Monday, December 9, 2013

Fascinating Animals in the Himalayas and Ladakh

The Himalayan and trans-Himalayan ranges are the habitat of some the rarest species of wildlife in the world. Beyond the valley of Kashmir, the land of verdant meadows and snow-capped mountains, like Ladakh and Spiti. Its ecosystem is perhaps the most unique in the world and its wildlife the most abundant in the country. Ladakh is the only region in the world where both desert and arctic conditions – seething summers and freezing winters – prevail. Surviving in such conditions, and at altitudes from 2,500 to 5000 meters, is extremely difficult for both man and animal.

Most common wild animals in Ladakh and Himalayas

The wild yak is a massive, short-legged, blackish brown, bison like animal, with a  drooping head and a high-humped shoulder. Its bulls occasionally mate with domestic yak cows, producing large offspring. The animal is indispensable to the people who inhabit these far-flung regions. The yak is used to plough their land and the yak cows are milked.

Read more about Travel Tips in Ladakh

Ladakh Travel in Monsoon

In upland pastures, where horses are of no use, yaks are found to be most useful for higher altitude journeys. The yak very seldom stumbles. Wild yaks are found only in the Changchenmo valley in the northern Ladakh and in some passes in east Kumaon – very cold, wild and desolate regions where forage is scanty.

The Tibetan wild ass is found in Ladakh, Tibet and the high open plateaus further north. Called skyang by Ladakhis, it is darker and redder than the Indian wild ass. Males and females move in segregated hards ranging from eight to thirty. Occasional sightings of the Tibetan wild ass have been reported near Lomavend and from Chushul towards Nyumma and Kariya. They can be seen more frequently in Rupsu, Changthang and the Changchenmo valley. In Himachal Pradesh, they are found only in the Kibber valley of Spiti, adjoining Tibet.

Other species in the Himalayan and trans-Himalayan region can be broadly classified as wild sheep, wild goats, goat-antelopes, bears and cats. Of all species of wild sheep, the shapu or urial is the smallest. Its habitat is above the tree-line, on the steep grassy hill slopes of Ladakh. The nayan or great Tibetan sheep is the largest of all wild sheep found mostly in the region from northern Ladakh, eastwards to the north of Sikkim. The Nayan even crosses into Spiti, Nepal, and Kumaon in search of food. Its enormous horns that prevent it from feeding on level ground also make the Great Tibetan sheep a prized trophy for the hunter.

During my long journeys in Ladakh, the land of the lamas, I often saw the long, deeply notched sweeping horms of one of the most handsome wild mountain goats, the ibex, adorning Buddhist monasteries, Ladakhi homes and hotels. The Ladakhis believe that in one of his previous births Lord Buddha was born an ibex, and the animal is therefore sanctified. Found in the western Himalayas in Kashmir, Ladakh and Baltistan, the ibex is hunted for its hide, tender meat, and soft wooly under-fur and as a trophy. The finest Kashmiri shawls are made from ibex wool, and Kashmiri long boots from its hide.

The Himalayan brown bear hibernates in spring and comes out in winter, haunting the open areas high above the tree-line. In spring and early summer, it grazes on new grass. A hungry brown bear turns over stones in search of moles and marmots, digging into their burrows. If food is scanty, they make do with carrion. The brown bear also preys on goats, sheep and ponies when shephards direct their flock to higher pastures to graze. In early autumn, brown bears descend to lower elevations, like the Himalayan black bear, in search of fruit and field crops.

The snow leopard or ounce is the most beautiful cat inhabiting the Himalayas – from Kashmir to Bhutan. Slightly smaller than the ordinary leopard, it has a relatively long tail. The snow leopard’s head and body measure 100 to 110 centimeters; its tail is as long as 90 centimeters. Seldom sighted, it haunts the inaccessible rocks and cliffs at altitudes between 3,660 and 3,965 meters. The snow leopard preys on wild sheep, wild goats, goat-antelopes, musk deer, hares, marmots and rodents. Some solitary snow leopards establish their territory near human settlements and prey on domestic goats, sheep and ponies.

Read More about Leh Ladakh and Spiti travel

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