Katunsky Zapovednik

Endangered snow leopards prey on Alpine pikas and voles high in the tundra, part of a large and varied mammal population in this 579-square-mile (1,501-km2) U.N. World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve southwest of Altaisky.

Sleek otters frolic and den along the Katun River for which this reserve is named. Flowing from high in the central Altai Mountains. The river gathers speed and volume as it passes through taiga forests and meadows which are home to brown bears, foxes, wolves, wolverines, lynx, and grazing ungulates such as Siberian deer or marals, moose, roe and tiny musk deer, and at higher levels, rare Siberian ibex and Altai Argali mountain sheep.

Imperial eagles, endangered black storks and lovely demoiselle cranes are among 120 bird species. Of these, 80 nest, including golden eagles and peregrine falcons on cliff niches, and among smaller varieties, European nuthatches, Eurasian nutcrackers, wheatears, ortolan buntings, hazel grouse, and fearless little dippers which dive into swiftest river currents to feed on bottom invertebrates.

Largest glacial system in Siberia runs through Katunsky, with 148 individual glaciers covering nearly 30 square miles (80 km2), source of mountain lakes and streams that eventually feed the great Katun River. Problems include illegal hunting, grazing, fishing, mining. Tourism is considered an important part of this reserve’s future, but at least until recently, access and facilities were minimal.