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Established: 1989
Size: 412,900 ha (4,129 km2)
Buffer Zone: 330,000 ha
(3,300 km2)

Contact information:
Vasilchenko, Aleksei Andreevich, Director

Russia 652888, Kemerovo Oblast,
Mezhdurechinsk, Prospekt Shakhterov 33/1

Tel/fax: (7-384-75) 3-27-28, 3-19-05
Email: alatau@rikt.ru

The Kuznetsky Alatau Range juts north from the Altai-Sayan Mountains in Western Siberia. Kuznetsky Alatau Zapovednik protects the highest peaks of this mountain range along the eastern border of the Kemerovo Oblast. Taiga forests of siberian fir, pine, and spruce conceal steep slopes, while meadows and tundra vegetation hurdle over mountain ridges. Cold streams hastily carry water from glacier-fed lakes and massive snowfields to tributaries of the Ob River. Mountain ecosystems teem with wildlife including reindeer, musk deer, brown bear, lynx, hazelhen, rock ptarmigan, and golden eagle. Situated between two of the most developed regions of Russia - the Kuzbass Coal Basin and the Minusinskaya Agricultural Plain - Kuznetsky Alatau Nature Reserve helps buffer pristine mountain habitat from the pressures of industrial development and geological exploration.

Photo © 2000 Igor Shpilenok

Zapovednik Images
Zapovednik Facts

Images of Kuznetsky Alatau Zapovednik
Click on each photo to see a large version.

© 2000
Igor Shpilenok

Asian trollflowers blanket mountain slopes in summertime.

© 2000
Igor Shpilenok

The martagon lily - or Tsar's curls in Russian - grows in high meadows.

© 2000
Igor Shpilenok

Vivid fields of purple columbine ring glacial lakes in the reserve.

© 2000
Igor Shpilenok

The Upper Ters River gets most of its water from snowmelt.

© 2000
Igor Shpilenok

Sparse forests of spruce and fir are found near timberline.


© 2000 Igor Shpilenok

The hollow trunk of this dead Siberian pine is now home to a family of owls

© 2000
Igor Shpilenok

Glacier lakes fill depressions like this one in the high mountains.

© 2000 Igor Shpilenok

A bubbling brook is lined with luscious vegetation and Asian trollflowers.

Zapovednik Facts:

Moose (Alces alces) browse on young twigs in the forests of the nature reserve, while tiny musk deer (Moschus moschiferus) prefer lichens and other vegetation close to the ground. Wild reindeer (Rangifer tarandus valentinae) stay in the forests in the winter, but will seek out fresh vegetation and escape from insects in the mountain tundra in summertime. A population of only 120 reindeer, roaming in small groups of 4-18 animals, is completely isolated from other reindeer populations. Inbreeding over an extended period could threaten the long-term survival of reindeer in the Kuznetsky Alatau Mountain Range. A project to improve the viability of the reindeer population is proposed in the HOW TO HELP section.

A number of predators rely on healthy populations of ungulates, rodents, and birds in the reserve. Fox (Vulpes vulpes), sable (Martes zibellina tomensis), ermine (Mustela erminea tobolica), and three species of weasel (M. nivalis pygmea, M. sibirica, M. altaica) feed on a diversity of rodents and small birds. Wolves (Canus lupis altaicus) hunt for Siberian roe deer (Capreolus pygargus) and occasionally Siberian wapiti (Cervus elaphus sibiricus). Lynx (Felix lynx wardi) chase after mountain and brown hares (Lepus timidus, L. europeus), while wolverine (Gulo gulo) and badger (Meles meles sibirica) eat just about anything that crosses their paths. Otters (Lutra lutra) fish in rivers and lakes in the reserve, although the species is generally rare in the region. Around 300 brown bears (Ursus arctos) find refuge here, retreating to the tundra in summer to raise their young and feed on bilberries and other fresh vegetation.

Beaver colonies (Castor fiber) have recovered in nearly all the rivers in the reserve since the animal was reintroduced to the area beginning in 1960. Alpine pika (Ochotona alpina), red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), long-tailed ground squirrel (Citellus undulatus), Siberian chipmunk (Tamias sibiricus), numerous species of voles (Microtus spp., Clethrionomys spp., Alticola spp.), shrews (Sorex spp.), and other small rodents create an important food base for many predatory mammals and birds. In all, 65 species of mammals are found in the nature reserve, consisting of 11 insectivores, nine bats, 24 rodents, three Lagomorpha (hares), 13 carnivores, and five ungulates.

Scientists have identified 273 species of birds in Kuznetsky Alatau Zapovednik. Of these, 229 bird species migrate to the reserve for the warm breeding season, 44 reside here permanently, eight birds spend the winter in the region, and 28 migrate through the reserve to nesting areas further north. The most prevalent species inhabiting the lower slopes of the Kuznetsky Alatau Range are: yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella), red crossbill (Loxia curvirostra), scarlet rosefinch (Carpodacus erythrinus), chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs), great tit (Parus major), fieldfare (Turdus pilaris), nine species from the Corvidae family (Pica, Corvus, Nucifraga, and other genera), and northern hazelhen (Tetrastes bonasia). In the high mountain tundra zone, water pipit (Anthus spinoletta), Pallas's reed bunting (Emberiza pallasi), twite (Acanthis flavirostris), solitary snipe (Gallinago solitaria), and rock ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus) are among the more common species.

Many rare species of birds, listed in the Russian Red Book of Rare and Endangered Species, find refuge in the nature reserve. Rare birds include black stork (Ciconia nigra), Bewick's swan (Cygnus bewickii), hooded crane (Grus monacha), Asian dowitcher (Limnodromus semipalmatus), and great black-headed gull (Larus ichthyaëtus). Among endangered birds of prey found in the reserve are: osprey (Pandion haliaetus), steppe eagle (Aquila rapax orientalis), imperial eagle (A. heliaca), golden eagle (A. chrysaetos), Pallas's sea-eagle (Haliaëetus leucoryphus), white-tailed sea-eagle (H. albicilla), gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus), saker falcon (F. cherrug), and peregrine falcon (F. peregrinus). Altogether, 13 species of birds in the zapovednik are considered rare or endangered, while the ranges of 12 species have been decreasing over the past few decades.

Six species of reptiles inhabit the Kemerovo Region, but only two of these have been identified in the zapovednik: viviparous scaly lizard (Lacerta vivipara) and common northern viper (Vipera berus). Five species of amphibians are found in Kemerovo Oblast, two of which reside in the nature reserve: common toad (Bufo bufo) and moor frog (Rana arvalis).

Fourteen species of fish and one species of lamprey inhabit the lakes and rivers of the Kuznetsky Alatau Zapovednik. However, only seven of these are widespread in the upper reaches of rivers in the zapovednik including: taimen (Hucho taimen), Siberian grayling (Thymallus arcticus), river minnow (Phoxinus phoxinus), Siberian char (Nemachilus barbatus), sculpin (Cottus poecilopus), and two species from the carp family (Gobio gobio cynocephalus and Leuciscus leuciscus baicalensis).


Nearly 85 percent of Kuznetsky Alatau Zapovednik is covered with forests, two thirds of which are dominated by Siberian fir (Abies sibirica). Siberian pine (Pinus sibirica) occurs with fir on well-drained slopes. Sparse woodlands of fir and pine near timberline are important for regulating runoff from snowmelt. Honeysuckle (Lonicera pallacii) and various species of spiraea (Spiraea media, S. chamaedryfolia) are found in the understory of fir stands. Siberian spruce (Picea obovata) grows in mountain valleys. Broadleaf species (primarily Betula and Populus spp.) occupy the lower regions of the forest belt, especially in areas that have been logged or burned.

Boulder fields are common in the Kuznetsky Alatau Mountains. Birch (Betula tortuosa) and juniper (Juniperus sibirica) grow in crooked formations on these rocky slopes. Siberian firs skirt the edge of boulder fields, their tops disfigured from ice and snow. Spleenwort fern (Athyrium distentifolium) climbs steep, rocky slopes, gradually unfolding its leaves as summer unveils.

Meadow communities dominate the subalpine belt, from 1100 to 1250 meters above sea level. In spring, beautiful Pallas's primula (Primula pallasii), corydalis (Corydalis bracteata), and Altai anemone (Anemonoides altaica) flower briefly in the meadows, while snow still coats shaded valleys and slopes. Slopes turn brilliant orange with Asian trollflower (Trollius aziaticus) in summer. The large pink curls of martagon lily (Lilium martagon) grace meadows and the edges of forests. Dwarf birch (Betula nana) and dwarf willow (Salix glauca) twist in densely tangled mats at the upper edge of the subalpine belt.

Alpine communities cover five to eight percent of the reserve, dotting the high mountain terrain. Sedge (Carex altaica, C. aterrima), doronicum (Doronicum altaicum), and crowfoot (Ranunculus altaica) emerge from beneath melting snow in summertime. Purple carpets of columbine (Aquilegia glandulosa) ring transparent glacier-fed lakes. Mammals and birds gather on northern slopes in the alpine region in the summer to feed on succulent bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) interspersed with the pink flowers of persicaria (Polygonum bistorta), Daurian goldenrod (Solidago dahurica), and in places bergenia (Bergenia crassifolia).

The high level of precipitation combined with an extended period of snow cover creates favorable conditions for mountain swamps at various elevations. In river valleys and terraces, swamps up to 30 ha in size form in onetime riverbeds. Birch thickets (Betula rotundifolia) are intermixed with cranberry bogs (Vaccinium oxycoccos) and grass communities made up of Carex lasiocarpa, C. rostrata, C. pauciflora, Baeothryon cespitosum, and Eriophorum polystahyon. Swamp vegetation is also found on moist slopes, highland terraces, peat meadows, and waterlogged depressions between mountains.

In all, botanists have identified 578 vascular plant species from 80 families and nearly 275 genera in the Kuznetsky Alatau Zapovednik. New plant species are discovered each year as researchers continue to investigate the terrain. Fungi and lower plants have yet to be fully researched. Thirty threatened species of plants are found in the reserve including rose-root (Rhodiola rosea), peony (Paeonia anomala), and Pallas's primula. Wolfsbane (Aconitum pascoi) with its blue flowers and Siberian brunnera (Brunnera sibirica) are endemic to the Altai-Sayan Mountain Region.

Geographical Features

The Kuznetsky Alatau Zapovednik is located along the eastern border of the Kemerovo Oblast in Western Siberia. The reserve protects the highest mountains of the Kuznetsky Alatau Range, the northernmost spur of the Altai-Sayan Mountain System. Located on the western slopes of the mountain range, the reserve territory falls in the Mezhdurechinsky, Novokuznetsky, and Tisulsky administrative districts.

The Kuznetsky Alatau Mountain Range occupies approximately one-third of Kemerovo Oblast. The range is part of the Kuznetsk Highlands in the Altai-Sayan Mountain Region. The Kuznetskaya and Minusinskaya basins form wide depressions on either side of the mountain range. The mountain range formed as a result of glacial and volcanic processes. The Lesser Kanym, Zubets, and Drakon Peaks are cones of ancient volcanoes. Great Kanym is the highest mountain in the zapovednik, reaching 1,870 m above sea level.

Most of the rivers originating in the Kuznetsky Alatau Mountain Range are part of the Ob River catchment area. Only the tributaries of the Abakan River, in the extreme southeast of the mountain range, drain into the Yenesei River Basin. The largest rivers in the zapovednik are the Lower, Middle, and Upper Ters - tributaries of the Tom River, and the Kiya River, which joins the Chulym River to the North before flowing into the Ob. All of these rivers are fast moving mountain rivers in the reserve, carrying crystal clear water. More than two-thirds of their water comes from snowmelt. By the end of October, small and medium-sized rivers are laced with ice.

Continental climate prevails in the Kuznetsky Alatau Range. The average temperature in January is -15.5°C, while the average temperature in July is +16.5°C. Southwestern winds in wintertime cause more snow to collect on north- and east-facing slopes. An average of three to five meters of snow accumulates in the reserve, but snow can pile up to 15 meters high in canyons and snow banks. Snow cover lasts from six to nine months a year. A total of 38 permanent snowfields and numerous small glaciers are located in the high mountains of the reserve. A study conducted in 1968 mapped all of the snowfields and glaciers in the region. Since then, these snowfields and glaciers have gradually melted and decreased in size, possibly a consequence of climate change. A new investigation should be carried out to determine changes in glacial cover over the past 30 years, the results of which could be used in climate change studies.

Conservation Status

One of the most critical threats to the remote and relatively pristine ecosystems of Kuznetsky Alatau is atmospheric pollution and, in particular, acid rain. At least 68 sources of large-scale industrial pollution are found in the plains below the reserve. Most of these are metallurgical, and primarily aluminum, factories. Each year, hundreds of tons of harmful chemicals rain down on the remote mountain ecosystems of Kuznetsky Alatau Zapovednik. Despite the dangers of acid rain, water in the mountain rivers and lakes of the zapovednik has thus far been found to be very clean. Sphagnum swamps at high altitudes act as a natural filter for rainwater before it reaches streams and rivers.

Another serious threat to the integrity of ecosystems protected in the Kuznetsky Alatau Zapovednik comes from the ground. Since the abolishment of the Russian Committee for Protection of the Environment and Natural Resources in May 2000, the Ministry of Natural Resources has put pressure on the reserve's administration to allow geological surveys on the territory of the zapovednik to search for gold deposits. Whether or not these pressures will lead to opening up the reserve for exploitation and irreversible destruction of pristine wilderness remain to be seen.

Less severe threats to the wildlife of the reserve are posed by poaching and illegal fishing. Prior to the creation of the reserve in 1989, people had grown accustomed to hunting sable, red squirrel, beaver, moose, and wapiti in the Kuznetsky Alatau Mountains. The low level of financing for protection measures means the ranger service is poorly equipped to catch violators.

Kuznetsky Alatau Zapovednik has launched an ecotourism program as a means to raise funds for conservation measures and to allow the general public to share the beauty of the region. The reserve offers trips of any duration with a variety of activities, including hikes to Kanym Mountain, trail rides, summer skiing on snowfields, and much more. Guests are housed in a rugged cabin at the edge of the crystal clear Fish Lake or in tents. Prices are reasonable and safety and enjoyment are assured. Contact the reserve headquarters for more information.


Text by Laura Williams.

Kuznetsky Alatau Zapovednik. D.V. Dubikovsky, ed. Asiya Publishing House. Kemerovo, 1999

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