined from 39,000 in 1985 to 27,000 in 2000/2001, and this to have declined again to approximately 13,000 (M. Rutovskaya pers. comm.), most likely due to the growing threats from fisheries bycatch. The surveys 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). Surveys from 2009–2011 of apparently suitable habitat failed to detect any individuals in the Khopyor and Medveditsa rivers or in their tributaries and floodplain lakes. The last reliable reports of the presence of the species in theses areas were in 2004 for a tributary of the Khopyor River and in 2008 for a tributary of the Medveditsa River (Oparina et al. 2013). In Ukraine the Desman is currently very rare and in Belarus it has recently been extirpated.
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Population severely fragmented:Yes

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
Generation Length (years):2

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: D. moschata has uses for local livelihoods. The individuals are used for making wearing apparel, handicrafts, jewellery etc.

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: one 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-introduction 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.

Classifications [top]

5. Wetlands (inland) -> 5.1. Wetlands (inland) - Permanent Rivers/Streams/Creeks (includes waterfalls)
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
5. Wetlands (inland) -> 5.5. Wetlands (inland) - Permanent Freshwater Lakes (over 8ha)
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
1. Land/water protection -> 1.1. Site/area protection
2. Land/water management -> 2.1. Site/area management
5. Law & policy -> 5.4. Compliance and enforcement -> 5.4.4. Scale unspecified

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
  Conservation sites identified:Yes, over entire range
In-Place Species Management
  Successfully reintroduced or introduced beningly:Yes
In-Place Education
  Subject to recent education and awareness programmes:Yes
11. Climate change & severe weather -> 11.2. Droughts
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

11. Climate change & severe weather -> 11.4. Storms & flooding
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

2. Agriculture & aquaculture -> 2.1. Annual & perennial non-timber crops -> 2.1.4. Scale Unknown/Unrecorded
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

5. Biological resource use -> 5.1. Hunting & trapping terrestrial animals -> 5.1.1. Intentional use (species is the target)
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

5. Biological resource use -> 5.2. Gathering terrestrial plants -> 5.2.4. Motivation Unknown/Unrecorded
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.3. Unintentional effects: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

7. Natural system modifications -> 7.2. Dams & water management/use -> 7.2.8. Abstraction of ground water (unknown use)
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

7. Natural system modifications -> 7.3. Other ecosystem modifications
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

8. Invasive and other problematic species, genes & diseases -> 8.1. Invasive non-native/alien species/diseases -> 8.1.2. Named species [ Myocastor coypus ]
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.3. Indirect species effects -> 2.3.2. Competition

8. Invasive and other problematic species, genes & diseases -> 8.1. Invasive non-native/alien species/diseases -> 8.1.2. Named species [ Ondatra zibethicus ]
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.3. Indirect species effects -> 2.3.2. Competition

9. Pollution -> 9.3. Agricultural & forestry effluents -> 9.3.4. Type Unknown/Unrecorded
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends

Bibliography [top]

Hutterer, R. 2005. Order Soricomorpha. In: D.E. Wilson and D.M. Reeder (eds), Mammal Species of the World, pp. 220-311. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

IUCN. 2016. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-2. Available at: (Accessed: 04 September 2016).

Oparina, O.S., Filinova, E.I., Sonina, E.E., Malinina Y.A., and Oparin, M.L. 2013. Current Status of the Russian Desman Habitats in Small Rivers of the Don River Basin in Saratov Oblast and the Abundance of This Species. Biology Bulletin 40(10): 854-861.

Pacifici, M., Santini, L., Di Marco, M., Baisero, D., Francucci, L., Grottolo Marasini, G., Visconti, P. and Rondinini, C. 2013. Generation length for mammals. Nature Conservation 5: 87–94.

Citation: Kennerley, R. & Turvey, S.T. 2016. Desmana moschata. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T6506A22321477. . Downloaded on 21 October 2016.
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