Golden Mountains of Altai
Golden Mountains Of Altai
Natural Russian Federation Europe And North America 450 Km Southwest Of Novosibirsk, In The Altai Republic

The site is in the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia in the territory of the Altai Republic, comprising the high mountainous areas of Altai, the headwaters of the Katun and Chulyshman rivers and Lake Teletskoye. The World Heritage site consists of three separate areas: Altaisky Zapovednik and a buffer zone around Lake Teletskoye;Katunsky Zapovednik and a buffer zone around Mount Belukha;and the Ukok Quiet Zone on the Ukok Plateau. Two of the areas are located along the borders with China and Mongolia.

This extensive mountainous area is the watershed between central Asia and the Arctic Ocean and includes the headwaters of the Katun and Baya rivers. The confluence of these two rivers, beyond the boundary of the nominated site, forms the River Ob at 5,410 km, the fifth-longest river in the world, which flows north into the Arctic Ocean. Typical relief features of mountain peaks include the 4,605 m Mount Belukha, cirques and trough valleys with lake basins, morainal hills and ridges. The origins of the mountains can in general be traced back to the Caledonian-Hercyninan period, although rocks of the Precambrian, Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras are found. The single most important factor in the landscape has been the influence of glaciation, with five glacial periods in evidence. Of 1,499 glaciers in the Altai region, many are within the nominated property, in the south Altai group and the central Altai group. The multitude of lakes is also a particular feature of the site.

The Altaisky Zapovednik and the Buffer Zone around Lake Teletskoye in the eastern part of the Altai is composed of a mountainous taiga, a glacial zone, mountain meadows, and high-altitude tundra and steppes. More than 1,400 vascular plants are found in the Zapovednik and of these 17% are endemic species. The area supports a diverse fauna, including 72 mammal species and 310 bird species. Snow leopard and argali mountain sheep are also found within the Zapovednik. Lake Teletskoye is the largest body of freshwater in south-western Siberia.

The Katunsky Zapovednik and the buffer zone around Mount Belukha are located in the southern part of the Altai, featuring a wide altitudinal variation and associated ecosystems, including mountain taiga, alpine meadows, extensive glacial zones, high mountain tundra and steppe areas. The region contains many important relic and endemic species. The Ukok Quiet Zone is located in the south-east of the Altai Republic, on a high mountain plateau dominated by hills and steppe landscapes with marsh, streams and lakes.

The region has a rich cultural heritage. The first humans appeared in the region almost 1 million years ago, as evidenced by Palaeolithic settlements in the region of Gorno-Altaisk. The Golden Mountains area was part of emerging and collapsing tribal unions, khanates, and the empires of the Scythians, Turks, Uigurs, Yenissey Kirgiz, Kidans, Mongols and Oitrats. From the mid-18th century, the Altai region became part of the Russian Empire. The area is sparsely populated with local populations of Russians and Altaisky, a Turkish-speaking people, mainly involved in traditional pastoralism, low-intensity agriculture, hunting and gathering. These people have co-existed with nature for millennia and have a strong affinity with the natural environment. Indeed, one reviewer has commented that the region's important biodiversity is probably not due purely to natural factors but to the millennia of grazing. The Ukok Quiet Zone and Mount Belukha have particular cultural and religious values for local people.