Altai-Sayan Montane Forests | WWF

Altai-Sayan Montane Forests

Katon-Karagai National Park, Kazakhstan.
© WWF / Hartmut JUNGIUS

Geography of the Area

This Global ecoregion is made up of 6 terrestrial ecoregions: Sayan Alpine meadows and tundra; Great Lakes Basin desert steppe; Altai montane forest and forest steppe; Sayan montane conifer forests; Sayan Intermontane steppe; and Altai alpine meadow and tundra.

The Altai-Sayan Ecoregion occupies the territory of 1,065 millions of square km in the center of the Eurasia and stretches for 2000 km from east to west and 1500 km from north to south on the territory of four countries: 62% in Russia, 29% - in Mongolia, 5% - in Kazakhstan and 4% - in China.

Two of 10 world’s greatest rivers – the Ob’ and the Yenisei – spring here. One of the symbols of the region – the Belukha Mountain (4509 m) and Khuiten (4374 m) – are the highest peaks in the eco region.

Amazing big cat, the snow leopard, and the biggest wild sheep, argali, live in the mountains of Altai and Sayan.

The Altai-Sayan region is a crossroad of the most ancient human cultures. This region includes numerous historical objects and archeological sites and is considered to be one of the cradles of our civilization.

There are 6 nature territories which are named as World Culture and Nature Heritage by UNESCO in the ecoregion - Altaisky Zapovednik and a buffer zone around Lake Teletskoye; Katunsky Zapovednik and a buffer zone around Mount Belukha; the Ukok Quiet Zone on the Ukok plateau; Uvs Lake. 

862,000 sq. km (333,000 sq. miles)

Habitat type:
Temperate Coniferous Forests

Geographic Location:
Central Asia: China, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia

Conservation Status:

Flora of the Altai-Sayan

The ASER holds more than 3700 species of vascular plants, forming hundreds of different types of plant communities. Among them are 700 threatened or rare species, more than 300 endemic species and more than 600 sub-endemic species, whose ranges exceed the boundaries of the region to some extent. 

Sedum evers, an endemic medicinal plant of the Altai 
	© Hartmut Jungius/ WWF Netherlands
Sedum evers, an endemic medicinal plant of the Altai
© Hartmut Jungius/ WWF Netherlands

Fauna of the Altai-Sayan

The ecoregion is a pleasant home to thousands of wild species including the large mammals such as argali sheep (Ovis Ammon), elk (Alces alces), Siberian roe deer (Capreolus pygargus), Siberian ibex (Capra sibirica), Mongolian saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica),   musk deer (Moschus moschiferus), reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), brown bear (Ursus arctos) and lynx (Lynx lynx) etc.

More than 300 bird species including both migratory and non-migratory birds habit and breed here. Some of the rarest are the Altai snow-cock (Tetraogallus altaicus), golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), perigrine falcon (falco peregrinus), dalmation pelican (Pelecanus crispus), saker falcon (Falco cherrug), great bustard (Otis tarda) and demoiselle crane (Anthropoides virgo).

Ichthyofauna is represented by numerous species among which are some endemic species such as the Teletski whitefish, the scaly osman (Diptychus), round whitefish (Prosopium cylindraceum), and Mongolian grayling (Thymallus brevirostris). 

Altai-Sayan World Heritage Sites

Altai Golden Mountains: Covering 1,611,457 hectares in southern Siberia, this World Heritage Site includes the Altai and Katun natural reserves, Lake Teletskoye, Belukha Mountain and the Ukok Plateau. The area is home to snow leopards and many other endangered species, including the argali sheep, dzeren antelope, black stork and steppe eagle. 

Uvs Nuur Basin
: Covering 1,068,853 hectares, the Uvs Nuur basin is one of the best-preserved natural steppe landscapes of Eurasia. The basin locates in transboundary area of Mongolia and Russia and comprises several smaller lakes, notably Uvs Nuur Lake, which lies at 1,450m above sea level. As these lakes lie to the north of other inland seas of Central Asia, they are of key importance for waterfowl migration.

Indigenous People

More than 20 indigenous ethnic groups inhabit in Russian part of the region and about 16 in Mongolia whose belief systems and way of life have common roots in the ancient traditions of nomadic tribes.

The majority of the Mongolian populations are shepherds whose economic activity is based on livestock-breeding. The Russian population is mainly engaged in farming, cattle-breeding, mineral and timber industries. 

To a large degree, conservation of wildlife in the Altai-Sayan depends on the preserving the traditions of the region’s indigenous peoples who have for many centuries managed to support the region’s outstanding levels of biodiversity.  

The largest proportion of the Altai-Sayan Ecoregion remains least economically developed. But in recent years the region’s economy has taken a fall which has resulted in the local population becoming increasingly dependent on exploiting of natural resources. Poverty, widespread unemployment and the lack of alternative sources of income represent serious social and economic problems which lead to over-exploitation of the region’s resources and a negative impact on biodiversity. 

Neolithic (4 000 BC) rock carving of an ibex and wolf in the Yamastyn River Valley, Mongolia
© Hartmut Jungius/ WWF

Cradle of civilizations

About 6 millions of people live in the Ecoregion (except China), 83% are Russians, 6% are Mongolians and 11% are Kazakhs.

Many historians and archaeologists refer to the Altai-Sayan as the ‘cradle of civilisations’. The ancient history of the Altai-Sayan located at the crossroads between European and Asian civilizations has generated a uniquely diverse of cultural heritage. Thousands of petroglyphs, rock paintings, kurgans, mengirs and stella merge harmoniously with the natural landscape. Various monuments date to the same period as the Egyptian pyramids. 


WWF is working in the ecoregion to address the following threats:
  • Poaching and illegal trade in flora and fauna 
  • Development of  infrastructure and industry
  • Impact of climate change on species and ecosystems 
  • Competition for pastures, overgrazing 
  • Deforestation, unsustainable forestry practices
  • Water pollution
  • Poverty and unemployment

Altai-Sayan Conservation

The overall goal of WWF is to ensure a long-term conservation of the Snow leopard and Altai mountain sheep (Argali) as well as their habitat and other representative biomes of the Altai-Sayan Ecoregion.  

The main objectives of WWF in Altai Sayan Ecoregion are:

  • Creation of the representative network of protected areas (the Econet)
  • Support of the protected areas and raising the effectiveness of their work through the experience exchanges, trainings for PA staff, assistance in the development of sustainable financing strategies etc.
  • Development of the ecological tourism and other economic initiatives directed to the sustainable progress of the region
  • Support of the anti-poaching brigades
  • Trainings for the Custom and Border Service staff to raise their level of awareness of  illegal wildlife trade
  • Legislation improvement 
  • Public ecological awareness campaigns

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