Preserving Altai Cultural & Natural Heritage

Existing and proposed WHS in Altai

Since 2018, together with the Save Our Spirits fund at Whatcom Community Foundation, we have supported a long-term project to expand the existing “Golden Mountains of Altai” World Heritage Site, located in Russia, to include the “Highlands of Mongol Altai” property. Inscription on UNESCO’s World Heritage List would offer additional resources for protecting unique flora and fauna in the area, as well as millennia of human culture and traditions. The nomination also aims to achieve WHS designation as a “mixed” property, recognizing outstanding value in terms of both biodiversity and cultural value. For now, the Golden Mountains of Altai (created 1998) is categorized as a natural site.

Burial site and deer stones in Mongolian steppe

Our lead partner is Foundation for the Protection of Natural and Cultural Heritage, an UNESCO-accredited organization in Mongolia. They lead the effort, working in partnership with government agencies, community organizations, and local communities. 

Importance

This proposed expansion, centered on the sacred “5 Peaks” area of Tavan Bogd National Park, is critical to conserving the entire region’s biodiversity and cultural landscape. In biodiversity terms, there are three main aspects. First, WHS status would support added protections for habitat areas and migration corridors of rare and endangered species, such as the snow leopard, Pallas (manul) cat, raptors, and argali sheep. Second, the area is habitat for a rich variety of rare and endemic plant species. Third, the nominated property is a representative and well-preserved part of a unique, larger natural ecosystem—the Altai Mountains.

Turning to cultural heritage, the area is dotted with Iron and Bronze age sites and artifacts representing a rich overlay of the practices, culture, and traditions of diverse nomadic cultures. Scythian and Turkic burial complexes, monumental structures of khirigsuur, and standing stone memorials, including Deer stones, are among the area’s treasures. The High Altai of Mongolia is also an exceptional testimony to a still living civilization of nomadic herders.

Nominating a site for inscription on the World Heritage List is a complicated, multi-year undertaking. The Mongolian team began the process in 2014. With our support, the team has nearly completed the nomination requirements. Extensive fieldwork allowed the team to document key cultural and natural heritage sites, identify proposed boundaries, and seek input from local communities about the importance of protecting and preserving the property. The team also met with Bayan-Ülgii Province authorities and have their full support. In the final stages, the team will finalize maps and boundaries, produce a short documentary film, and print an introductory book. 

Petroglyphs in Mongolian Altai

What’s Next?

If possible, stakeholders will gather later this summer in person in Mongolia or virtually to discuss the proposal. The team hopes to submit the final nomination dossier to meet the World Heritage Center deadline at the end of September 2020.

We will keep you posted!

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