Gazprom Over Nature

08 November 2011
ByVladimir Ryzhkov

Russia’s first chief of the secret police, Alexander Benkendorf, served two centuries ago under Tsar Nicholas I, and it is his portrait that should be hanging in every office at the Federal Security Service and Interior Ministry. Benkendorf gave a classic definition of the Russian authorities’ relationship to the law when he said: “Laws are written for subordinates, not for rulers.”

That is precisely the principle at the heart of the current Russian government. It justifies everything — from state officials using flashing blue lights to speed through Moscow traffic to governors and mayors continuing the rich tradition of lining their pockets and those of their close associates at the public’s expense.

State officials often abuse their influence and power to avoid answering to the law after committing illegal acts. A vivid example of this principle is the gas pipeline to China thatGazpromis eager to build over the Altai Mountains and directly through the Ukok Plateau, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Because the Ukok Plateau has been part of the Golden Mountains of Altai UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998, the law requires special permission before any heavy construction can be performed. What’s more, environmental impact studies must be made in advance. But, according to a Natural Resources and Environment Ministry letter issued in July, this has not been done. Nevertheless, preliminary work has already begun along the path of the intended pipeline through Altai and in the region that includes the Ukok Sanctuary.

According to many eyewitnesses who visited the region between July and September, the work to construct the pipeline through the protected plateau is proceeding at full steam. Heavy drilling rigs are operating, and surveyors have marked out the path of the pipeline all the way to the Russian-Chinese border. I personally saw the equipment and the surveyors’ markings when I visited the region in October. What’s more, Gazprom contractors have admitted to local environmentalists that they have not obtained permission for the work.

Worse, in September a fire destroyed about 4,000 hectares of alpine steppe in the Ukok Plateau. This area is the habitat for many rare species of birds and animals, including the endangered argali sheep and snow leopard. Local guides suspect that Gazprom contractors might have intentionally caused the blaze in the hope of removing the area’s protected status under a new amendment that would change the borders of nature reserves if those territories “lose their value.” Of course, it is also possible that the fire was caused by the carelessness and negligence of Gazprom workers.

Once remote and inaccessible, Ukok has become a popular tourist destination for travelers all over the world thanks to dozens of articles in top travel and nature magazines, television documentaries and the recent archeological discovery of the 2,500-year-old Ice Maiden found intact in the permafrost. If the gas pipeline is built, the nature of the Ukok Plateau and its ecosystem will be destroyed.

UNESCO already lists the Ukok Plateau as a World Heritage Site that might be under threat. Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund are closely monitoring the situation and regularly send inquiries to Russian authorities responsible for protecting the environment. UNESCO plans to send its own mission to Ukok in May to check on compliance with its requirements.

Why doesn’t Gazprom consider alternate routes that would bypass the nature reserve and pass instead through Mongolia or Kazakhstan?

The Chinese are also wondering why the Russians are in such a rush. Chinese authorities have not signed any purchase agreements with Gazprom mainly because they are not willing to pay the high Gazprom gas prices. What’s more, China has its own source of gas in Xinjian as well as a newly opened pipeline bringing gas from Turkmenistan. Beijing officials claim that Prime MinisterVladimir Putinpersonally insists on the pipeline through Altai at almost every meeting with Chinese leaders. Could it be that Putin and his colleagues who have top positions in the gas sector have the most to gain from the project?

The Gazprom pipeline through the Ukok Plateau could become the largest, most expensive and most environmentally damaging white elephant in history. Members of the ruling elite have already built palaces and luxurious villas in nature reserves on the Black Sea coast and in Adygeya.

The country’s ruling business and political elite have completely corrupt values. For example, at a public hearing in Gorno-Altai, a Gazprom representative gave himself away when he referred to the holiest spot of Russian Orthodoxy, saying, “We will lay a pipeline right through the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius [in Sergiyev Posad] if we have to!”

Read more:
The Moscow Times

Russia starts expedition to track snow leopards 2011-10-21 19:29:51

IRKUTSK, Russia, Oct. 21 (Xinhua) — Russian scientists started Friday an expedition to track the endangered snow leopards in southern Siberia, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

A research team will travel to the Altai-Sayan mountainous region to collect data on the snow leopard population and its habitat range.

This is the third phase of the expedition “On the Trail of Snow Leopards.” The results will be presented in late November.

In 2010, Russia launched a five-year program to study and monitor the snow leopard population in southern Siberia.

Under the program, a reserve will be set up in the western Sayan region for the conservation of the snow leopard.

The snow leopard is a rare and quickly vanishing animal, which ranks as Category 1 — critically endangered — on Russia’s list of threatened species. The number of snow leopards in Russia was 150 to 200 in 2002. The number might have been further reduced as a result of poaching.

Editor: Wang Guanqun

Using Technology to Stop Poachers: The Altai Project

August 5, 2011 |
In July 2011, TAP collaborators James Gibbs (SUNY-ESF) and Arkhar NGO led a pair of electronics hobbyists into remote Altai to install first generation electronic poacher detectors. They successfully installed 6 such detectors, and we are already getting reports that they are working nicely, with a few minor glitches in satellite coverage. Read on below to hear the story first hand from Greg and Sean.
Frequently Asked Questions
What did we build?
• Essentially, we have built poacher detection systems within the most common hunting grounds. When a poacher drives a vehicle or lights a fire in one of these areas, a signal is silently sent to enforcement officers by email.
• The devices are solar powered and intended to lay in wait, hidden, 24 hrs per day, 365 days per year.
What impact could the devices have?
• Consider this: In the Altaisky biosphere reserve about 30 rangers patrol the 3,532,234 hectare region. Random patrols could only monitor a tiny fraction of this.
• According to Dr. Gibbs, whose main research focus is in wildlife conservation, this technology could change how parks monitoring poaching. Instead of random patrols, enforcement officers could change their focus to sting operations. The increase in efficiency (and morale) could be very substantial.
• This point was echoed by Russian park enforcement officers. When asked what they may do when the traps are triggered, they said they could fly in with helicopters to make an arrest. Right now, helicopters are not warranted for such low probability of arrests.
• Safer for the rangers. There is a strategic benefit to knowing that poachers are quite possibly in a specific region. Random patrols never have this certainty – meetings are often a surprise to both sides. Rangers have been killed recently in Siberia, not far from where we have been working. Nobody knows who killed them but it was likely poachers and smugglers.
Was it successful?
• Yes, the concept has been proven to work. All six units we installed are up and running and sending ”check in” messages. They were even tripped successfully a week later on a blind test. In addition, we established a strong working collaboration with the Russian nature reserve rangers that will allow us to further develop and enhance the poacher detection systems.
Why Siberia?
• It is a long way to travel to implement prototypes, but we did want to test them under the harshest conditions.
• Altai has some of the most endangered species that are at risk of poachers. Poaching is a serious problem in the region and stopping it now while there are still animals left is key.
• Dr. Gibbs and The Altai Project both have long-term collegial relationships with people in the region.
Why amateur electronics?
• Wildlife biology and amateur electronics are, oddly enough, a natural fit. Custom electronics is very expensive to develop, yet wildlife conservation is typically stretched for funding.
• Dr. Gibbs contacted us in the hopes that we could alter one of our hobby projects to fit his needs. We were interested and thought the cause was good so took on the work on a shoestring budget. Perhaps because amateur electronics enthusiasts have to work on small budgets we were pre-adapted to making a contribution to saving endangered wildlife where the budgets are also surprisingly modest.
The Story
A few years ago, a few Victoria friends got together and started a small club to work on electronics projects. They meet every Thursday night and call themselves “Geeknight”. At Geeknight there’s a lot of rivalry. Greg and Sean started building and racing GPS guided boats on Victoria’s Elk Lake. Sean’s ultimately crashed into a rock wall at about 30 KM/H, Greg’s worked properly. That’s about par for the course. After racing GPS boats, Greg and Sean had an idea to send a small solar powered, autonomous boat out into the Pacific Ocean ( It is a big project and we ended up getting deeper into GPS, solar power and efficient design than we ever thought.
We blogged about it and shared a lot of what we were doing on-line – both about our progress and how we were doing things. About a year into the project, somebody commented on one of our posts. It was a section on how we hacked into a device called a “SPOT GPS Messenger”. These handy devices make it possible for hikers to send an “I’m OK” or a “Help” message to people back home – virtually anywhere on Earth. We had made the SPOT device solar powered and took control over the user interface with a circuit board we designed. This was all so that we could get a GPS position on this autonomous boat long after it had been launched.
The commenter was intrigued and after a few on-line comments, said he thought what we had developed could be used in wildlife conservation. He asked if we wanted to collaborate on a project. To be honest, there are a lot of internet scams and our blog was getting spammed ten times a day, so we did the prudent thing and Googled him. It turned out he – Dr. James Gibbs – is a PhD Professor of Conservation Biology in Syracuse, New York. He is really well published and researches wildlife conservation, including the behaviour of wildlife poachers. He spends many months each year in the field in far reaching places around the world. We began to correspond with James and after a few days we had roughed out a project where James would use some of his grant funding to cover prototyping expenses and Greg, Dave and Sean would volunteer time. We knew at the time that travelling to install these electronics out in the wilderness would be part of it, if it got to that stage.
James described the problem succinctly: How do you protect wildlife in a zone that is millions of hectares with only a few conservation officers?
He described the situation as a needle-in-a-haystack. Area patrols can only cover a very small fraction of the area and then only briefly. Poachers might only enter an area once every few months. Catching poachers of endangered species is very tricky, and the odds are against the animals. Snow leopards for example: there are only about 3,000-7,000 left in the world (about 150 left in Russia) and it is estimated that 10-20% are lost each year due to poaching. The cats are resilient, so given a chance they can rebound, moving back into the area and reproducing. That’s how they have been hanging on – reproductive potential.
Dr. Gibbs’ research is about analyzing the behaviour patterns of poachers. Although the areas are vast, poachers need to go through certain pinch points such as roads or places to stay at night. His idea was to detect when humans enter a pinch point zone and then send an alert to wildlife conservation officers. After some discussion and a lot of emails we designed and built small, solar powered, concealable electronics capable of monitoring an area 24 hrs per day, 365 days per year.
There are a variety of detectable ways that humans are distinct from animals – they light fires, drive cars, operate machinery, fire rifles, have human faces. So, we have built and are building sensors that:
• detect campfires
• detect vehicles on road ways
• detect human faces in images
• detect motor and gun shot sounds
A significant challenge to monitoring these remote areas is that there are virtually no means to transmit information. However, the SPOT devices mentioned above work almost anywhere in the world. The devices use the SPOT GPS Messenger made by SPOT LLC to let conservation officers know when a sensor has been triggered and where. Depending on the situation, we may also trigger a photograph of whatever triggers the sensor. The really innovative aspect of this technology is that it is real time. Conservation officers will receive an email only a few minutes after the devices are triggered. If all goes well, they could intercept the poachers before they do damage.
James brought Jennifer Castner into the project to help with logistics. Jennifer is the director of The Altai Project ( – a project of Earth Island Institute), located near San Francisco and specializes in grassroots environmental conservation in Siberia. She is skilled in logistics and speaks fluent Russian. Through the two of them, they were able to raise grant funding through the Weeden Foundation and Trust for Mutual Understanding for further prototypes and travel. On July 6th, Sean and Greg travelled to Russia to meet with James, Sergey Spitsyn, a Russian wildlife biologist and director of Arkhar NGO, and two Russian rangers – Pavel Aronov and Sergey Abramov. Together they spent 11 days in very remote areas of the Altai Republic in South-central Siberia. At the direction of the Russian wildlife biologist, they installed six units. All are functioning. Some actually have already been tripped. We learned later these were tripped by a known expedition. But at least we know they work!
A Rough but Rewarding Trip
Although the trip was ultimately successful, it was not without challenges. Sean’s backpack didn’t arrive in Moscow – it was misrouted and delayed in Vancouver. That was pivotal to the trip. At the urging of the Russian hosts, we did not wait two days for the bag to catch up to us because we were pressed for time already. The pack had some really useful things in it – spare parts, solar regulators, and Sean’s sleeping bag and mat.
Some of the devices were damaged in the travel – 16000 km of flight travel and 700 km of road and off-road travel each way. Luckily we had spare parts and were able to deploy all six that the rangers wanted. As a result, Sean and Greg had to improvise on some of the installations by using parts we scavenged from other components. It’s difficult to do in a tent in the middle of nowhere. But, in the end, all the sensors we installed are up and running, still sending us check-in messages.
The Region
The new technology was deployed in the Altai Republic in Siberia. The region is home to many endangered species including snow leopards, Argali big horn sheep and musk deer, species depleted almost everywhere by overhunting and poaching. The region is high in the mountains, up to 4500 meters above sea level (approx 10,000 feet) with temperature ranges of -50ºC to +30ºC. Common in the region are hawks, ground squirrels, cranes and giant 40 pound marmots. We saw a glimpse of a wolverine and signs of argali.
Next Steps
We returned to Canada more enthusiastic than ever. During the travels, James, Greg and Sean discussed ways of improving what we’ve got and expanding the capabilities. We already have funding to develop new sensors and travel to South America in about 6 months. There, we’ll be doing field trials on a completely different kind of sensors – detecting human faces, motor sounds and using “break beam” traps. Our collaborations with James and Jennifer and the Russian wildlife biologists are hopefully just beginning. We will be pursing additional grant funding to expand the number of devices into a full network in Altai. We hope to mature the technology by developing and marketing a “plug-and-play” version that is easier to install in the field.

Supreme Court in Russia’s Altai overrules acquittal of VIP poachers

GORNO-ALTAISK, August 11 (RIA Novosti)

he Altai Republic’s Supreme Court has overruled the acquittal of poachers, two of them high-ranking officials, convicted of hunting endangered mountain sheep, and ordered a retrial with a new panel of judges.

A helicopter carrying government officials crashed near Chernaya Mountain in Altai in January 2009, killing seven people, including the Russian president’s envoy to the State Duma, Alexander Kosopkin, and an environmental off icial.

The officials were allegedly on an illegal hunting expedition when the helicopter crashed. Three of the four people who survived the crash – the republic’s deputy prime minister Anatoly Bannykh, deputy chief of a Moscow university, Nikolai Kapranov, and State Duma official and businessman Boris Belinsky – were brought to trial.

The investigation into the case was closed twice over the lack of evidence of the suspects’ involvement in poaching. The court eventually acquitted them, frustrating environmentalists and animals rights activists.

The Argali sheep is included on Russia’s list of protected species as well as on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) list. Hunting wild rams has been forbidden in Russia since 1930.

The case sparked public outcry after images of the helicopter’s wreckage, in which dead wild rams were clearly seen, a ppeared on the internet soon after the crash.

Ecologists see increasing snow leopard population in Tuva

Ecologists see increasing snow leopard population in Tuva

Mar 22 (dateline below listed differently)

Moscow, 17 March – RIA Novosti WWF’s Altai-Sayan Program announced that the snow leopard population along the southern part of the Shapshal’sky Ridge and on the Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge in Tuva Republic is in good condition and that the female snow leopards are reproducing.

Snow leopards are one of the least studied large cat species in the world. This is related in part due to the inaccessibility of their habitat as well as the species’ rarity.

Aleksandr Kuksin, Ubsunurskaya Kotlovina staff, is quoted as saying, “The snow leopards here are successfully reproducing, and we are constantly seeing signs of females with offspring along the Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge. This means that the predator’s population is being complemented with young individuals, and that overall the group of snow leopards in the southern part of Shapshal’sky Ridge and on Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge in Tuva can be called favorable. It can be assumed that the snow leopard population even slightly increased between 2004 and 2011.”

Signs of snow leopard activity were discovered in all river valley studied, including the Khemchika and Shuya headwaters and the Toolaylyg and Barlyk Rivers watersheds. Researchers identified 19 signs of snow leopards belonging to 17 different snow leopards, and there was a single encounter with the rare predatory. In 2004 in that same region, 13 snow leopard spoors were found, belonging to 8-10 individuals. Staff from Ubsunurskaya Kotlovina Zapovednik staff and Tuva’s state Hunting and Fishing Committee staff conducted field research to assess snow leopard and Siberian mountain goat populations concluded on March 6

In addition to finding the spoor of this rare predatory, expedition participants found numerous sites showing ongoing marking activities by snow leopard, which like any cat, they use to indicate individual territories.

Approximately 40 scat samples were gathered and will be sent to the Severtsov Institute for Ecology and Evolution Problems (RAS) for DNA analysis, which will permit determination of the population’s size, their gender, and age.

Evidence of snow leopard on Shapshal’sky Ridge and Tsagan-Shibetu

Moreover, snow leopard excrement is needed to train scent dogs, an activity now being conducted with WWF-Russia support in Barnaul. In the future Erik the German shepherd, now being trained to locate and identify snow leopard spoor by scent, will support Tuvan and Altai conservationists in fieldwork.

“Today, Erik is training using excrement from zoos, but using material collected in the snow leopard’s natural habitat will significantly increase the dog’s competence, because the dog will be working in this predator’s actual habitat, “ explain WWF-Russia experts.

In addition, expedition participants observed 148 mountain goats (Siberian mountain goats), which, in comparison with past years, indicates the stability of this grouping. A low-snow winter has left grazing areas accessible to mountain goats in the high mountains, where over the course of the winter a significant portion of ungulates remained. The main threats to snow leopards remain shepherds that lose sheep to predator attacks and local snare poachers, according to WWF-Russia. One to two local snow leopards are lost every year as a result of an animal accidentally ending up in a snare trap. The inspectors that participated in the expedition succeeded in arresting three poachers from Ovyursky Rayon for illegal mountain goat hunting along the Eldig-Khem River.

Translation courtesy of Jennifer Castner.

Land of the Snow Leopard is preparing to receive tourists (Altai)

29 Oct 2010

Master classes and a practical seminar on felted souvenirs took place in Kosh-Agach at the end of September. This event was hosted by the Fund for Sustainable Development of Altai as part of its project
“Development and marketing of the transboundary Land of the Snow Leopard route. The project is aimed in part at involving local Altai and Tuva residents in the protection of rare species in the Altai-Sayan Ecoregion and is conducted with support from UNDP/GEF.


23 people participated in the training, residents of Kosh-Agach, Ulagan and Ongudai rayons, where the Land of the Snow Leopard project is underway…. Some participated in the training for the first time…. People also participated who already work with felt but lacked experience and expertise.


Moving ahead, each point along the Land of the Snow Leopard route will be provided with original and locally-produced souvenir production. Similar trainings are planned for the Mongun-Tayginsky rayon in Tuva Republic, which will also be part of the Land of the Snow Leopard route.

[translation Jennifer Castner]

29.10.2010 Земля снежного барса готовится к приему туристов

В конце сентября 2010 г. в с.Кош-Агач в рамках проекта Фонда устойчивого развития Алтая «Разработка и продвижение на рынок трансграничного маршрута ‘Земля снежного барса» как механизм вовлечения местных жителей Алтая и Тувы в охрану редких видов Алтае-Саянского экорегиона’ при поддержке Проекта ПРООН/ГЭФ прошли мастер-классы и практический семинар по изготовлению сувениров из войлока.

Для проведения мастер-классов были привлечены опытные мастера Центра развития народно-художественных промыслов «Энчи» (четыре мастера под руководством директора Бабрашевой Татьяны Кундучиновны). В ходе занятий мастера сделали основной упор на изготовление сувениров из войлока: маленькие коврики сырмаки, войлочные игрушки, сувениры, – с использованием образов ирбиса и аргали.

В ходе семинара и мастер-класса было обучено 23 заинтересованных жителей из Кош-Агачского, Улаганского, Онгудайского районов (районы реализации проекта «Земля снежного барса»). Участников можно было разделить условно на новичков и тех, кто был уже знаком с этой отраслью народного промысла. Некоторые принимали участие в таких мастер–классах впервые и им было очень интересно познакомиться с первыми шагами создания войлока. Их учили, как валять шерсть, какие технологии применять. Как они потом признались, они даже представить не могли, сколько интересного можно узнать и научиться всему всего за пару дней. Были и люди, которые уже занимались войлоком, но им не хватало опыта, знаний. Они в основном интересовались методами оформления продукции. Например, мастер из Улаганского района Юнчакова Нина Кирилловна познакомила с методом фильцевания (наложения рисунка, орнамента), также показала с помощью каких инструментов можно работать. Она также оформила два коврика с эмблемой ПРООН/ГЭФ.

В течение двух дней участники семинара научились валять шерсть, делать различные сувениры, коврики, башмачки. Участники и мастера делились опытом, знаниями, раскрывали свои секреты при работе с шерстью. Кто-то из участников вспоминал, как давным-давно делали войлок их мамы и бабушки, какие методы применяли. Бабрашева Татьяна Кундучиновна отметила, что данное мероприятие прошло очень успешно, по сравнению с другими мастер-классами, которые они проводили раньше. Участники были очень заинтересованы в получении новых знаний и опыта в этом нелегком деле. Женщины из с. Курай принесли показать на семинар свои работы. Несколько участников уже собираются открывать свое собственное дело по изготовлению сувениров из войлока, и даже обучать других желающих.

Итак, в дальнейшем каждая точка маршрута «Земля снежного барса» будет обеспечена оригинальной сувенирной продукцией местного происхождения. Подобное выездное мероприятие планируется и для Монгун-Тайгинского района Республики Тыва, где также будет проходить часть трансграничного экотуристического маршрута ‘Земля снежного барса’.

[This was paid for by a grant from Altai Assistance Project.]

Wind power is our future!


As part of the Land of the Snow Leopard project, a wind power installation (1 kw) has been installed at the Otok Obshchina’s tourist camp on the shores of Lake Tarkhatinskoye.

The installation is in addition to the solar panels and electrical batteries installed in 2009. Otok Obshchina’s camp, which was established with funding support from the Project, now has around-the-clock electricity for use around in camp, in the bathhouse and a nearby cafe. The camp is located 30 km from Kosh-Agach. Funding for these renewable energy sources for Ukok Nature Park and obshchinas in Kosh-Agach rayon are provided by the Fund for Sustainable Development of Altai as part of the international Land of the Snow Leopard project. [….]

[translation Jennifer Castner]

Altai Republic residents will become guides along the “Land of the Snow Leopard” route, Russia
16 Sep 2010

16 Altai Republic residents will become guides along the “Land of the Snow Leopard” route

In Altai Republic 16 local residents were trained in ecotourism for work as tourist guides along the Land of the Snow Leopard route. Tatyana Ivanitskaya, Press Secretary for the WWF’s Altai-Sayan project.

Participants learned new applied skills during the training, traveling practice routes along the Sailyugem and southern Chuisky Ridges, Dzhumalinsky Springs, Karagem Breach, and the Argut River. Upon finishing the course, participants will submit independently developed routes for evaluation. If approved, those routes will become part of the planned transboundary “Land of the Snow Leopard” route.

“These freshly minted guides – residents of Bel’tir, Mukhor-Tarkhata, Dzhazator and Argut located in close proximity to the main areas of snow leopard and argali habitation in Altai. The residents of these villages have been hunters since time immemorial. Because of a lack of steady work and the need to feed their families, some of them become poachers,” said Mikhail Paltsyn, WWF Project Coordinator. “We are confident that the opportunity to earn a regular annual income from tourism will reduce poaching among local residents, and the idea behind the Land of the Snow Leopard routes is to allow people to see animals in the wild. In this way, protecting fauna will ensure financial well-being.”

Similar ecotourism has been successfully created in India, where snow leopard can also be found. Local residents host tourists in their homes, accompanying them on one- and two-day tours with the goal of seeing animals in nature.

Another piece on this from the UNDP/GEF site:

[another article on the same subject as above, with different details,
excerpts only]


Eco-routes developed by “Irbis”and “Arkhar”

The short term vocational training program for guides was developed and conducted by experienced instructors from Gorno-Altaisk State University, Olga Shvakova and Tatyana Zyablitskaya, who are participating in a second year of this project led by the Fund for Sustainable Development of Altai. The protected areas development training program was specially developed within the framework of the Center for Training Protected Area Specialists. 16 participants were divided into five small groups, where they developed the aforementioned routes from Tarkhatinskoye Lake and Dzhumalinsky Springs down to the village of Dzhazator and another two days on horseback along the Argut River to the confluence of the Karakem River. Along the way, participants were divided into two groups (Irbis and Arkhar) and practiced good horse and people management along the trail, how to teach, guide and operate horseback tours, keeping on schedule, calculating distances and time management. The field experience strengthened their learning and facilitated the final development of the tour routes.

….Over the last fours years, 58 participants have completed the guide training program financed by the UNDP/GEF program. Of those, 8 excellent students participated in short-term internships in foreign protected areas. Another 16 guides can be added to this total as of September 2010.

Translation courtesy of Jennifer Castner, The Altai Project.

Note: UNDP/GEF, FSDA, Altai Assistance Project and The Altai Project were also involved in this project.

Camera traps for snow leopard to be installed in the Argut River valley, Russia

5 Oct 2010

[Excerpting only new information. Translation courtesy of Jennifer Castner, The Altai Project.]

“It is extremely important that local residents participate in the
area’s snow leopard monitoring. Installation of the camera traps will
all local residents to be drawn into nature conservation projects. “We
are not seeing any targeted snow leopard hunting along the middle
Argut right now,” commented Mikhail Paltsyn, director of the rare
species conservation project. “But poachers are still setting up great
numbers of snares for musk deer in the Koir and Yungur River valleys,
and those can catch snow leopard as well. In 2008, one of those
poachers was arrested in Koir for setting over 300 snares.”

This press release was developed by WWF-Russia (Altai-Sayan project)

Press Release from UNDP/GEF press office & WWF: Land of the Snow Leopard Project, Russia, 20 October 2010

Beginning on October 5, 2010, a 12-day expedition took place along the middle stretch of the Argut River as part of a project jointly funded by WWF, Altai Assistance Project, and The Altai Project to monitor the snow leopard population in the Argut River valley. During the expedition, Sergei Spitsyn, an employee of Altaisky Zapovednik, together with two Inegen residents, Aduchy Beletov and Viktor Samoylov, set up 18 Reconyx RapidFire and HyperFire camera traps along the middle Argut River in key habitat home to the largest population of snow leopard – on land between the mouths of the Shavla and Koir Rivers. Evidence of snow leopards has been found along the middle Argut from 2003-2009, and red maral deer and Siberian mountain goat population densities here are one of the highest in Southern Siberia. This landscape is immediately adjacent to the Argut Cluster of Sailyugem National Park, established for the protection of key groupings of argali and snow leopard in Russia in February 2010.

Earlier on 23-28th of August, during a UNDP/GEF-funded seminar on the use of camera traps for snow leopard monitoring, 7 cameras were set in place in potential snow leopard habitat along the lower Argut River valley. Over a month’s operation, the cameras collected over 1000 images of various resident species in Argut: bears, maral red deer, musk deer, foxes, Siberian mountain goats, Altai snowcocks, and even lynx. Despite this, the researchers’ cameras were unable to record images of snow leopard in this portion of the valley, easily accessible from local villages. No evidence of snow leopard was found along the lower stretch of the Argut River during expeditions led by Altaisky Zapovednik during the years of 2003-2008. Local residents report that snow leopards had been eliminated as early as the 1980s and 90s in this region; one can still find the remnants of old abatises, where poachers snares for the predator. No snares have been set in those places since 2000, but snow leopards have yet to return to these places, despite the excellent habitat and a wealth of prey: Siberian mountain goats, red maral deer, musk deer, and Altai snowcock. This is hope that with proper protection, snow leopard will return to these parts in the near future.

Despite the lack of snow leopard, the lower Argut basin is an ideal place to conduct ecotourism with the participation of local residents. The area is readily accessible and boasts beautiful scenery and rich wildlife. By inviting tourists to operate camera traps, visitors have the experience of hunting, but instead of pelt or horn trophies, they come away with unique pictures of living animals and birds and learn about the secret lives of Argut’s ancient residents. For all of these reasons, Argut is one of the most attractive places along the transboundary «Land of the Snow Leopard route, developed jointly by UNDP/GEF and WWF. The Land of the Snow Leopard project is actively engaging local residents in Altai, Tuva, and Western Mongolia in ecotourism development and rare species conservation in the Altai-Sayan Ecoregion.

5-17 октября 2010 г. в рамках совместного проекта Всемирного фонда природы, Altai Assistance Program и Altai Project по организации мониторинга снежного барса в долине р. Аргут были проведены полевые работы в средней части бассейна этой реки. В ходе работ Сергей Спицын, сотрудник Алтайского заповедника, и два жителя с. Инегень – Адучы Белетов и Виктор Самойлов установили 18 автоматических камер Reconix RapidFire и HyperFire в средней части бассейна р. Аргут, в ключевых местообитаниях крупнейшей в России группировки ирбиса (территория между устьями рр. Шавла и Коир). В средней части Аргута следы снежного барса отмечались регулярно в 2003-2009 гг., а показатели плотности населения марала и сибирского горного козла здесь одни из самых высоких в Южной Сибири. Эта территория непосредственно прилегает к участку «Аргут» национального парка «Сайлюгемский», созданного для охраны ключевых группировок аргали и снежного барса в России в феврале 2010 г.
Напомним, что 23-28 августа в ходе семинара по использованию фото-ловушек для мониторинга ирбиса, организованного в рамках Проекта ПРООН/ГЭФ, семь автоматических камер были установлены в потенциальных местообитаниях этого вида в нижней части долины р. Аргут. Более чем за месяц работы камер было получено около 1000 снимков различных обитателей Аргута: медведя, маралов, кабарги, лисиц, сибирских горных козлов, алтайских уларов и даже рыси. Однако, обнаружить снежного барса в этой части долины, легко доступной из ближайших населенных пунктов, исследователям не удалось. Следы присутствия ирбиса в нижней части Аргута не были найдены и во время экспедиций Алтайского заповедника в 2003-2008 гг. По словам местных жителей, ирбис в этой части Аргута был истреблен еще в 80-90-е годы прошлого века, когда его отловом занимались чабаны, зимовавшие на стоянках на этой территории. До сих пор на острых горных гривах – излюбленных местообитаниях ирбиса – можно найти остатки старых засек, где браконьеры ставили петли на этого хищника. В 2000-2010 годах петли в этих местах уже не устанавливали, однако, снежный барс до сих пор не вернулся в эти места, не смотря на хорошие местообитания и обилие его объектов питания: сибирских горных козлов, маралов, кабарги и уларов. Сохраняется надежда, что при надлежащей охране ирбис вернется в эти места в течение ближайших лет.
Не смотря на отсутствие ирбиса – нижняя часть бассейна р. Аргут является идеальным местом для организации экотуристических туров силами местных жителей. Эти места легко доступны, имеют удивительные по красоте ландшафты и богатый животный мир. Использование автоматических фотокамер для работы с туристами позволит клиентам почувствовать себя настоящими охотниками, но вместо шкур и рогов животных получить уникальные снимки живых зверей и птиц, раскрыть тайны скрытных обитателей древнего Аргута. Все это делает Аргут одной из самых привлекательных частей трансграничного экотуристического маршрута «Земля Снежного Барса», разрабатываемого совместно Проектом ПРООН/ГЭФ и Всемирным фондом природы. Проект «Земля снежного барса» активно задействует местных жителей Алтая, Тувы и Западной Монголии в развитие экотуризма и охрану редких видов Алтае-Саянского экорегиона.

Snow Leopard Day took place in Altai

1 Jun 2010

(With support from WWF and Altaisky Zapovednik) Ukok Nature Park, FSDA, and the Center for Additional Children’s Education in Kosh-Agach Rayon organized the event. 78 pupils from two high-altitude schools in Kosh-Agach and Ulagan Rayons participated in the event – these areas are important snow leopard habitat. Mongolia’s National Parks Directorship sent representatives. They conducted competitions for best project and best art work related to the snow leopard.