Mountainous region in the Russian Far East, separating the Sea of Okhotsk from the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea. The Kamchatka Peninsula is over 1,200 km/746 mi long, covers an area of 370,000 sq km/142,857 sq mi, and contains a total of over 120 volcanoes (20 of them active), together with many hot springs and geysers. The highest point is Klyuchevskaya Sopka (4,755 m/15,600 ft), itself an active volcano. The region has an extremely severe climate and predominantly tundra vegetation, with forests in sheltered valleys. The Kamchatka Peninsula is home to a huge number of animal and bird species, including the brown bear, sea eagle, and sable. Fishing, sealing, hunting (largely fur trapping), and lumbering are the main occupations. There is some cattle breeding in the south, and farming (potatoes, oats, rye, and vegetables) mainly in the Kamchatka valley; reindeer are also raised. Industries include shipbuilding, fish processing, and woodworking. There are coal, sulphur, gold, mica, and other mineral deposits.
Kamchatka was home to diverse peoples, such as the Koryak, the Chukchi, the Itelman, and the Kamchadals, before the arrival of Russian explorers in search of furs in the late 17th century. The numbers of indigenous people diminished greatly as a result of contact, though isolated groups still pursue their traditional way of life in the west and northeast of the peninsula. From the mid-18th century, Kamchatka was used by Russia as a remote place of exile for criminals and political prisoners. In the Soviet era, its strategically important location saw the growth of military installations guarding the USSR's eastern flank.
Geologically, the Kamchatka mountain ranges are the result of tertiary folding. An attempt to harness the energy available from the volcanic activity here was made in 1965, when Russia's only geothermal power station was put into operation. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, wildlife management in Kamchatka deteriorated. Foreign trophy hunters had reduced the bear population (between 14,000 and 11,000 in 1990) by about 6,000 by 1994. The extremely rare Amur tiger numbered just 250 in 1994, reduced from 400 in 1990.
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