As a result of my trip to the Altai Mountains in southern Russia this year, I got to know Jennifer Castner, Director of the Altai Project (TAP). Jenn, who lives in California, is fluent in Russian and passionate about this part of Russia. She’s lived and studied in Moscow and worked in Kiev and has traveled extensively in Siberia and the Russian Far East. Jenn kindly accepted my invitation to be “Saving Snow Leopards Blog” first Guest Blogger and we warmly welcome her.
“Sibylle invited me to talk about The Altai Project’s work and I particularly wanted to share information about a really exciting new part of our work, The Land of the Snow Leopard Project which will protect the northernmost population of snow leopards in the Altai Mountains in southern Russia.
First I’d like to say a bit about the Altai Project. Our mission is to protect the natural and cultural heritage of Altai – this is a uniquely diverse, mountainous region of southern Siberia. Our goals are nature conservation, promoting renewable energy and environmentally sustainable design, and supporting indigenous organizations in their efforts to restore and protect their traditional lands and life ways.
Some of the things we work on are assisting our Altai partners to strengthen conservation and anti-poaching measures, manage tourism effectively, and create strategies for long-term protection of sensitive areas. At a time when potentially destructive development projects are being proposed such as dams, roads, and pipelines, we support local campaigns against them. Also we do training on renewable energy technologies, energy efficient design, and the use of natural building materials.
But getting back to snow leopards. In the last year, TAP has joined a number of other groups (Fund for Sustainable Development of Altai, Arkhar NGO, Altai Assistance Project, Snow Leopard Conservancy, UNDP/GEF, and WWF-Russia) to protect snow leopards in the region. Altai and Tuva Republics are home to the northernmost population of snow leopard in the world, and while this snow leopard habitat is quite fragmented and at-risk, there’s still a sizable population of the animals in the region.
The Land of the Snow Leopard collaboration is a multi-faceted project. Its objectives are to conduct scientifically valid camera-trap monitoring of snow leopards in the Argut Valley in Altai and also to engage the local population in new ecotours, wildlife monitoring, souvenir production, and other tourism services. We hope this combination of science and sustainable community development will rekindle the connection of indigenous Altaians to their landscape, and in particular, to teach Altaians to value the importance of protecting snow leopards.