News from Jennifer

Greetings friends!

We had an introspective summer and early fall, contemplating events in Russia and their implications for the future. We have some big news on that later this month, but first let’s catch up on recent goings on in Altai. With your help, we’ve gotten a lot accomplished this year!

Snow Leopards

News from the field continues to be extremely encouraging. There is clear evidence of Argut’s resident snow leopards expanding their territories and reproducing. Over the past 5 years, our teams have identified 17 (!!!) individual snow leopards on camera, more if you count those that have not yet passed by one of our camera-traps!

Camera-trap deployed by Igor Ivanitsky.

There are at least 3 known sets of offspring (some young adults) at their mothers’ sides spread from northern Kuraisky Ridge, all the way down to the mountains on the Russia-China-Kazakh border. We are closing out our Disney Conservation Fund support of this work for the time being, as Russian corporate donors take a growing interest in protecting this amazing feline.

The Altai Project will continue to provide technical support and advice as well as periodic small grants on an as needed basis. Hands down, we absolutely could not have achieved these incredible results without our supporters.

Raptor Protection

A grant from Weeden Foundation has enabled us to support protection of many raptor species in Altai over the last several years.

We are concerned about new efforts to create a falconry industry in Kosh-Agach district, whereby locals take fledging eagles and other raptors (all classified as endangered) off nests and train them to hunt off the arm of their handler. While this is a culturally relevant practice for local indigenous peoples, the local raptor population is already falling rapidly mostly due to poaching (for export to Middle Eastern hunters) and a declining prey base. If this practice evolved away from small-scale indigenous practice to gain wide tourism or recreational appeal, it would likely doom local eagle and falcon species.

Ornithologist and partner Igor Karyakin, perched at an Eastern imperial eagle nest. Photo by E. Nikolenko.Our local partners’ efforts to ensure power transmission lines are properly equipped with bird-protection devices are also ongoing. It is remarkable that this remains an issue in the 21st century, particularly with large power and cellular utility companies that know better but require constant supervision to ensure proper safety measures and equipment. One improperly secured transmission line can kill nearby nesting pairs of eagles and other raptors year after year, as they unsuspectingly perch on the lines while searching for prey.

Mining Threats

Our main partner with regard to mining industry monitoring and transparency is Gebler Ecological Society (GES). This year, they improved their satellite imagery remote-sensing and ground-based monitoring of a number of placer gold mining operations in northern Altai Republic and Altai Krai. Placer mining along alluvial riverbeds and plains is incredibly damaging in terms of habitat destruction, wildlife endangerment, and water quality issues. All affected rivers drain into Altai’s Biya and Katun Rivers, and ultimately the great Siberian Ob River, thus affecting water quality for downstream human and wild residents.

Ravages of placer gold mining in northern Altai Republic. Photo by A. Gribkov.Although GES identified and prioritized the most significant trouble spots, they are being sorely hindered in their efforts to actually protect these landscapes. In early 2015, the organization with forcibly labeled a “Foreign Agent”, and since then its director Aleksei Gribkov has been buried in bureaucratic hindrances, court battles, and significant fines while still protecting Altai’s forests, rivers, and wildlife.

The Altai Project’s Jennifer Castner wrote about the Foreign Agent issue earlier this year in the Earth Island Journal –  read that piece for more background.

Reflecting on the changes that have been wrought in Altai, Russia, and around the world as a whole, we are preparing for big changes at The Altai Project. We must adapt our methods, broaden our partnerships, and even consider new landscapes in order to remain relevant and effective. In addition to wildlife conservation and grassroots advocacy, we must consider the overarching challenges proposed by climate change and the world’s evolving demand for energy resources.

We look forward to working together with you, our supporters, as we move ahead together in this changing world, for the betterment of Altai and beyond. If you have questions, you can e-mail me directly at jennifer@altaiproject.org.

Warm Regards,

Jennifer Castner, The Altai Project Director

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