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Stretching across Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and China, the Altai-Sayan ecoregion is a mosaic of mountains, coniferous forests, steppe and alpine meadows. With its high level of plant and animal diversity, WWF has identified the Altai-Sayan as a priority region for conservation.

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

Where is the Altai-Sayan mountain region?

The Altai-Sayan mountain region is highlighted in brown below

View WWF Critical Regions of the World in a larger map
Golden Mountains in the centre of Eurasia
The Altai-Sayan ecoregion is one of the last remaining untouched areas of the world. The Altai-Sayan Ecoregion situated on the boundary between Siberian taiga forests and Central Asian deserts stands out from its surrounding territories with its unique diversity of animal and plant worlds. The major ecosystems in the region are: Alpine, Taiga, Mountain-Forest, Forest-steppe, Steppe, Desert steppe, and Freshwater/wetland.
The Ecoregion’s forests are of world value and encompass 412 thousand km, 39% of the region’s total area (located predominantly in the areas of Russia and Kazakhstan). It contains some of the world's largest unbroken stretches of Siberian fir, pine and larch trees.
The dark coniferous taiga is particularly remarkable. It holds the world’s largest mountain cedar forestland (Siberian pine) which provides the habitat for relict nemoral (sylvatic) plant and lichen species. 
The mountain areas of the region give life to 2 of 10 world’s largest rivers – the Ob and the Yenisei with total watershed of over 5.5 millions of square km. The ecoregion is also rich with lakes, they are over 27 thousands. The largest ones are Khuvsgul, Uvs and Teletskoe. 
The Altai Sayan ecoregion is famous with its eternal snow-topped mountains which keep large fresh water reserves; glaceries of 49 cubic km. Big glaceries are located in the Central and Southern Altai, especially on the ranges of Katunsky, Taldurinsky, Ak-Turu, Munku-Sardyk, South and North Chuisky, Kryzin, and Mongol Altai.
Harsh continental climate and complex relief serve as determining factors for a wealth of flora. The list of plants includes over 600 species of mosses, 1200 lichens, over 3500 species of vascular plants. Of Altai-Sayan’s flora, 16% are rare or endangered and 9% are endemic species.   
680 species of the vertebrates are registered in the Ecoregion. Among them: 77 species of fishes, 8 species of amphibians, 25 species of reptiles, 425 species of birds and 143 species of mammals.
39 species are endemic. For instance, Altai snowcock (Tetraogallus altaicus), sky larc (Alauda arvensis alticola), Siberian white-toothed shrew (Сrocidura sibirica), tuvinian beaver (Castor fiber tuvinicus), Gobi-Altai field-vole (Alticola barakschin), pigmy jerboa Kozlovi (Salpingotus kozlovi), Siberian ibex (Capra sibirica).

More information

Teletskoye Lake in the Altaisky Zapovednik, Central Altai, Siberia, Russia. rel= © WWF / Hartmut JUNGIUS

Threats to Altai-Sayan biodiversity

The following threats exist in the ecoregion:

  • 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
WWF Programs on Conservation of Altai-Sayan
WWF makes all efforts to establishing a network of protected areas, national strategy plans for snow leopards and argali conservation, anti poaching activities, forests and fresh water conservation, legislation improvement, and working on raising livelihood of the local communities, environmental education for sustainable development and public awareness
WWF commenced its conservation activities in the ASER in 1996, initially in Mongolia, then in 1998 in Russia. The first project, funded by WWF Netherlands, aimed at ‘Ensuring Long-Term Conservation of Biodiversity of Altai-Sayan Ecoregion’, covered Altaiski krai and Republics of Altai, Tuva, Khakassia in Russia and four aimaks in Mongolia. The goal of the project was to conserve the biodiversity in the ASER for the next 50 years and beyond. The activities that were initiated by WWF were further supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through cooperation with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) country offices in Mongolia, Russia and Kazakhstan.
To forge a common understanding and vision for sustainable development and conservation in the ASER, WWF facilitated an international conference called the Altai-Sayan Forum in Belokurikha, Russia on 2-9 October 1999. The idea of developing a comprehensive Ecoregional Conservation Action Plan, based on national-level Conservation Action Plans, was suggested. Also, the Altai-Sayan Millennium Initiative to conserve biological diversity as a global favour to all humankind was accepted at this event. It was signed by the governor of Republic of Khakassia, heads of four Mongolian aimaks, the director of WWF Russia and by the heads of all regions of the project, making it an important political document.
In 2000, an agreement was signed between WWF, UNDP-GEF and the Russian Ministry for Natural Resources (MNR) for the development of a GEF “PDF-B” funding proposal, resulting in WWF being commissioned to draft the Altai-Sayan Ecoregion Conservation Action Plan (ASECAP) for the Russian part of ASER with work starting in April 2002.
WWF Mongolia played a similar crucial role in preparing the UNDP-GEF project in Mongolia. ASECAP provided a framework for donors and institutions to pursue specific actions. In the same year (2002) a Regional Steering Committee was established to support the UNDP/ GEF programme implementation on international level with the purpose to ensure strategic planning and financial coverage for project activities.

Facts & Figures

  • The Altai-Sayan ecoregion covers over 1 million square kilometres; 2,000km east to west.
  • About 62% of the area is located in Russia, 29% in Mongolia, 5% in Kazakhstan and 4% in China.
  • At 4506m, Mt Belukha in Russia is the highest peak of the Altai Mountains.
  • There are about 4,500-6,000 snow leopards in the wild.
  • Altai argali are the largest of all wild sheep; adult males can weigh up to 200kg and their massive horns up to 27kg.