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Rising majestically above low-lying steppe and river valleys, and the lakes of the enclosed Great Lakes Basin, the ice-capped mountains of the Mongolian Altai stretch down the western border of Mongolia and then curve eastwards in a giant arc above the Gobi Desert to link with the lesser, more scattered ranges of the Gobi-Altai. Snow Leopards hunt Siberian Ibex and Argali sheep in steep sided canyons and ravines, and Musk Deer survive in some of the highland forests. Marmots, pikas and a host of small rodent species live on the alpine meadows and the steppe, watchful of Saker falcons, Upland buzzards and Golden and Steppe eagles overhead, and Corsac foxes, Pallas’s 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, in contrast to impacts elsewhere in the world, humans – informed by centuries of sustainable nomadic land-use – have trodden relatively lightly on this land. With an ongoing integrity and continuity between habitats and ecosystems there remain real opportunities for people here to conserve the natural world around them.