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Mountain fellows: The rare animals of Ladakh

Payel Majumdar Upreti | Updated on August 23, 2019 Published on August 23, 2019

The trans-Himalayan ranges have many mammals, which are at home in its year-round sub-zero temperatures

The Zanskar, Karakoram and Ladakh ranges, at altitudes above 14,000 ft, are home to around 310 rare animal and avian species unique to the region. These animals have adapted to the year-round sub-zero temperatures of the alpine terrain. But many are now endangered due to changes in their habitat as well as human interference. Yaks, ibex, Himalayan marmots, wild asses, Ladakh urials, bharals and the elusive snow leopard are among a few of the animals that can be spotted in the mountain ranges.

The Ladakh urial, locally called shapo, is one of the smallest varieties of wild mountain sheep found in the trans-Himalayan valley of Indus and its tributary Shyok. There are only 1,000-1,500 urials left in the region, putting them in the IUCN list of threatened species. Urials are commonly viewed as the ancestor of the domesticated sheep. The male has a black ruff stretching from the neck to the chest. Different species of urials are found across Central Asia. The double-humped Bactrian camel, originally from Central Asia, are found in the high-altitude cold desert of Ladakh’s Nubra Valley.

Himalayan marmots abound in the grasslands of the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary, nestled between the two mountain lakes Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri in Ladakh. One of the largest marmot species, they can be identified by their dense, light brown fur and a black mark between the eyes. They live in large colonies during hibernation. Legend has it that the gold-digging ants that the Greek historian Herodotus wrote about in his book Histories were actually Himalayan marmots. Dardic communities used to excavate their burrows for gold dust.

Payel Majumdar Upreti

Published on August 23, 2019