The West Altai State Nature Reserve, Kazakhstan
Established in 1991 to protect the important ecosystem of the mountains and Altai forests, the West Altai State Nature Reserve is the largest nature reserve in Kazakhstan. Home to many types of mammals and plants on the IUCN Red List, it is well known for its successful conservation of the threatened Altai weasel. In the North there are many geological formations, which are genuine monuments of nature, closely linked with people’s culture and history.
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The West Altai Nature Reserve covers an area of 56,000 hectares. The reserve's terrain is representative of a mid-mountain range with gentle slopes. Only the central part of the Ivanovsky mountain range (Vysheivanovsky Belok, 2778 meters) is notable for its extreme alpine topography. 14 small glaciers on the tributaries of the Belaya Cuba River cover a total area of 1.1 square km with an ice volume of 0.011 cubic km. Up to the forest border are small glacial lakes and brooks emanating from bogs. The reserve could be divided in 4 zones: deciduous forest, mountain taiga, mountain tundra and subalpine and alpine meadows.
The West-Altai National Nature Reserve is located at the North-Eastern border of East-Kazakhstan district on the territory of 2 administrative regions: Ridderskiy (former Leninogorskiy) and Zyryanovskiy.
Fauna and Flora
The fauna of the West Altai State Natural Reserve is typical of the mid-mountain region of the West Altai. The reserve is known as being one of the most successful nature reserves for the protection of the threatened Altai weasel. Other important fauna and flora in the reserve are golden eagle, peregrine falcon, saker falcon, black stork, sable, salmon-trout, pink rhodiola and Siberian adder’s tongue.
Birds in the reserve are the teal, big merganser, black kite, hen-harrier, quail-shooter, common buzzard, common kestrel, rough-legged horned owl, wood grouse, tundra partridge, landrail, Asiatic snipe, big turtle-dove, common cuckoo, woodpecker and many species of the sparrow class. Some bird species dwelling in the reserve are included in the Red Book of Kazakhstan such as the golden eagle, peregrine falcon, baloban, eagle owl, and black stork.
Mammals include the common shrew, Altaic mole, fox, bear, glutton, sable, weasel, ermine, Siberian weasel, otter, musk-deer, maral, roe, elk, squirrel, chipmunk, common dark and red field-vole, and the Altai pika.
The deciduous forest zone is limited in size and characteristic of river valleys. The forests consist mostly of birches and aspens, and the undergrowth is notable for bird cherry trees, mountain ash, and viburnums. The grass cover is very thick and includes key species such as the Siberian cow-parsnip, angelica, peony, larkspur, wolfsbane, and dandelion.
The mountain taiga zone varies greatly in its forests: dark taiga, cedar and fir, and coniferous forests. It is represented by such species as the annual ground-pine, wolfsbane, Siberian clematis, adonis, Kuriles tea, European wood strawberry, raspberry-cane, speedwell, valerian, Siberian adder's-tongue, and grains. Cedar-fir forests, consisting of the Siberian pine and silver fir, are rich in various species of grassy plants.
The subalpine and alpine meadows of the State Nature Reserve are situated at 1800-2000 meters. The main species of subalpine plants are as follows, Altai globe-flower, Asiatic globe-flower, hellebore, and white flower geranium.
The mountain tundra zone is located above 2000 meters of elevation; tundra consists of patches of various plant species which are spread about in spots and stripes. In some places, they alternate with the pure clay soil sections.
The West Altai Nature Reserve is the last refuge for the survival of 15 species of plants such as the Siberian Adder’s tongue, Altaic anthrax, maral root and others that are included in the Kazakhstan Red Book.