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Miraculous Altai

7 December 2018

Russia is a vast and diverse country that has everything: from stern and gorgeous arctic plains to scorching hot deserts, from rolling green lowlands and hills to snow-capped mountain ranges.

But even among these immense natural riches, the Altai is considered a very special land with a truly unique geographic location, breathtaking natural sights, remarkable culture and history.

It is so huge that it actually includes two regions of Russia: the Republic of Altai and the Altai Krai. No amount of verbose and colourful descriptions can truly relay the magnificence, but we hope a glimpse into what makes this place so special will encourage people to visit and see it with their own eyes.

The land of horseriders and storytellers

The Altay are the indigenous people of the Altai region. They are a Turkic people who carefully preserve their lifestyle and unique culture.

Some of them prefer to wear traditional garb – a round sheepskin cap with a silk tassel on the top while living in wooden huts and yurts.

A few, just like their ancestors, still live as nomads, yet most have given up the nomadic way of life.

Some of the Altay are Shamanists – religious practitioners who use the rhythm of drums to fall into a trance and communicate with spirits.

Most of these people are talented storytellers and outstanding horseriders – Altay children learn to sit in a saddle before they can even walk.

Geographic Position and Landscape

Altai is situated in the very centre of Eurasia – on the point of convergence of cultures and climate zones. Russia’s Altai lies on the border with China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia, neighboring their heaths and semi-deserts. It is often referred to as "the Heart of Asia" and "Russian Tibet".

Altai's own landscape is mainly mountainous due to its world-wide famous mountain range dominating the entire region – the Altai Mountains. Mount Belukha is the highest point in the entire Siberia – 4509 m. What adds more to the uniqueness of Altai is that it is one of the largest fresh water reserves in the world with all its numerous mountain lakes and rivers. One of many – Lake Teletskoye – contains over 40 cubic kilometres of pure fresh water, and that’s not even taking into account huge mountain gletschers.

The Altai Mountains and Nature Reserves

The Altai Mountains is a mountain range that spreads from North-West to South-East for 2000 km, spanning across the territory of four countries: Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan.

The variety of flora and fauna of the Altai Mountains with dozens of unique species (some of them are on the Red List e.g. snow leopard, brown long-eared bat, etc.) marks this land as a haven for all living creatures.

Wildlife is protected within Altai and Katun Nature Reserves – both among the largest nature reserves in Russia. Together they compose the so-called “Golden Mountains of Altai” complex which was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1998.

 

Snow Leopard – the King of Ice Peaks

The snow leopard (also known as “Irbis” in Russia) is a large cat native to the mountain ranges of Central and South Asia and the largest cat in the Altai region. It often grows up to 35-55 kg, 105-130 cm long, 60 cm tall with a gorgeous fluffy tail up to 90-100 cm long. Speaking of the tail: it is truly unique as not only it helps irbis to steer itself while jumping but it also serves as a sort of blanket to keep leopard warm during severe winters. Snow leopard’s limbs (short front and long rear ones) with furry paws allow this unique animal to perfectly balance itself while climbing the mountains acting as snowshoes. Snow leopards are famous for their soft light-silver fur with ring-shaped spots, making it easier for irbis to hide itself in the snow and ambush its prey.

Irbis can live at a height of up to 5000 m and is considered to be the jumpiest of all large cats: it can jump for up to 10 m in length! Snow leopard is remarkable for its outstanding agility, sense of equilibrium and excellent alpinism skills, for which it is universally acknowledged as the King of Ice Peaks.

Unfortunately, this beautiful beast is now facing the threat of extinction. Though there is a considerable number of snow leopards held in zoos around the world (over a 1000 species), only some 4000 remain in the wild. Thankfully, recent combined efforts of the Russian government and wildlife protection organizations to preserve this species have yielded results – the number of these gorgeous animals roaming the Altai has increased up to some 150 adults. These measures have been implemented with long-term positive effect in mind, thus we hope the future of these wonderful animals will no longer be in danger.

 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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November/December 2018

 
 
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