Himachal wildlife changes habitat

In Himachal Pradesh’s higher reaches, where the harsh winter has frozen water resources and wiped out food sources, herds of hoofed wild mammals are moving to lower altitudes.

“A few evenings back I saw a herd of Asiatic ibex strolling through my fields. They often show up in the village these days,” Dolma Bodh, a villager on the outskirts of Keylong in Lahaul and Spiti district said.

Severe weather in the higher reaches has prompted wild animals to migrate to lower altitudes, said divisional forest officer Hira Lal Rana in Keylong, around 450 km from here.

Rana said migration of the Asiatic ibex – a wild goat species – and the Himalayan blue sheep or ‘bharal’ in the Lahaul Valley is common. The valley’s minimum temperature these days is hovering between minus 15 and 20 degrees Celsius. Other forms of wildlife, mainly predators, have followed them.

Rana said sightings of the red and the common fox have also gone up in the villages.

“Their presence is testimony to successful conservation measures,” he said.

Villagers in the Spiti Valley said attacks of the snow leopard, the endangered and elusive wild cat, on livestock increases every winter.

“Shortage of prey in the wild drives predators into human habitations. Every day we hear of killing of a pet dog or a lamb by snow leopard in our village,” said Tenzin Dorjee of Demul village.

The Spiti Valley, literally a cold desert, lies on the state’s northernmost part and runs parallel to Tibet. Divisional forest officer Rajeev Kumar said on telephone from Kaza, headquarters of Spiti, that between Kunzum Pass and Sumdoh, herds of the ibex and blue sheep were common sights since their habitats in the higher altitudes had frozen.

In search of pasture, they normally followed paths along the rivers going downstream, he added.
Studies by the wildlife department show the presence of seven to eight snow leopards per 100 sq km in the Spiti Valley. Lahaul and Spiti are populated mainly by Buddhists, who breed sheep and goat. The snow leopard, bharal, ibex, musk deer are the prominent  species found at an altitude of 2,700 to 6,000 metres.

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