Springing from the surrounding land like the spine of the planet,

mountains are large landforms formed by tectonic activity.  

And although mountains make up just around 25% of Earth’s land area, they are home to more than 85% of the world’s species of amphibians, birds, and mammals, many of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. 

Let’s discover this biodiversity by making our way through the trophic levels—the position animals occupy in the food chain. 

Thanks for visiting the Virunga Mountains!

You’ve seen firsthand how Virunga is filled with dazzling wildlife. 

Whether it be plants, herbivores, or carnivores, all of the flora and fauna in Virunga play a vital role in keeping the ecosystem balanced and healthy. 

The health of this unique biodiversity hotspot is directly related to the wellbeing of our own human communities,  

Especially the four million people living within a day’s walk of its borders. 

For these people, Virunga and its natural resources provide economic opportunities through sustainable agriculture and fisheries, tourism, and hydropower. 

Currently, the Covid-19 crisis has exposed the extreme dependence of gorilla conservation on ecotourism. For example, the Uganda Wildlife Authority lost 32 Mio USD in income from mountain gorilla tourism. These impacts also severely affect the local communities, leading to a situation where there are limited resources to maintain protected area as well as tourism operations, and the same time causing an increased risk that community members might turn to illegal activities such as poaching or extraction of timber, firewood, bamboo etc.  

Ongoing armed conflict, destruction of the forest habitat, an increase in poaching, and land encroachment threaten also threaten to destabilize the delicate balance of the Virunga Mountains. 

But hope is not lost! 

UNEP’s Vanishing Treasures programme is working with governments and local communities in the Virunga mountains of Uganda and Rwanda to help people and mountain gorillas coexist, now and in future climates. UNEP’s work in the region is led by the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP), which was launched in 2001 to help ensure the long-term survival of gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans and their habitat in Africa and Asia. GRASP is a unique alliance of national governments, research institutions, United Nations agencies, conservation organisations, and private sector actors.  If you want to know more about what UNEP is doing to improve the protection of mountain gorillas and to support local communities in the Virunga mountains, you can check out Vanishing Treasure’s Species and Climate Change Brief on the mountain gorilla. 

You can help support the ongoing efforts to preserve Virunga’s biodiversity by: 

  • Donating to organizations working to protect the Virunga Mountains, 

  • Learning about how to support the Park Rangers in their pursuit to keep Virunga safe from human interference and violence, 

  • Talking to friends and family members about what makes the Virunga so special, and how we can play a role in protecting it, 

  • Practicing “Leave no Trace” ecotourism if you visit Virunga.  

The Tian Shan, also called the Tengri Tagh or Tengir-Too, translated as Mountains of Heaven, is a system of mountain ranges in Central Asia that live up to their celestial name. 

The Tian Shan mostly runs between China and Kyrgzystan, with a small part in Kazakhstan.  

The glorious outcroppings, impenetrable glaciers, and dicey rivers are home to an abundance of plant and animal life. 

Let’s take a closer look at the region’s food chain. 

  • 1
  • /

All that water makes the Carpathians the perfect habitat for our oxygen-producing friends, the plants. 

What percentage of Europe’s plant species can be found in Carpathians? 

30% 

An entire third of all of Europe’s plant species can be found in the Carpathians. The geographic isolation created by the mountains had led to many endemic species—ones that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. One of these is called monkshood, a subspecies of a poisonous plant used on the darts of arrows. 

From rumbling volcanoes to noiseless peaks, the mountains of East Africa’s Virunga National Park make this UNESCO World Heritage Site one of Earth’s most wild -- and most threatened – spaces.  

Located east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Virunga is Africa’s first national park and its most biologically diverse protected area.  

The landscape is home to a staggering 

  • 218 mammal species,  
  • 706 bird species,  
  • 109 reptile species,  
  • 78 amphibian species,  
  • and 22 primate species.

Let’s explore some of the unique and precious species who call Virunga home. 

  • 1
  • /

Climate change is causing glaciers in the Hindu Kush region the melt, and new flora are pioneering where the ice once was.

One example of these pioneers is a plant called Delphinium glaciale.  

Do you know what the juice from Delphinium is used locally for? 

Removing ticks from livestock 

Delphinium glaciale produces a fragrant juice that is great for getting rid of ticks on livestock. The plant has an aerodynamic shape that helps it stay protected from the region’s harsh winds, an adaptation that exemplifies how human-induced climate change is impacting species.  

  • 1
  • /

At around 800 to 1,100 m (2625 to 3600 ft) up, vegetation in the Tian Shan consists of a plant called Artemesia (wormwood).  

Do you know what wormwood is sometimes used for? 

Alcoholic beverages  

Wormwood is used to make a drink called absinthe. The highly-alcoholic beverage is a blend of botanicals, including the flowers and leaves of Artemisia as well as anise and fennel. Artemisia is sometimes also used as a medicinal plant, particularly to treat digestive problems. 

  • 2
  • /

The chamois is like a mix between a goat and an antelope, with short horns that are hooked on the end. 

Do you know how old a chamois can live to be? 

Early-20s 

Chamois can live into their twenties, about 3-5 years longer than domesticated goats. Their hide was commonly used to produce leather, although chamois leather now typically comes from goats or sheep. The chamois are protected by law despite not being endangered, exemplifying a case of proactive conservation. 

  • 1
  • /

At the bottom of the food chain is a flowering plant called bamboo. 

You’ve probably seen bamboo used to create wood-like products. 

But did you know it is also a snack for one of Virunga’s most unique species? 

See if you can guess which one! 

Mountain gorilla 

Young bamboo is eaten by mountain gorillas, a species only found in Virunga, when it is in season. Because bamboo is sometimes harvested by people displaced by conflict in Congo, Virunga launched a restoration project in 2018 that involves the community in planting and maintaining bamboo habitat. 

  • 2
  • /

Which Himalayan herbivore is sought after by hunters for use in the perfume industry? 

Himalayan Musk Deer 

Males of a native species of deer called the Himalayan Musk Deer have a small superpower: they contain a scent gland that produces a powerful fragrance called musk, used to mark territories and attract females. But this superpower comes at a cost: these deer are hunted for their musk, which is used to manufacture some perfumes and medicines. 

  • 2
  • /

The Argalia Sheep is the largest wild sheep on Earth, known for their spiraled, corkscrew-like horns. 

What percentage of their total body weight do you think their horns make up? 

13% 

Male Argali sheep use their massive horns—which can make up 13% of their entire body weight—to compete with one another for mates. Rarely will they use their horns to defend against predators. The horns of Argali sheep are often sought after by trophy hunters. 

  • 3
  • /

We did mention the Carpathians are a kingdom of carnivores, right? 

Wolves are no exception—and they make their territory known. 

How much space do you think is required by an average pack of wolves in Poland? 

250 sq km (96 sq miles) 

Wolves require a lot of space to roam and reproduce, which is one of the reasons they don’t fare well when human communities fragment land. In addition to habitat loss, wolves are threatened by overhunting because they are perceived as a danger to humans and livestock. Even our children’s books tell us wolves are the bad guys, but they are actually important for keeping their prey populations stable which in turn prevents plants from being over-grazed. 

  • 2
  • /

You’ve already met the mountain gorilla, and you know a little bit about their appetite!  

Do you know how much vegetation a male mountain gorilla can eat in a day? 

34 kg (75 lb) 

Male mountain gorillas usually grow to around 195 kg (430 lb) and can eat 34 kilograms (75 lb) of vegetation a day! This endangered primate, often considered Virunga’s most iconic species, is at risk of habitat loss from charcoal production and illegal settling, and is susceptible to human disease such as Covid-19.  

  • 3
  • /

Even though tigers are threatened globally, they are still distributed widely.  

Besides the Himalayas, where else can you find tigers in the wild? 

Indonesia  

Tigers have a large distribution that includes Russia, China, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and, you guessed it, Indonesia! Indonesia is home to a subspecies called the Sumatran or Sundra Tiger, and it’s the smallest of all the tiger subspecies. You can learn about the marvelous biodiversity in the Sumatran Tiger’s home, the Leuser ecosystem, by taking the #WildforLife Forest Journey later! 

  • 3
  • /

True or false: 

Snow leopards can’t roar like other big cats.  

True! 

Unlike other big cats, snow leopards don’t have the ability to roar, but that isn’t because they like to keep quiet. The physiology of their throats does allow them to purr, mew, hiss, growl, moan, and yowl, so they’ve got options. These enchanting big cats are incredibly rare, with only about 4,000 left in the wild, where they are in danger of habitat loss and poaching. 

Thanks for visiting the Carpathian Mountains!

You’ve visited one of Europe’s most untamed places.

Mountain ranges like the Carpathians show us how species in an ecosystem develop unique synergies that keep the circle of life rolling.  

From the smallest seedling to the biggest bear, each piece—living and nonliving—is part of a greater, incomprehensibly complex puzzle. 

And that puzzle includes us, too! 

That’s because the Carpathians, and all mountain ecosystems alike, provide human communities with all sorts of invaluable benefits. 

In addition to the water supply you learned about, this impressive mountain range also bears wheat, rye, oats, and potatoes for eating as well as natural gas for powering the lives of local communities.  

Despite providing us with so many benefits, the Carpathians are threatened by pollution, unsustainable development, overhunting, deforestation, and fragmentation or loss of habitat. 

But that doesn’t mean the trend can’t be reversed.  

Plenty of organizations, governments, businesses, and individuals are working tirelessly to protect Europe’s biodiversity hotspot, and you can join them! 

The Carpathian Convention is one of those efforts. It provides framework for cooperation and governance to guarantee the protection and sustainable development of the entire Carpathian region. Signed in May 2003, this unique partnership unites seven countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine) and stakeholders from the region sharing a common vision to: 

  • improve quality of life; 

  • strengthen local economies & communities; and 

  • conserve natural values & cultural heritage. 

You can help support the ongoing efforts to preserve the Carpathians’ biodiversity by: 

  • Donating to organizations working to protect the Carpathian Mountains 

  • Support ecotourism in the region if you visit by traveling with sustainable tours (do your research!)  

  • Speak out against unsustainable development projects that threaten biodiversity 

  • Look for deforestation-free paper products that come from sustainably harvested trees or non-tree sources

  • 3
  • /

Gorillas aren’t the only charismatic primate to call Virunga home.  

The Golden Monkey is a highly social monkey who  also loves to munch on bamboo.  

Do you know how long a female Golden Monkey waits to mate after having a baby?  

2 years

Mother Golden Monkeys take extreme care of their young for the first few months of their lives and  won’t bear another child for two years after giving birth. This makes them all the more vulnerable to  population decline  from threats like charcoal production and clearance for agriculture.   

Hooray, you’ve seen the Hindu Kush Himalayas! 

We hope this tour shed light on how important each plant and animal are in maintaining the health of this delicate ecosystem.  

Not only are the Hindu Kush Himalayas rich in biodiversity, they are also vital to human and animal health and wellbeing. 

Hindu Kush provides livelihoods to over 200 million people, and its large river systems supply water to nearly one fifth of the global population! 

Despite the global importance of the Hindu Kush Himalayas, climate change is causing glacier retreat, permafrost melt, and extreme rainfall events that threaten to degrade this fragile mountain ecosystem.  

Additionally, unsustainable tourism, human conflict, and urbanization are further exacerbating the problem, which will have serious repercussions on tigers around the world. 

You can help turn the tide! 

Luckily, efforts to protect this unique mountain range are underway. For example, UNEP’s Vanishing Treasures programme is working with governments and local communities in Bhutan to help people and tigers coexist, now and in future climates. If you want to know more about what UNEP is doing to improve the protection of tigers and to support local communities in Bhutan, you can check out Vanishing Treasure’s Species and Climate Change Brief on the Royal Bengal tiger. 

You can contribute to the conservation of the Hindu Kush Himalayas by: 

  • Talking to friends and family about how we can live in a climate-smart way that protects the environment from further harm 

  • Urging your government to enact policies that mitigate climate change 

  • Donating to organizations working to protect and conserve the Hindu Kush Himalayas 

  • Practicing ecotourism when you travel

Europe’s last great wilderness area, the Carpathians cut across a staggering 7 countries-- Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine, Hungary, Romania, and Serbia. 

The Danube and Vistula Rivers get their water from the Carpathians, where twice as much rain falls compared to surrounding areas. This rainfall supplies 80% of Romania’s water and 40% of Ukraine’s water. It also creates a lush home for an array of wildlife. 

Carnivores are king in this geologically young range, with half of the continent’s bears, wolves, and lynx calling the mountains home. 

Let’s take a stroll around this biodiversity stronghold and see what species we can find. 

Thanks for visiting the Tian Shan Mountains!

You’ve trotted through one of the world’s greatest mountain ranges.  

Every piece of the mountain ecosystem—from producers at the bottom of the food chain to carnivores at the top—work in harmony to create a balanced, healthy ecosystem. 

And we can thank them for that! 

The health of Tian Shan, like all mountain ranges, is directly linked to the health of our own communities. 

This is especially true for the various ethnic groups living in the region, including the Kyrgyz and the Uighurs, who rely on the mountain resources for food, water, raw materials, and livelihoods. 

Today, the Tian Shan’s biggest threat comes from the climate crisis. Rainfall is unpredictable, snowfall is unseasonal, and permafrost is now melting, increasing human-wildlife conflict and making life more difficult for both the wildlife and human communities who call the Tian Shan home.  

But efforts to protect this fragile ecosystem are underway, and you can play a role. 

UNEP’s Vanishing Treasures programme is working with governments and local communities in the south-western Tian Shan mountains in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to help people and snow leopards coexist, now and in future climates. If you want to know more about what UNEP is doing to improve the protection of snow leopards and to support local communities in Central Asia, you can check out Vanishing Treasure’s Species and Climate Change Brief on the snow leopard. 

You can help support the ongoing efforts to preserve Tian Shan’s biodiversity by: 

  • Donating to organizations working to protect the Tian Shan Mountains 

  • Support ecotourism in the region if you visit by traveling with sustainable tours like Taj Wildlife (do your research!)

  • Talk to your friends and family about the importance of combating the climate crisis and encourage your government officials to take action 

 

Known as the “water tower of the world”, the Hindu Kush region of the Himalayan mountains are the source of ten of Asia’s largest rivers and the largest volume of ice and snow outside of the Arctic and Antarctica. 

This region stretches across South-Central Asia, including parts of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, Myanmar, and Pakistan. 

Its critical water supply supports the drinking water, irrigation, energy, industry, and sanitation needs of 1.3 billion people—and loads of wildlife. 

Let’s check out what species make the Hindu Kush Himalayas so special.