The Lake with a Belly Button

Formed by a glacier thousands of feet high in southeastern Altai, Lake Kindyktykul (“Kin-dik-tik-kool”) has an unusual feature. In Altaian the name literally means “lake with a belly button “, and the lake has a small island in its center that is an important wildlife refuge for endangered waterbirds. At least 20 endangered bird species regularly visit and even nest near the lake, and snow leopard, pallas cat, and argali sheep all frequent the area around this beautiful waterbody.

Lake Kindyktykul (photo by F. Wuyts)

Lake Kindyktykul (photo by F. Wuyts)

Thanks to Russian biologist and conservationist, Aleksei Ebel, a new conservation project focused on Lake Kindyktykul is underway. Though his extensive research, he has identified at-risk species and human threats to the area including illegal net fishing, illegal hunting, and increased human disturbance, and he is determined to do something about it. Up until 2013 the lake was located in a federal zone, where it was only possible to visit if you had permission to enter the border zone. Now, two years later, the rules have changed to make the lake accessible, and it is much more frequently visited by tourists and hunters. Secondarily, although plans exist to fold the lake and nearby Chikhachev Ridge into Sailyugem National Park, they have not yet come to pass, and this fragile ecosystem remains at risk.
Aleksei is well on his way to finding realistic solutions including working with local residents to engage them in discussions and meetings around conservation, gathering and publishing key information about the lake’s ecosystem, and organizing volunteer teams to help prevent hunting and conduct research. The first team will organize a 24/7 volunteer patrol during the late May – June fishing and herding season to prevent poaching of protected waterfowl. Volunteers are invited to participate in this effort, and more information can be found on Aleksei’s web site.