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World Heritage Sites

Protected Areas and World Heritage

Draft Revision


Brief description: The Uvs Nuur Basin is an ancient lake bed in the centre of Asia, remote, enclosed and almost pristine. Its twelve protected areas have all of east central Asias’s major biomes relatively close together: cold desert, desert-steppe, steppe, taiga, alpine tundra, boreal, deciduous and floodplain forests, saltmarshes and snow fields. It centres round the salt lake of Uvs Nuur, attracts a great range of birds, and harbors rare animal species such as snow leopard and argali sheep.

COUNTRY Russian Federation, Republic of Tuva and Mongolia

NAME Uvs Nuur Basin


Natural World Heritage Cluster Site, inscribed in 2003: Natural criteria ii, iv.

BIOGEOGRAPHICAL PROVINCE Mongolian-Manchurian Steppe (2.30.11). Altai Highlands (2.35.11)

GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION The site comprises two adjacent reserve clusters, the Uvs Nuur basin in Mongolia and the Ubsunur Hollow in Russia. They surround Lake Uvs (Ubsunur) in far northwestern Mongolia on the southern border of Siberia in Tuva province. The lake is 760km west of Irkutsk ; the basin lies between 49°46’ - 50°40’N and 90°12 - 95°38E.


1993: Russia designated the Mongun Taiga, Aryskannyg, Yamaalyg, Tsugeer els and Ular reserves; Mongolia designated the Tsagan Shuvuut, Turgen, Uvs Nuur and Altan els reserves
1997: These reserves proclaimed a Biosphere Reserve and an IGPB climate change monitoring station;
2000: Russia designated the Ubsu-Nur and Oroku-Shinaa reserves;
2003: Mongolia included the Tes River reserve; the Russian management plan finalized;

AREA 1,068,853.5 ha. Ubsunur Hollow, Russia total: 258,620 ha, core: 87,830 ha + buffer:170,790 ha. Uvs Nuur, Mongolia total: 810,233.5 ha. [Buffer zone of 476,411ha excluded.]

Ubsunur Hollow, Russia: core buffer central point
1. Mongun Taiga cluster 15,890 ha 84,510 ha 50°12’N x 90°12’E
2. Ubsu-Nur cluster 4,490 ha   50°37’N x 93°08’E
3. Oroku-Shinaa cluster 28,750 ha   50°37’N x 94°00’E
4. Aryskannyg cluster 15,000 ha 11,800 ha 50°40’N x 94°44’E
5. Yamaalyg cluster 800 ha 4,000 ha 50°15’N x 94°45’E
6. Tsugeer els cluster 4,900 ha 50,000 ha 50°05’N x 95°15’E
7. Ular cluster 18,000 ha 20,480 ha 50°32’N x 95°38’E
Totals: 258,620 ha 87,830 ha 170,790 ha  
Uvs Nuur, Mongolia      
8. Tsagan Shuvuut cluster 23,170 ha   50°19’N x 91°09’E
9. Türgen Uul cluster 116,831 ha   49°46’N x 91°22’E
10. Uvs Lake cluster 424,298 ha   50°20’N x 92°53’E
11. Altan els cluster 148,246 ha   49°50’N x 95°00’E
12. Tes River cluster 97,688.5 ha   50°28’N x 93°45’E 
Totals: 810,233.5 ha  (476,410ha, excluded from nomination)

LAND TENURE State. Ubsunur Hollow is in the Russian districts of Mongun-Taiga Kojuun, Ovur Kojuun, Tes-Khem Kojuun and Ersin Kojuun. Uvs Nuur is in the Mongolian districts of Uvs Aimag, Zavhan Aimag, and Huvsgul Aimag. The reserves are managed by the Ubsunur Hollow and Uvs Nuur administrations.

ALTITUDE 759m (Lake Uvs) to 4116m ( Mt.Turgen)

PHYSICAL FEATURES Uvs Nuur is the name of a transboundary cluster of reserves in and around the Uvs Nuur (Lake Ubsunur) Basin in Mongolia in the centre of the Asian continent. The basin is a semi-arid depression just south of the arc of the Tannu-Ola mountains on the Russian border which mark the southern edge of Siberia. It is flanked on the west by outliers of the High Altai mountains, on the east by the Sangilen highlands and in the south by the T�rgen Uul massif and Khankh�khiy range. The area lies within the Mongolian steppe but brings relatively close together every ecosystem of the area between desert and floodplain to glaciers. The sharp delineation of such close but disparate areas is unusual. Of the twelve sites, three are in high mountains: Mongun Taiga, Tsagaan Shuvuut and Turgen; two are in lower mountains: Aryskannyg and Ular; one is an inselberg: Yamaalyg; two are desert: Tsugeer els and Altan els; three, Ubsu-Nur, Oroku-Shinaa and Tes River, are wetland and one is Uvs Nuur lake itself.

The whole basin is some 600km from east to west by 160km north to south. Its floor is about 300km by 120 km and between 760 and 1200 meters above sea level. Uvs Nuur is a large almost circular salt lake near its centre about 70km across, 10-20m deep and 5200 sq.km. in area, the largest in Mongolia. There are six other lakes over 500 sq.km in the basin of differing character, water quality and levels of biomass. Beyond the long marshy delta and saline meadows of the Tes river to the east, which are bordered by the Ubsu-Nur, Oroku-Shinaa and Tes River reserves, is a rolling plain with sculptured granite inselbergs. Yamaalyg reserve is on one of these. North of it the river basin, mountain steppe and forests of Aryskannyg reserve run up into the Tannu Ola Mountains. To the east, mountain and valley terrain extends beyond Ular reserve to over 2500m in the Selingen highlands. To the southeast on river terraces and foothill fans is a desert of fixed and shifting dunes within which lie the Tsugeer els and Altan els reserves. To the west are the Tsagaan Shuvuut and Mongun Taiga mountain reserves, on outlying ranges of the Altai, rising to 3970m; the latter is the only glacial peak in south Russia; and to the southwest is the massif of T�rgen Uul, 4II6m high.

This is the northernmost and wettest of the central Asian depressions, remnants of a Tertiary era inland sea, with relict glaciers, glacier lakes and a wide variety of rock types, the result of a long series of successive eras of deposition and orogeny. The area is still tectonically active with earthquakes and there are many deposits of useful minerals. Most of the rivers derive from mountain rains and snow-melt and their waters are only slightly mineralised. The area has a fifth of Mongolia's glaciers and both high altitude and lowland salt lakes. The main tributary to Uvs Nuur is the Tes (Tesiin-Gol) river which enters the lake through extensive marshes. The variety of soils reflects the wide variety of natural conditions, but generally they are skeletal and light with a few fertile pockets in the mountains and an abrupt break between mountain forest and steppe soils.

CLIMATE The climate is extreme continental with warm summers and long very cold winters. The average summer temperatures are 20-22�C, the average winter temperature between -32�-35�with frost for 6 to 7� months and a maximum touching -55�C. The snowline is at about 2700m. The diurnal temperature range is the highest in Asia. The basin is in the rain shadow of the Tannu-Ola mountains and precipitation is only 150-200mm, 70-80% of it falling in summer showers and thunderstorms. Evaporation exceeds this by four to five times. The growing season (above 10�C) is from early May to late September. Conditions are changeable in spring and autumn and fluctuate from year to year in six to seven year cycles. The topographic effect of the basin is climatic layering with altitude: hot air from the bottom is blown or rises up and condenses on the surrounding mountains resulting in the unusual close proximity of desert and taiga. The basin is a station in the IGBP program for monitoring global warming.

VEGETATION This cluster of reserves lies between the biogeographical provinces of the High Altai, Mongolian Steppe, and the Siberian Taiga. The area contains a great diversity of ecosystems within a relatively small area: cold desert, sand dunes, semi-desert, desert steppe, shrub steppe, wetlands, salty marshes, floodplain forest, deciduous and boreal forests, taiga, alpine meadows and tundra. 552 plant species are recorded, 234 of them restricted to the mountains of southern Siberia and northern Mongolia; 52 are relict species, 19 are recorded as endemic to Mongolia and Tuva, but only five are endemic to Uvs Nuur: Astrogalus polozhinae, Juncus salsuginous ssp.tuvinicum, Stipa barhanica, Asragalus tuvinicus and Zygophyllum pterocaprum ssp.tuvinicum. The vegetation zones are clearly layered by altitude.

Below the glaciers, icefields sharp ridges and tundra of the three western mountain reserves, lie sub-alpine meadows of moss and lichen, then mountain taiga where Siberian larch Larix sibirica, Dahurian larch L. gmelinii, Siberian stone pine Pinus sibirica and Rhododendron spp. predominate. In the valleys are forests of dwarf birch Betula rotundifolia, shrubby willows and pea shrub Caragana spp. There is marked altitudinal difference between north-facing and south-facing slopes in the zoning of vegetation, and a consequent variety of types of steppe. Between 1600 and 900m there is discontinuous larch forested steppe with meadows and large bunchgrass grading to small bunchgrass steppe and to desert. At the foot of northern slopes is relict club-moss steppe.

Ular reserve in the Sangilen highlands has tundra plants above 2300m, high subalpine meadow flora, mountain-bogs, mountain Pinus sibirica taiga, larch forest and riverside meadows. Yamaalig is a granite island fissured with deep canyons isolated in rolling steppe, with many ancient burial sites. Aryskannyg reserve descends from mountains to wet river valleys, reed beds and swamps, a diversity of habitats reflected in a rich flora and fauna. Tsugeer els and Altan els reserves typify north-central Asian desert ecosystems, with remnant mountains, barchan lowlands and green oases. In the Altan sands a river mouth is fringed by pine, larch, sea buckthorn Hippophae ramnoides, and meadows. Tsugeer els has remarkable sandy dune complexes ranging from bare shifting sand to dunes anchored by pea-shrubs.

Uvs Lake and Ubsu-Nur include the deltas of the Tesiin-Gol and Torkhiologiin-Gol rivers where in places, desert comes down to the lake. The Tesiin-Gol delta has five or six branches with meadows, salt meadows and other halophytic communities. This is the only place in Mongolia where a very rare lichen Aspicilia esculenta grows, in a narrow strip along the northeastern shore of Uvs Nuur. The Torkhiologiin-Gol delta consists of desert and salt flats, floating islands of vegetation and flood-plains forested predominantly with Siberian larch, Siberian spruce Picea obovata and laurel-leaved poplar Populus laurifolia, forming islands where colonies of migrating birds nest. The Oroku-Shinaa and Tes River reserves are higher up the floodplain lowlands of the Tesiin-Gol, with meadows, reed beds and sedge swamps vary attractive to migrating birds.

FAUNA The fauna is diverse reflecting the diversity of habitats; it also has a high degree of endemism owing to its isolation. In all, 4 species of insectivora, 4 bats, 5 lagomorphs, 32 rodents, 18 carnivores, 9 artiodactyla, 5 lizards and 3 snakes are recorded in the Tuvan reserves, among them 22 locally rare species of mammal. 41 species of mammal are recorded for the Mongolian portion. The mountainous Mongun Taiga, Tsagan Shuvuut and Turgen Uul are strictly protected areas, being the habitat of the snow leopard Uncia uncia (EN) at the northern margin of its Mongolian range; also of Tartarian roedeer Capreolus pygargus, Altai argali Ovis ammon (VU), the world's largest sheep, and Altai marmot Marmota baibacina (EN). There are also Siberian ibex Capra ibex sibirica, and musk deer Moschus moschiferus (VU), Pallas's cat (manul) Otocolobus manul, Mongolian (bobak) marmot Marmota sibirica, Altai snow-cock Tetraogallus altaiacus, bearded and black vultures Gypaetus barbatus and Aegypius monarchus. Typical tundra species are reindeer Rangifer tarandus, alpine willow-grouse Lagopus lagopus and Mongolian plover Charadrius mongolus; taiga species include brown bear Ursus arctos, wolverine Gulo gulo (VU), common otter Lutra lutra (VU), lynx Felis lynx (EN), wild boar Sus scrofa, Siberian elk (maral) Cervus elaphus songaricus, capercailzie Tetrao urogallus and tawny owl Strix aluco. Steppe forest species include red wolf Cuon alpinus (VU), and steppe species, marbled polecat Vormela peregusna and the rare Mongolian gazelle Procapra gutturosa. In the mountain of Yamaalig booted eagle Hieraaetus pennatus, and rock partridge Alectoris graeca nest.

The sand dune deserts of Tsugar els and Altan els have Tolai hare Lepus tolai, daurian partridge Perdix dauuricae, houbara and great bustards Chlamydotis undulata and Otis tarda (VU); and the specialized species five-toed dwarf jerboa Cardiocranius paradoxus (VU) and northern three-toed jerboa Dipos sagitta. In the centre of the Russian dunes is Lake Tere-Khol which has uniquely pure and transparent waters. On the lakeside nest long-legged buzzard Buteo rufinus, black kite Milvus migrans and common heron Ardea cinerea. Among the reptiles are isolated populations of four species: toad-headed agama Phrynocephalus versocolor, multicellated racerunner Eremias multiocellata, Gobi racerunner Eremias przewalskii and patterned grass-snake Elapha dione; also the locally rare adder Vipera berus, moccasin snake Aghistrodon halys,Tlafe agilis and sand lizard Lacerta agilis. Sixteen out of the existing 20 rarely met species of beetle are endemic.

Some 368 bird species have been recorded in the area, 81 being rare and endangered in Tuva. 173 species have been recorded for Mongolia. As well as mountain habitats from tundra to desert steppe, the basin has many marshes, wetlands and lakes attracting seabirds, waterfowl and migratory species. Among these are a number of internationally important species such as the Dalmatian pelican Pelacanus crispus, white-headed duck Oxyura leucocephala (EN), Baikal teal Anas formosa (VU), imperial eagle Aquila heliaca (VU), greater spotted eagle Aquila clanga (VU), band-tailed fish eagle Haliaeetus leucoryphus (VU), white-tailed sea-eagle Haliaeetus albicilla, lesser kestrel Falco naumanni (VU), Siberian crane Grus leucogeranus (CR), red-crowned crane Grus japonensis (EN), hooded crane Grus monacha (VU), white-naped crane Grus vipio (VU), relict gull Larus relictus (VU), corncrake Crex crex (VU), redbreasted snipe Limnodromus semipalmatus and whitethroated bushchat Saxicola insignis (VU).

There are two species of fish endemic to western Mongolia which live in Uvs Nuur: Oreoleuciscus potanini and O. pewzowi. They are considered to be relicts of species which lived in the huge ice age lake here. Altai carp Ozelenciscus potanini is also common.

CULTURAL HERITAGE There is a long history of nomadic occupation in the region dating from Paleolithic times and large numbers of historical artifacts to prove it. These include ancient burial mounds (kurgans), carved stone steles and rock drawings in the southern part of the Yamaalig massif; also evidence of more recent occupation by Buddhist monasteries and the military. Many aspects of the traditional nomadic lifestyle still persist uncontaminated by modern development.

LOCAL HUMAN POPULATION The seven sites of the nominated area in the Republic of Tuva are scattered among four administrative districts with a population of 35,100 people who formerly lived on collective farms and in small now settled cattle herding communities. But conditions have deteriorated as a result of political change and the need to adjust from state farms to a market economy. There are environmental education programs based on traditional conservation ethics such as respect for sacred areas which are in effect nature sanctuaries. The Mongolian side of the border has little more than 1,000 herdsmen, still dominated by a semi-nomadic pastoralism under great strain from the effects of long drought on herds vastly enlarged since they were privatised in 1972.

VISITORS AND VISITOR FACILITIES Environmental and ethnic tourism are beginning to develop, based on the scenery such as climbing on glaciated Mount Mongun-Taiga and on the nomadic lifestyle and its artifacts both present-day and historical. The granite inselberg of Yamaalyg is especially rich in burial mounds, petroglyphs, steles and effigies. Routes have already been planned for short scientific tours, by car, on foot, on horseback and by bicycle. Visitor numbers are slowly increasing, especially through school and government programs, and a visitors' center is being developed. But access to the basin is not easy, and a plan, management, infrastructure and facilities for tourism are not yet in place.

SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND FACILITIES The basin's remoteness, enclosed character, dynamic physical processes, possession of all the major biomes of central Asia with their diversity, and traditional pastoralism make it a natural subject for biophysical and genetic research. The area been investigated for many years but from 1984 the lake and basin have been the subject of the Ubsunur Experiment, a Russian-Mongolian program to study the area using satellite information and mathematical modeling with minimal ground truthing. This has involved the cooperation with Mongolian government scientist of twelve Russian universities, academic and teachers' training institutes, and academics from six foreign countries, including NASA. Seven biennial international symposia, three major publications and 12 research projects into glaciers, soils, ecosystems and rare animals have been sponsored. In 1997 the basin was designated a Biosphere Reserve and one of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme study areas for research into global change, also into its wildlife and wetlands. The Ubsunur International Centre for Biospheric Research (UIC), established by the Tuvan government, and guided by the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Science, coordinates this research.

CONSERVATION VALUE The Uvs Nuur Basin is an ancient lake bed in the centre of Asia, remote, enclosed and almost pristine. Its twelve protected areas have all of east central Asias's major biomes relatively close together: cold desert, desert-steppe, steppe, taiga, alpine tundra, boreal, deciduous and floodplain forests, saltmarshes and snow fields. It centres round the salt lake of Uvs Nuur, attracts a great range of birds, and harbors rare species such as snow leopard and argali sheep.

CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT Most of the basin is dry steppe which has never been subjected to high human impacts, though there are considerable tracts of unusable desert and saline land. A full management plan has been drawn up for the seven Russian protected areas plus Tsagaan-Shuvuut which outline three zones: core, buffer or sanctuary and restricted land use. In the core zones no hunting or taking of animals is permitted. In the buffer zones, buildings for research, visitors and land uses and techniques compatible with conservation monitoring are allowed. In restricted areas traditional grazing, limited agriculture, licensed hunting and organised tourism are permitted, but no mining or salt extraction. Many Tuvan authorities are involved in the conservation of these areas and the sites themselves are protected and monitored by field inspectors and rangers.

An environmental centre offers education courses to government officers, businesses, agriculturalists, school students and the public, and a news-sheet, radio and TV are used to publicise conservation. The department for environmental education of the Biosphere Sanctuary runs biennual conferences, school field trips, working parties and camps. The UIC has helped to found three experimental schools with programs based on the understanding of traditional conservation ethics and culture. Traditional practices and respect for sacred ethnic sanctuaries are being revived. There are also hopes to extend the area under protection in future. No joint or separate management plan for the Mongolian sites is yet available.

MANAGEMENT CONSTRAINTS The abandonment of the rotation of grazing in remote pastures in Tuva has led to the destructive concentration of herds at wintering camps and around watering points. There is no plan to control this degradation. The competition of livestock for wild animal grazing and the public's limited respect for wildlife are major threats: ibex, Pallas's cat (manul) and bobak marmot are especially targeted. Overgrazing, especially of the desert steppe around Ulangom in Mongolia, over-hunting, deforestation, soil erosion and destruction, and farming and building in fragile areas are all present. Inspectors and rangers monitor and try to limit poaching, illegal logging, plant-gathering, grazing in core protected areas and fires. But there is a lack of funding, equipment and a central monitoring database which limits the control of the increasing number of forest fires. There is inadequate scientific support staff for and communication with the rangers and inspectors in the field, who lack sufficient training, pay, funding and equipment and whose motivation and effectiveness suffer as a result. There is also at present inadequate communication between the public and local governments and between the Russian and Mongolian reserve staffs.

STAFF The Ubsunur International Centre has 10 employees of which six are graduate scientists. The Biosphere Sanctuary, excluding field inspectors and rangers, has 38 members of staff of which over half are graduate scientists. Training of staff has been assisted by the UN, WWF and the US Peace Corps.

BUDGET The UIC annual budget from the Tuvinian government was 253,000 rubles (US$9,035 @ 28:1) in 1999 and the Sanctuary received 839,000 rubles from the Federal government and 36,900 rubles from the GEF (totalling US$31,282 @ 28:1). Implementation of the Russian protected areas management plan was expected to need 159,125 in 2004 and, over time, 175,640 for administrative, field and scientific equipment. [The currency was unspecified: if it is rubles, this is a very low level of funding].


The Director, Ubsunur Hollow Preserve, Erzin, Tuva, Russian Federation.

The Director, Uvs Nuur Basin Strictly Protected Areas Administration Center, Ulaangom, Uvs Aimag, Mongolia. uvsnuumagicnet.mn.

The Director, Uvs Nuur International Center for Biosphere Research, Internalionaya 1 I7A, Kyzyl, Tuva, Russian Federation. e-mail: root@umc.tuva.su.


Government of the Russian Federation & the Government of Mongolia (2001). Nomination. Uvs Nuur Basin Nature Complex, Russia (Tuva) and Mongolia. For Inscription on the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage List.�������������������������������������������� ������

Ubsunur International Centre for Biospheric Research et al. 2000. Basin of Ubsu-Nur (Uvs Nuur) Ubsunur Hollow (Tyva Repubic - Russia). Management Plan.

DATE November 2003.