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Rising majestically above low-lying steppe and river valleys of the enclosed Great Lakes Basin, the snow-capped mountains of the Mongolian Altai stretch down the western border of Mongolia in a giant arc north of the Gobi Desert to link with the lesser, more scattered peaks of the Gobi Altai. Snow Leopards hunt Siberian Ibex and Argali sheep in these steep sided ravines, Musk Deer and Wolverine inhabit its highland forests. Marmots, Pikas and a host of small rodent species live on the alpine meadows of this central Asian landscape watchful of falcons, buzzards and golden eagles overhead and foxes, Pallas cats and other predators on the ground. Sparsely populated by people, the Altai Mountains have an air of permanence and impregnability that masks the ecological fragility that they share with all high mountain ranges of the world. This fragility has already been demonstrated through over-exploitation of land and wild species of animals and plants, leading to degraded grasslands, damaged forests, depleted wildlife populations and polluted and diminished flows of water to downstream ecosystems. However, humans have trodden lightly on this land, in comparison with impacts elsewhere, and there is an opportunity here for people to conserve the natural world around them.


The vision of the Institute is that the ecosystems and wild species of the Mongolian Altai survive intact alongside people and their economic activities. There will be viable and widely distributed populations of large charismatic species such as the Argali (Ovis ammon), Snow Leopard (Uncia uncia), Altai Snowcock (Tetraogallus altaicus), Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug) and Siberian Ibex (Capra sibirica), and the no less important other wild species such as foxes (Vulpes vulpes and V. corsac) and Pallas cats (Otocolobus manul) and the wide range of plants found nowhere else in the world. Rivers will flow clear and unpolluted to the Great Lakes Basin and to China and Russia. The grasslands will be healthy with minimal soil erosion, grazed within their long term capacity to support domestic livestock and wild animals. Riparian forests will be restored and the highland forests will be rich in species and protective of the soil. All economic development will be within the limits of the environment to sustain its impacts.


The goal of the Institute is to set out a well supported and clearly justified program of actions that will achieve this vision, by removing, mitigating, managing and monitoring current and potential human impacts on wild species and natural ecosystems and establishing a landscape with land uses planned to provide for the needs of both wild species and people.


Protected areas provide basic habitat protection and some degree of protection from hunting, but large species move in and out of protected areas. When livestock numbers were lower and grasslands were in better condition, wild species were able to move much more freely across the landscape. However, the space and resources available for wild species outside protected areas have decreased as social and economic influences have driven over-exploitation of grassland, forests and wildlife. Habitats suitable for certain wild species are becoming more and more fragmented into isolated patches sometimes widely separated by inhospitable areas that are difficult for animals and plants to move across. And protected areas themselves have become increasingly subject to heavy grazing, and commercial and political pressure to change the law to allow mineral extraction.


Well managed protected areas are vital components of biodiversity conservation but they are not enough alone to meet the ecological needs of all species, especially wide-ranging and migratory species. There must also be consideration of biodiversity conservation in the routine business of government, and in the day-to-day decision making and planning of herders, miners and other developers. If biodiversity is to be conserved, environmental protection must be integrated into all development projects and resource use.


Our strategy examines the status of biodiversity, human livelihoods and economic development in the Altai and identifies the main impacts of humans on biodiversity. It considers the sites of major importance for biodiversity alongside the sites of major importance for human livelihoods, including economic and infrastructure development projects such as mining and road construction, then focuses on how best to reconcile the needs of wild species with the current, planned and potential activities of humans in the region. It puts biodiversity and human interaction in the wider geographical setting of the greater Altai and the social, cultural, administrative and policy background that governs or fails to govern human impacts. It also analyses the actual and potential threats to biodiversity and presents a comprehensive action program to reduce, mitigate or eliminate those threats and monitor them in the future.