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Home :: Discover Ladakh :: Wildlife in Ladakh

Discover Ladakh

Wildlife in Ladakh
Ladakh WildlifeLadakh is a mysterious land shrouded in myth and legend. Much of its ancient history is known only through the mythology of its people, as its written history is of very recent origin. Known for centuries as the 'land of passes' (La-pass; Dacha-land), Ladakh was discovered by Fa-hian, who traveled across its inhospitable terrain in 399 A.D., as 'The land where snow never melts and only corn ripens'.

Its landscapes are forbidding by any measure. Snow-swathed mountains rise to several thousand feet above one of the most elevated plateaus on earth. A treeless wind-swept country, much of Ladakh can be termed as mountainous, Arctic desert, where everything is parched by the rarefied dryness of the atmosphere. Scattered here and there, a few narrow fertile valleys provide a clear sparkling air. The limpidity of the atmosphere, in fact, gives the night sky a unique clarity, so full and bright with stars that one feels transported to some ethereal setting, far removed from Earth.

For endless years, before man had even discovered this remote land, several hardy animals and birds lived together here in an exquisite equilibrium. Circumstances have now changed, as they have almost everywhere else on the subcontinent. Today, Ladakh's flora and fauna are threatened and protection is vital if the ancient ecosystems are to survive the trauma of modern man.

This mysterious "land of passes" (La-pass, Dakh-land) stands at a height 4,600 meters in the outer Himalayas with its peaks, ranging from 5,800 to 7,600 meters forming the most striking feature of the area.

The Himalayas, higher than the mightiest mountains anywhere in the world, are clearly the result of a process of folding-a moment of the coastal plates by which one drifting piece of land overrides another. When two such drifting continental pieces collide and wrap, the resultant wrinkles form mountains. This Himalayan massif is believed to be the result of such a collision between the Indian and Asian plates (geologically a comparatively recent phenomenon). Consequently, much of the high altitude Himalayan fauna is typical of both the oriental and Palearctic regions.

Ladakh's most striking feature is nakedness of the country. Lying as it does to the North of the main Himalayan range, most of Ladakh falls in the Palearctic rather than the oriental region. Ladakh possesses virtually no natural forests, though along riverbanks and valleys some greenery does exist. The lower mountain slopes are sparse but higher up, near the snow line, wild rose, willow and herbaceous plants have successfully colonized the slopes. This is the alpine zone. While soil, wind, precipitation and exposure are important determinants in the arrangement of specific life, the temperature differential due to altitude is by far the most important factor. Because of the decrease in the temperature, vegetation becomes more sparse and stunted as one ascends the slopes.

In this extremely harsh environment the untrained eye would hardly see any evidence of wildlife at all. Animals, which have adapted to the rigorous conditions however, thrive on the minimal vegetation, poor shelter, rocky terrain and bitter cold. Nevertheless, most creatures, notably the ungulates, do migrate to lower regions in winter while others, like the brown bear and marmots, choose to hibernate. Ironically, at this altitude many animals suffer from "mountain sickness" because of the lack of oxygen! Their bodies however, seem to adopt to this condition, as the number of red blood corpuscles increases along with blood acidity. Most large mammals have a unique devise for protection against the cold-- a highly insulated shaggy coat. They, therefore, have less need for shelter from the elements. This perhaps why more species of goat and sheep live here in open country than anywhere else on earth.

Yak
The largest animal of the cold desert is the yak (dong), a wild ox. First described only a century ago by the famous Russian naturalist-- explorer, N. M. Przewalski, the wild yak is definitely more imposing than its placid domestic counterpart. Immensely shaggy and weighing about a tone it has curved horns whose tips can be as wide apart as 90 cm. and measure 76 cm. over the curves. It can easily be distinguished by its long black hair, which is tinged with gray at the muzzle. Spending its summers at a height above 6,000 meters, in winter it moves in herds to the lakes, marshes and lower valleys.

Nyan
All the world's sheep are closely related and zoologists generally believe that each kind is only a variation of the same species. The largest and most magnificent of wild sheep is the nyan also called the Great Tibetan sheep (Ovis ammon). Roughly 200 of these antelope - like animals are found in the extreme eastern portion of Ladakh. The horns of the nyan measure up to 145 cm. and the animal normally remains at a great height, rarely descending to a level below 4,500 meters.

Urial
The urial or shapu, (Ovis orientalis), which weighs 85 Kg. and has horns measuring upto 99 cm., is the smallest of the world sheep in eastern Asia, its body just about as tall as its horns. These sheep prefer the grassy mountain slopes, usually at a height of 3,000 - 4,000 meters. The meeting of this species, as is the case with most sheep during December-January and they give birth to their young around May. The need for protection of the urial is great as they are with in easy reach of hunters. Their numbers have been declining rapidly and it is estimated that there are no more than 500 in Ladakh, while a survey by the Wildlife Department of Jammu & Kashmir puts another population in the Markha and Rumbak valleys at only around 34-50. The most common and wide spread of the sheep in the Ladakh region is the bharal or the blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur). Found at an altitude of almost 6,000 meters, in summer they graze in huge herds on the rich and abundant grasses of the alpine meadows. Their brownish-gray coloring provides them with protective camouflage and as they often stand motionless they can be extremely difficult to spot but, when alarmed, bharal will bolt swiftly to safety. Strangely, bharal seem to bear some morphological traits of both sheep and goats.

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Places of Interest
Zanskar Valley » Markha Valley » Nubra Valley » Tsomoriri Valley » Pangong Lake » Suru Valley

Discover Ladakh
Introduction » Cultural Ladakh » Climbing Peaks » Ladakh Tribal » Ladakh Factfile » Monasteries » Festivals in Ladakh
Wildlife in Ladakh » River Rafting in Ladakh » Weather

Trekking in Ladakh
Ladakh Zanskar Trek » Glimpses of Little Tibet » Lamayuru-Alchi Trek » Multi Aventura Himalaya Ladakh Combinado » Ladakh Culture FIT Program » Ladakh-Markha Valley Trek
Sandakphu Singalila Ridge Trek » Spiti to Ladakh

Ladakh Mountain Biking Tour
A Ride through Little Tibet » The Great Trans- Himalayan Biking Tour » Cycling in the Shadow of the Kanchenjunga Peak

Jeep Safari Tours
Leh Jeep Safari » Leh - Pangong Lake Jeep Safari

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