Why Altai?

Why Altai?

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) Russia's Altai Republic is home to just over 205,000 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.

The Republic contains the “Golden Mountains of Altai” UNESCO World Heritage Site, a transnational park, three federal protected areas, 120+ natural monuments, and a growing number of regional nature parks and wildlife refuges.

The Greater Altai region includes western Mongolia, northwestern China, and far eastern Kazakhstan. With minor variations, the entire area is blessed with remote and wild river valleys, wind-blown steppe grasslands, and snow-capped peaks – habitat for snow leopards, argali sheep, large raptors, and other threatened species. The region is a rare remnant of relatively intact wilderness.

In all four nations' Greater Altai, the region’s natural features are enhanced by ancient burial mounds, petroglyphs, and Scythian stellae dating 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.


Vita, an Argut resident female (Photo by S. Spitsyn)

In Russia and Mongolia, developers and government officials rely on fossil fuels, mining, and large-scale hydroelectric power to meet the region’s energy needs and generate income. China deals with these issues as well as significant tensions around the rights of indigenous minorities relative to the majority.

In Russian Altai 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.

Across the entire region, climate change is dramatically reducing total glacier coverage, unsettling annual seasonal cycles, and contributing significantly to water issues and desertification processes.

Complex structure for a strawbale at Bobrovka

Our History

Over two decades, The Altai Project has constantly refined and adjusted its work to protect nature and strengthen communities in Greater Altai.

Altai Alliance 2011

Altai Alliance

In 2008, the Altai Project and over twenty US nonprofits, individuals, and donors formed an international alliance to protect the Greater Altai region.


Meet The Director

Jennifer Castner, the director of The Altai Project, is fluent in Russian and has traveled extensively in Siberia, the Russian Far East, Ukraine and Europe.

Why The Altai Project?

Our project is unique.

It is the only nonprofit in the US, perhaps in the world, linking nature protection with sustainable living strategies and promoting both these approaches exclusively in the Greater Altai region. Our organization plays an important role in Greater Altai’s conservation and long-term sustainable development. Because we are small and dynamic we are flexible to address constantly changing conditions in the region.

Thanks to our long-term personal contacts in Altai, we can leverage our funding by supporting effective nonprofits we know we can trust. We always coordinate our efforts with the handful of other international nonprofits working in our target region.

Everyone works in the village (Photo by L. Ivashkina)

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