What is Altai?
The Greater Altai region is unique ecoregion of global importance, encompassing ecocystems in Russia, Kazakhstan, China, and Mongolia.
The region includes Russian Altai, western Mongolia, northwestern China, and far eastern Kazakhstan.
The Altai got its start in southern central Siberia: Russian Altai. Rich with remote and wild river valleys, wind-blown steppe grasslands, and snowy peaks, the land is habitat for snow leopards, argali sheep, eagles, and other at-risk species, a rare remnant of relatively intact wilderness.
Landscape features are scattered with ancient burial mounds, petroglyphs, and stellae, as well as other evidence of prehistoric human activity. These artifacts are not only a fundamental part of local Indigenous cultures, but can also be a source of inspiration and education for visitors and the greater community. Local Indigenous peoples cherish and renew their age-old culture and traditional lifeways, with many still practicing semi-nomadic livestock agriculture and subsistence hunting, gathering, and fishing, alongside cultural and spiritual traditions.
Threats include surging tourism (with weak public infrastructure), mining, waste management, and excessive logging. Poaching, overexploitation, and habitat disturbances are the most direct threats to wildlife, particularly for snow leopards, raptors, and Argali sheep. Indigenous communities struggle to protect their rights to land, culture, and traditional subsistence practices.
Across the entire region, the climate crisis is dramatically reducing total glacier coverage, unsettling annual seasonal cycles, and contributing significantly to water issues and desertification processes.
Russia's Altai Republic
With an area of 36,000 sq. miles (92,900 sq. km), Russia's Altai Republic is home to just under 221,000 people (2022), comprising ethnic Russians (57%), and indigenous Altaians (31%), Kazakhs (6%), Telengits (1%), Tubalars, and other groups (2010 Census). 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.
Over two decades, The Altai Project has constantly refined and adjusted its work to protect nature and strengthen communities in Eurasia.
Between 2008 and 2018, 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 Russia, Ukraine, Mongolia, Europe, and beyond.