Wildlife of Ladakh, its conservation
Prof. (Dr) R.D. Gupta
The word Ladakh is derived from “La” which means “pass” and “dakh” stands for “Land”. Thus Ladakh refers to the “Land of Passes”. Fa-Hian while travelling through this country during 399 A.D called the Ladakh, the land where snow never melts and only corn ripens.
These days, the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir State consists of two districts viz. Kargil and Leh. It is the largest, the loftiest and the remotest region with an average altitude of 4,600m, peaks vary from 5,800m to 7,600m. It is the most sparsely populated region (3 persons per km) in the Indian Republic, which has been known over centuries by several names unrelated to each other (Chopra 1980). Although Ladakh region is mostly devoid of forest wealth, yet it has been bestowed with a number of benefits of the nature viz. aromatic and medicinal plants and wildlife. The region has extremely inhospitable due to high altitude, rarefied oxygen content in the atmosphere and vast daily and seasonal fluctuations in temperatures. In winter the mercury dips down to minus 40DegC with maximum temperature of 15DegC. In summers, the temperatures are as high as 37DegC.
Being in the rain shadow of the Himalayas, Ladakh region is experienced with cold arid climate, precipitation is as low as 92-100mm and scarce vegetation. Despite treeless region, a wide variety and range of wildlife is met with some common features, a few of them are:
i) They have thick hairy coats.
ii) Possess high power of fragrance, sight and hearing.
iii) Males are oftenly crowned with big horns.
iv) Individuals of a peculiar species oftenly move about in herds.
Wildlife Species and Their Extinction
The Ladakh region abounds in wild animals chiefly wild horse, wild goat, Tibetan wild sheep, Ladakh stag, yak, ibex and musk dear. Himalayan brown bear, Himalayan black bear, Tibetan lynx, snow leopard, leopard and wild boar also exist in this cold arid region of Ladakh. In this region, one often comes across the Lizard Agama tuberculata and the nonpoisonous species of the snake Natrix. The only poisonous snake found in Ladakh in the Himalayan pit viper (Ancistrodon himalayana). Grey wolf commonly known is bheria is also present.
In the Changthang area of Ladakh wild ass (Kyang) was very common two decades ago, but now its number has declined. Similar is the fate of wild yak (Bos grunniens) whose best and natural habitat is supposed to be above 4,500m. In Ladakh, at times these wild yaks are crossed with domestic animals. Marmots, foxes and blue sheep (Bharal) locally known as Napo were the other wild animals in the Changthang wilderness in abundance. But as elsewhere in the country, the wildlife in this part of Ladakh region has been over-exploited for sport, fur and meat and a stage has come where we must halt all this if we like to have wild animals in the area for the
Ladakh region especially Changthang area is rich source of avifauna. According to World Wide Fund (WWF), the world population of black necked crane (Grus nigricollis) endemic to Tibetan Plateau, is estimated to 5,500-6,000 birds only and out of them 13 pairs have been breeding regularly in Changthang for the last several years including one pair each in Tsokan and Tsomoriri. However, in this area black necked crane, has now become a rare species and requires urgency to save it from extinction. Tsokan and Tsomoriri lakes, also harbour bar headed goose, ruby shelduck, great crested grebe, mergan ser, brown head gull, lesser and plover and red shank.
Factors Responsible for Causing Decline in Wildlife
Illegal grazing and tree felling, cutting of bushes and biotic interference are the major factors which have disturbed the biological diversity of wildlife. It is because all these factors destroy an habitat of wildlife species. Destruction of habitat is thus the main factor responsible for the depletion of wildlife stock. A study conducted in the Ladakh region has shown that grey wolf has lost about 50 per cent of its original habitat, the Himalayan brown and black bears about 65 per cent.
According to WWF, seasonality of tourism to Changthang during June to September, which began 1994 and in just 20 years the increasd number of visitors to the extent of 75,000 have wreaked havoc on its extremely fragile ecosystem. Camping in the pastures or near the feeding and breeding gounds of birds, driving off-road, washing of vehicles in the lakes are causing disturbance to the wildlife, degradation of pastures and pollution.
(To be continued)