Golden Mountains of Altai, Russian Federation

Geographical Location

Golden Mountains of Altai ( 50°28'0.12"N, 86° 0'0.00"E) is a World Heritage Site situated in southern Siberia in the Russian Federation on the territory of the Altai Republic. It comprises the high mountainous areas of Altai, the headwaters of the Katun and Chulyshman Rivers and Lake Teletskoe. The proposed nomination is a cluster which consists of three closely located areas: a) Altayskiy Zapovednik on the Chulyshman Upland and Lake Teletskoe with its buffer zone (51°00'N/89°00'E); b) Katunskiy Zapovednik and its buffer zone around Mt. Belukha (49°30'N/86°15'E) c) The Ukok Quiet Zone on the Ukok Plateau (49°15'N/87°30'E). Two of the areas are located along the borders with Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia.

The major cities nearest to the nominated area are Gorno-Altaisk, the capital of the Altai Republic and Barnaul, the capital of Altai. Barnaul has an international airport and a large railway station and a road connection with Gorno-Altaisk. The nearest railway station to the proposed territory is in Byisk city about 100 kilometers (km) away. Access to the three areas of the proposed nomination is very difficult and may be reached by dirt roads. The most remote parts of the territory are accessible only by helicopter, on foot or horseback.

Date and History of Establishment

caption Altai Mountains. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In 1932 the first nature reserve, Altaiskiy Zapovednik, was established in the mountainous plateau east of the River Chulushman with the aim of protecting Lake Teletskoe and the eastern Altai. Twice, from 1951 to 1958 and from 1961 to 1967, the Altaiskiy Zapovednik was closed down and re-opened again. In 1991, Katunskiy Zapovednik and its buffer zone was established to protect the natural habitats of the upper reaches of the Katun River and the Katun Ridge. In both zapovedniks all human activity is strictly prohibited and they enjoy protection under the Federal Law on Specially Protected Nature Territories (1995).

The whole of the Lake Teletskoe watershed enjoys protection under the Federal Forest Code, while a special regulation has given the Lake a 3 km protection zone around the whole of its shoreline. The buffer zone to Katunskiy Zapovednik with Mt. Belukha also enjoys protection under the Federal Forest Code. In 1994, by an Enactment of the Altai Government, the Ukok Quiet Zone was established in the south of the Altai Republic. In 1996, the Altai Republic awarded Lake Teletskoe and Mt. Belukha the status of natural monuments, under provisions of a local Law on Specially Protected Nature Territories and Sites (1994). These three areas were designated as a World Heritage Site in 1998.


The designated site comprises 1,611,457 hectares (ha) in total, of which 1,002,000 ha are strictly protected areas, while the remaining 609,457 ha have a lower protected status.

  • Altaiskiy Zapovednik 872,000 ha
  • Katunskiy Zapovednik 130,000 ha
  • Lake Teletskoe and its watershed 93,753 ha
  • Mt. Belukha and Buffer Zone 262,800 ha
  • Ukok Quiet Zone 252,904 ha

Land Tenure



Altitudes from the lowest point, which is the bottom of the Lake Teletskoe at 109 meters (m), through the surface of the lake which is at 434 m above sea level, to the highest peak of Mt. Belukha at 4,506 m. The forest line is at about 1,800-1,900 m.

Physical Features

The area represents the highest and most pristine parts of the Altai Mountains and provides a wide range of physical features which include: about 1,500 glaciers (Katunskiy, Akkemskiy, Mensu and others) with a total area of 910 square kilometers (km2); high mountain peaks as well as lower slopes and foothills; and deep mountain valleys such as the Bertek and Dzhulukul valleys. The system of mountain ridges of Altai is the highest point of the Arctic Ocean watershed and of the headwaters of the Ob' River, the principal waterway of Western Siberia and one of the longest rivers in the world. There are many different examples of other water features to be found, including numerous lakes, waterfalls, rivers and their tributaries. Among them are Lake Teletskoe with its exceptionally clear water (up to 15.5 m visibility) and its great depth (325 m). The Lake is the second deepest freshwater reservoir in Siberia after Lake Baikal and contains 39 cubic kilometers (km3) of water. There are 1,274 smaller freshwater lakes.

The formation of Altai mountainous region began in Caledonian-Hercynian period almost 200 millions years ago. During this period the earth's crust in this area was very unstable and mobile. The area formed a bottom of a deep sea where numerous layers of sediment accumulated. From about 150 millions years ago the region experienced a process of denudation. As a result of the active tectonic processes which took place during the Palaeozoic period and which were accompanied by violent volcanic activity, the sea disappeared from the area and the land began to rise. The modern structure of the Altai region was formed mainly by the tectonic processes of the Cainozoic period with its vault lifting. The maximum up-thrust occurred in central Altai with a maximum rise of 3,000 m to 4,000 m.


The Altai region has a continental climate with vast contrasts between warm and rainy summers and cold winters with little snow cover in the valleys and canyons and heavy snow in the mountainous areas. Mean annual temperatures are from 0°C with annual rainfall of 500-700 millimeters mm. Mean average temperatures in July range from 15-17°C on the snow line in the mountains. Winters have very severe conditions and an absolute minimum of -62°C has been registered in the mountain valleys.


Floral diversity of the proposed nomination comprises more than 2,000 species. Forests are predominantly coniferous of Siberian silver fir Abies sibirica, larch Larix sibiricaand pine Pinus sibiricawith mixed forests of aspen Populus Tremula present in the area. There are 17 species of relic plants and 212 endemic species of plants and trees occur in the proposed territory. Among them are: species of grass Koeleria altaicus, Festuca Krylovus,Carex altaicusand the legume Oxytropis altaicus. The most interesting representative of tree species is an alder-tree that grows only in Eastern Altai.

The richness and endemism of floral species in the Altai region is determined by vertical climatic conditions and the isolation of areas of their distribution. The proposed nomination comprises a variety of landscape types: forest-steppe, forest, sub-alpine, alpine-tundra, glacial-tundra and glacial-niveal. The forest-steppe belt occupies small area and is transitional between the steppes of Western Siberia and the forests of Altai. The northern exposures of the slopes play an important role where pine and birch-tree prevail. The sub-alpine zone is represented by cedar, thin forests of deciduous trees and brushwood, alpine meadows and thickets of Rhodendron . The high mountain meadows have typical alpine vegetation. A large area of the proposed nomination is occupied by tundra with moss-lichen and roadmetal-lichen.


caption Snow leopard, Uncia uncia. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The proposed area has a characteristic Siberian forest fauna which consists of 60 different species of mammals, 300 birds, 11 reptiles and amphibians. About 20 fish species have been registered in the rivers and lakes of the proposed area. Typical mountain steppe mammals include Altai pika Ochotona alpina, arctic ground squirrel Citellus undulatus and Siberian chipmunk Tamias sibiricus. The forests have numerous sable Martez zibellina and red deer Cervus elaphus sibiricus. The higher mountainous areas have reindeer Rangifer tarandus.

A total of 13 species of birds and four species of mammals are listed in the Red Data Book of the Russian Federation. Among listed birds and mammals are: golden eagle Aquila chrysaetus, imperial eagle Aquila heliaca, peregrine Falco peregrinus, black-winged stilt Himantopus himantopus, snow leopard Uncia uncia (EN, Globally threatened), manul cat Felis manul, Mongolian gazelle Procapra guttorosa; (LR, Globally Threatened) and Altai argali Ovis ammon ammon (VU, Globally Threatened). Among other listed species of fauna are species endemic to the area gryfalcon Falco altaicus and Siberian zokor Myospalax myospalax.

Cultural Heritage

The region is rich in cultural heritage. The first Homo sapiens emerged in the region almost a million years ago as evidenced by Ulala Palaeolithic settlement located in the area of the capital of the Altai Republic - Gorno-Altaisk. The area of the proposed nomination was part of emerging and collapsing tribal unions, khanates , and the empires of the Scythians, Turks, Uigurs, Yenissey Kirgiz, Kidans, Mongols and Oirats. From the middle of the 18th century AD the Altai region became part of the Russian Empire.

The most impressive historical monuments in the area are Pazyryk tumuli, burial mounds of tribal leaders, belonging to the 5th century BC. The burial mounds have different sizes and complex structures, full of a variety of funeral artifacts and a great number of buried horses. The number of archaeological remains of mounds found in the Altai mountains reach more than 100 and some of them are located on the territory of the proposed area (Ukok Quiet Zone). Some artifacts from tombs occupy an honored place in the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg.

Local Human Population

The local population represents different ethnic groups, including Russians, Altaitsy, and others. The total population of Altai Republic is almost 200,000 people, but the territory of the proposed nomination is largely uninhabited and only a few small settlements are situated within it, a number of places being used as seasonal settlements by herders. There is no information about total number of the population living in the territory of the proposed nomination.

Visitor and Visitor Facilities

The major part of the proposed territory, within boundaries of Zapovedniks, is prohibited to visitors, except those engaged in scientific research. There is potential for tourism in the areas of the Teletskoye Lake (in Altaisky), the Belukha Mountain and the Katun river (in the Katunsky Zapovednik) such as climbing, camping, rafting, hiking and other outdoor activities. These places are usually visited by a number of local, national and international tourists organized in groups with experienced guides. Tourism has a great potential in the area, but visitor facilities are not developed yet. Tourism is increasingly seen as an important aspect of future development in the region. There are already some tourist developments adjacent to the nominated areas such as a tourist lodge at the southern end of Lake Teletskoye. At present, tourism is constrained by difficulties of access and lack of facilities. Nevertheless, a number of international tour companies have organized tourist trips to the region and it is anticipated that this will continue. A tourism strategy for the region, including facilities and infrastructure, is considered a vital need. In relation to the Quiet Zone, all types of industrial grazing. Over land vehicles are prohibited from traveling in the area outside the one road recently set aside for use by the border guards. Hunting and fishing are prohibited.

Scientific Research and Facilities

Altaiskiy Zapovednik is the main research institution in the proposed territory and its headquarters is located in Yaylyu Settlement on a shore of the Lake Teletskoe. There is no information available about research facilities there. A number of universities and scientific institutions of the Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences located in Gorno-Altaisk and Barnaul, among them the Institute for Water and Environmental Problems. Management of the area focuses on resource protection and research. Ecological research in one of the major management activities within the site and has been undertaken for many years.

Conservation Value

The key values within each of the sites include the following: The Altaisky Zapovednik and the buffer zone around Teleskoye Lake in the Eastern part of the Altai is composed of a mountainous taiga, a glacial zone, mountain meadows, and high altitude tundra and steppes. More than 1,400 vascular plants (70% of the Altai flora) are found in the Zapovednik and of these 17% are endemic species. The area supports a diverse fauna, including 72 mammal species and 310 bird species. The snow leopard and the mountain ram "argali" are also found within the zapovednik. Teletskoye Lake is the largest body of freshwater in south-western Siberia.

Katunsky Zapovednik and the buffer zone around Mt. Balukha are located in the Southern part of the Altai. It features a wide altitudinal variation and associated ecosystems, including mountain taiga, alpine meadows, glacial zones, high mountain tundra, and steppe areas. Katunsky Zapovednik contains many important relic and endemic species. A significant feature is the extensive glaciation in the area.

The Ukok Quiet Zone is located in the south eastern part of the Atai Republic, on a high mountain plateau. The area is dominated by hills, steppe landscapes with marsh, streams and lakes.

The Altai mountains cover an area 650 km long and 600 km wide with the highest massif reaching 4,605 m. The range is of secondary importance compared with the Caucasus and the Alps but rates higher in terms of extension, height and biological diversity than the Pyrènèes in Europe. The Altai mountains have a number of specific natural characteristics of unique importance in relation to other mountain areas:

  • The Altai is the major mountain range in Western Siberia biogeographic region and plays a central role in maintaining the hydrological regime of the Western Siberian Lowlands, by providing the source of the greatest rivers of Western Siberia - the Ob and the Irtysh
  • Teletskoye Lake is the largest body of freshwater in south-western Siberia and Siberia's second largest lake after Lake Baikal. From the biodiversity point of view Teletskoye Lake is considered the third most biologically diverse lake of Central Asia and is also in the most pristine state.
  • From the phyto-geographic point of view the GMA represents the most complete sequence of altitudinal vegetation zones in Central Siberia from steppe, forest-steppe, mixed forest, sub-alpine vegetation and alpine vegetation, a zonation sequence particularly well illustrated in the Altaisky Zapovednik.
  • More than 1,400 vascular plants (70% of the Altai flora) are located in Altaisky Zapovednik alone, and of them 17% are endemic species, including 60 narrow endemics representing Paleo-endemic from the Pleistocene period.
  • The Altai plays a key role in the conservation of the snow leopard (Unica unica), a globally endangered species.

Conservation Management

The core areas of the proposed nomination are strict nature reserves Altaiskiy and Katunskiy Zapovedniks. They operate under the management of the State Committee on Environmental Protection of the Russian Federation and under provisions of the Federal Law on Nature. Buffer zones surrounding Teletskoe Lake and Mt. Belukha are managed by the Federal Forest Service and Committees for Nature Protection and for Hunting and Fishing of the Government of Altai Republic. The Ukok Quiet Zone is under management of Committees for Nature Protection and for Hunting and Fishing of the Government of the Altai Republic. Management focuses on resource protection and research. All of the nominated sites have management plans or have plans in an advanced state of preparation. There is potential for expanding the boundaries of the nominated areas into adjoining republics. Specifically, there is potential for linking Altaisky Zapovednik in the Altai republic with Aba Kanske Reserve in the Hakacea Republic (Abakanske is contiguous with the north eastern portion of Altaisky Zapovednik). There is also potential for linking Altaisky Zapovednik with adjoining protected areas in the Tuva Republic.

Management Constraints

The great majority of the territory of the proposed nomination is pristine in nature. The most significant type of anthropogenic pressure in the area is overgrazing by domestic animals. Intensive grazing by animals in some places has caused changes in the variety of grasses. As a result, inedible and poisonous plants have replaced valuable types in the grass vegetation. Among other threats to the environment are: use of agricultural fertilizers and detergents by the local population; timber cutting, especially in the Lake Teletskoe watershed; cedar nut cone gathering, air pollution from the local mining industry and non-ferrous metal works in the eastern part of Kazakhstan. An issue has been raised in relation to rocket boosters associated with rockets launched from Kazakhstan, falling to earth within the Altaisky Zapovednik. The extent of this problem and the specific environmental impacts are unclear at this stage. It is understood that the Altai Republic has developed an environmental agreement with two neighboring Republics, and that one of the elements of this agreement relates to this issue.


80 staff in Altaisky Zapovednik and 70 in Katunsky Zapovednik.


The budget for Altaisky and Katunsky Zapovedniks comes from the Federal Committee for the Protection of Nature and the budget for the Ukok Quiet Zone comes from the Altai Republic. Funds for management are declining significantly and this greatly constrains management effectiveness, although WWF now has a US$5 million project in the Altai. The British "Know How" Fund is supporting planning and management activities within Katunsky Zapovednik.

IUCN Management Category

  • Altaiskiy Zapovednik Ia (Strict Nature Reserve)
  • Katunskiy Zapovednik Ia (Strict Nature Reserve)
  • Lake Teletskoe III (Natural Monument)
  • Mt. Belukha III (Natural Monument)
  • Ukok Quiet Zone IV (HabitatSpecies Management Area)
  • World Heritage Site - criteria (i),(ii),(iii) and (iv)

Further Reading

  • Anon. (1997).Golden Mountains of Altai World Heritage Nomination. Additional documents prepared by Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Russia. 7 pp.
  • Anon (1995) Sources of the Great Ob' World heritage Nomination. Prepared by Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Russia. 24 pp.
  • Borodin, A.M. and Syroechkovski, E.E. (1983). Zapovedniki SSSR. Moscow. Publishing house 'Lesnaya promyshlennost'. 249 pp.
  • Malkov, Y.P. Nasekomoyadnie I grizuny poim rek Severnogo I Tsentral'nogo Altaya. Biologicheskie nauki. Vol. 3. Pp. 49-55.
  • Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Russia et al. (1994a). Zapovedniki Rossii: Sbornik materialov letopisei prirody za 1991/92 gody. Moscow. 210pp.
  • Ogureeva, G.N. Strukturno-dinamicheskie kategorii v rastitel'nom pokrove gornikh territoriy. Bulleten' Moskovskogo obshestva ispytateley prirody Vol. 99. Iussue 2. Pp. 76-85.P
  • Polosmak, N. A Mummy Unearthed from the Pastures of Heaven. The National Geographic. Vol. 186, No 2. Pp. 80-103.

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



M, U. (2009). Golden Mountains of Altai, Russian Federation. Retrieved from


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