The Altai Project is committed to supporting raptor conservation in Eurasia. This effort is critical for the protection of keystone species and ensuring biological diversity. Species include eagles, falcons, hawks, owls, vultures, and buzzards.
Greater Altai attracts significant nesting populations of large raptors, some of which are endangered or at-risk globally and regionally: Saker falcon, Eastern imperial eagle, Steppe eagle, Bearded vulture, Eurasian eagle owl, and others. Russian Altai has numerous Important Bird Areas, defined by BirdLife International as “internationally significant for bird conservation,” and “recognized worldwide as practical tools for conservation”.
What threats do raptors face in the region?
In southern Russia and across Kazakhstan and western Mongolia, we are particularly concerned with the fate of Steppe eagles, Eastern imperial eagles, and Saker falcons. They reproduce in open steppe and on the lower slopes of treeless mountains. They are threatened by illegal killings, poaching for international trafficking (especially to Middle Eastern nations), electrocution on power transmission lines and cellular network towers, and habitat loss and disturbance. Wind turbines present another newer threat to birds of prey when they collide with rotating horizontal axis blades.
Improperly installed or missing bird protection devices (BPDs) on transmission lines and utility towers kill unsustainable numbers of large birds each year, jeopardizing the survival of these species worldwide. Migrating raptor species, including the Steppe eagle and Imperial eagle, are particularly vulnerable, in part due to their slow reproduction rate. The Steppe eagle population has declined dramatically in the last 30 years. While Russia and Kazakhstan have adopted some legislative measures, those measures lack specificity and implementation mechanisms to ensure meaningful protection.
Human activities, including recreation, infrastructure development, and extractive activities, contribute to dwindling avian populations. Poachers decimate populations of Saker falcons and other species to sell them to wealthy Middle Easterners and others for tens of thousands of dollars for a single bird. Used for sport hunting or as a tourist prop, these stolen birds mostly die under the stresses and risks of being smuggled, drugged, and packed like literal sardines.
Mining and other habitat disturbances that drive birds out of their traditional nesting habitats also negatively affect bird populations. The same is true for logging. In Altai Krai, decades of clearing large tracts of forest have destroyed nests used by generations of Golden, Imperial, and Spotted eagles, Saker falcons, and Eagle owls, among other rare species. Logging of nesting trees is a growing problem in Altai Republic now as well.
Lastly, we are discovering that many young Steppe eagles and other raptors leave their nests, migrating thousands of miles into the Middle East, northern Africa, and the Indian subcontinent, but fail to return the following spring. Along the way they may be shot, poisoned, or trapped. More collaborative research is needed across this huge migration range in order to understand the true scope of this problem and find solutions.
The Altai Project has been collaborating with Russian Raptor Research and Conservation Network (RRRCN), supporting their raptor conservation efforts since 2011. Together, we implement technical solutions, propose policy and regulatory actions, and increase awareness and engagement in the public and private sectors to protect populations and habitats.
Recent success stories illustrate the impact of our longstanding collaborative efforts. In early 2020 the governor of Altai Krai signed legislation prohibiting logging in endangered species reproductive zones, marking an important step in reversing the decline of rare avian species populations and destruction of their nests that have occurred as a result of relentless logging. And in April 2020, the federal government denied a request by Altai Republic timber interests to log in Siberian pine nut harvest zones. The Siberian pine is held sacred and is a critical subsistence food source for Indigenous peoples in Russia.
RRRCN experts painstakingly
- survey tens of thousands of square kilometers of raptor habitat, tracking nesting sites, proximity to utility lines and towers, mortality, and other important data
- band or tag birds with GPS trackers to track specific individuals during dispersal and migration
- build nest boxes and platforms in critical nesting habitat
- track and verify bird movements and analyze distribution and ecological trends
- collect evidence of electrocuted birds or unsecured power lines or wind turbines, working with government agencies to collect fines and ensure industry compliance
- work closely with cellular and electrical utilities to encourage them to properly equip and maintain transmission lines and towers with cheap, but effective, bird protection devices
- partner with government and industry to strengthen energy and environmental policy, law, and regulations to preserve avian biodiversity. Last but not least, we organize exchanges for ornithology experts to reduce bird fatalities, grow understanding of raptor ecology, and mentor enthusiasts and early-career researchers.
What can you do?
- Support bird banding, GPS equipment, data fees, and research expedition costs with a donation
- Invite us to talk about our work with a conservation or birding group in your area
- Visit our raptor gallery to see these birds and our conservation work.