The Greater Altai Ecoregion is of global importance. Within that system, Russia’s Altai Republic is linked with Kazakhstan, China, and Mongolia.
With an area of 36,000 sq. miles (92,900 sq. km) it is home to just over 200,000 people, comprising ethnic Russians (57%), and indigenous Altaians (31%), Kazakhs (6%), Telengits (1%), Tubalars and other groups. For the sake of comparison, the state of Indiana is the same size but has a population of 6.5 million.
Remote and wild river valleys, wind-blown steppe, and snow-capped peaks – habitat for snow leopards, argali sheep, and other threatened species – are a rare remnant of intact mountain wilderness.
The region’s natural features are enhanced by the Altai’s ancient burial mounds, petroglyphs, and Scythian stellae that date back at least to the Stone Age. These sites are not only a fundamental part of local indigenous culture, but can also be a source of inspiration and education for visitors and the greater community.
Local indigenous peoples have managed to retain much of their age-old culture and traditional lifeways, with many still practicing semi-nomadic livestock agriculture and subsistence hunting and fishing.
In Siberia, developers and government officials rely on fossil fuels and large-scale hydroelectric power to meet the region’s energy needs and generate income. Moscow and China are actively negotiating an agreement to construct an international natural gas pipeline through Altai Republic and across the fragile Ukok Plateau.
There has been an unprecedented boom in resort construction and new home building in the Altai, including in sensitive natural areas. Many developers see Altai’s numerous wild rivers as opportunities for hydroelectric power generation, although in recent years many of those projects have been scaled back in size and number.
Additionally, the explosion in unorganized tourism throughout the Altai has befouled and disturbed protected areas in numerous ways. Poaching is the most direct threat to endangered species in Altai, particularly for snow leopard and Argali sheep.