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Last Updated: Friday, 9 June 2006, 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK
Russians rally for water mammal
Russian desman
Russian desman: Threatened by poachers
Russian conservationists have launched a campaign to save the Russian desman - a small semi-aquatic mammal similar to the muskrat.

Scientists say Russian desman numbers have halved in the past 30 years. The 20cm-long creature is unique to Russia, inhabiting ponds and river banks.

Wildlife expert Gennady Khakhin blamed the decline on the growth of riverside cottages and poachers using nylon nets.

Russian conservationists want the sale of such nets to be banned.

Coin with image of desman (pic: Russkiye dengi website)
The mammal was commemorated on a silver ruble coin
Russian desman numbers are estimated at just 35,000.

Spearheading the "Save the Russian desman" campaign, Nelli Zaripova said the image of the desman - called vykhukhol in Russian - also needed a makeover.

"If you say the word vykhukhol people nearby start saying 'You should be ashamed, swearing like that!' It's incomprehensible that the desman has such a negative reputation," she said.

She said children should be taught to respect the desman, which eats insects, snails and tiny fish.

The animal is one of the oldest mammals in Eurasia. It has a long snout, thick fur and webbed feet.

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