Altai – Sayan Ecoregion, home of the snow leopard

Altai-Sayan Mountain Country, the area in the heart of Asia twice the size of France with breathtaking landscapes, the world’s most spectacular wildlife and unique cultural diversity. It is one of 35 priority places on Earth for WWF conservation.

Located at the junction of four countries, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and China, Altai-Sayan Ecoregion is a pristine, remote territory. Snow leopards, Pallas’ cats, Altai argali and other charismatic animals roam the mountains. The area is remote and scarcely populated territory but the threats to biodiversity are high. Poaching, unregulated hunting, illegal logging, overgrazing are among the major threats.

The Snow Leopard inhabits the high mountains of Central Asia, often at very high altitudes with extremely low winter temperatures, steep and rocky terrain and far away from sheltering forest. But in the Altai-Sayan Ecoregion this wild cat can live at the elevation of 500-600 m above the sea level. The population of a rare predator has been declining all over Central Asia.

The mountains of Altai and Sayan is the home for the northernmost snow leopard in the world. The total number of snow leopard in Russian portion of the Ecoregion is about 70 -90 individuals and 650-960 in the whole Ecoregion. Poaching, retaliation killing, habitat and prey loss are the main threats. The snow leopards prey mostly on Siberian ibex (Capra sibirica), Altai argali (Ovis ammon ammon), marmot or Altai snowcock (Tetraogallus altaicus). Viability rating for Snow Leoaprd is “fair” in the Kazakh, Chinese and Russian part and “good” in the Mongolian part of the Altai-Sayan.

To address the treats the complex approach is crucial. WWF has been working for many years through creating an effective system of protected areas to cover the rare species habitats, fighting poaching, providing local communities the small business opportunities to illegal hunting, raising awareness on species conservation.

At the moment about 20% of snow leopard habitat in Russia is covered by protected areas and the population of the rare predator remains stable.