Visiting Altai: Land of the Snow Leopard [2023]

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Not just a pretty name and or a branding strategy, the “Land of the Snow Leopard” name describes a tourist travel route with waypoints in the Argut River valley and along the Sailyugem Ridge in Altai Republic, Mongun-Taiga Mountain and Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge in Tyva Republic, and snow leopard and argali habitat in Mongolian Altai. There are opportunities for wildlife viewing, diverse recreation, car camping, and cultural activities throughout and visitors can use a modular approach to planning their visit, choosing only what interests them.

With proper planning and a sustainable approach to implementation, ecotourism development can be a great benefit to the local population. Locals engaged in tourism and other conservation activities will quickly learn the value of protecting snow leopard and other wildlife in the region. Argali and snow leopards are the keystone of this project, and they are linked to every aspect of the project, including souvenirs, visitation sites, and route selection.

During the planning stages in 2006-2011, NGOs in the region laid the foundation for rolling out the full project beginning in late 2011. This work included:

  • basic science research to assess all snow leopard habitat in the target area,
  • community-based trainings for local residents in hospitality, souvenir production, and expeditions, and
  • development and marketing of the transboundary “Land of the Snow Leopard” ecotourism route in Altai, Tyva, and western Mongolia, including camps and recreational and educational sites and snow leopard museums created and supported by local residents.

The Altai Project participated in a number of ways, including fundraising support, funding for visitation site infrastructure, translation, and marketing. Other past partners include SUNY-ESF, Snow Leopard Conservancy, Altai Assistance Project, and Panthera Fund. Local NGOs are the main project implementers in Altai, while UNDP/GEF provided extensive technical support and funding during preparatory stages. Local and regional travel businesses and the Altai government are marketing the route and its amenities across Russia and internationally.

2023 Update

Snow leopard ascends a steep rocky slopeMore than a network of places, the Land of the Snow Leopard program continues to this day in Altai Republic. Regional and local government, schools, protected areas, and cultural practitioners continue to speak to the importance of a healthy, sustainable, and resilient snow leopard population. Children sing, dance, draw, and dream of seeing a snow leopard. Tourists flock to the region and snow leopard imagery is everywhere. The program is paying off and as the snow leopard population grows, more lucky people have seen a big cat with their own eyes, and others have benefited economically from the exposure this beautiful cat brings to their small region. Wildlife research, conservation, and celebrations are all ongoing needs, however, to ensure this mysterious, noble cat can be found in Altai for generations to come.

Learn more about our snow leopard program.