Himalayan park authorities fear wildlife vulnerability, step up vigil

While the presence of the highly endangered, elusive pheasant western tragopan can now be felt more notably in the Great Himalayan National Park, a Unesco World Heritage site in the north-west Himalayas, with its numbers multiplying, besides a host of native avifauna and mammals species, park authorities fear for their vulnerability in winter.

The Himachal Pradesh wildlife wing staff have started working overtime to protect the species from poachers, largely local.

The park’s Himalayan ranges also support a good population of the wide-roaming snow leopard with the bulk of its sightings reported at lower elevations outside the protected areas in search of prey in winter.

Officials involved in the anti-poaching exercise told IANS that camera trapping devices are being installed in at least 50 locations.

The camera traps deployment teams comprising local youth and more than 30 frontline staff of the forest department have been trained in this exercise.

The Great Himalayan National Park, notified in 1999, is home to 203 bird species, including the western tragopan, the Himalayan monal, the koklas, the white-crested kalij and the cheer, all pheasant species.

One of the richest biodiversity sites in the western Himalayas, the park supports the snow leopard, the Tibetan wolf, the Himalayan brown and black bear, the Himalayan blue sheep, the Asiatic ibex, the red fox, the weasel and the yellow throated marten.

The small mammals include the grey shrew, a small mouse-like mammal with a long snout, royal mountain vole, Indian pika, giant Indian flying squirrel, porcupine and the Himalayan palm civet.

Starting at an altitude of 1,700 metres, the highest peak within the park approaches 5,800 metres.

The park, which is totally untouched by a road network, has four valleys — Tirthan, Sainj, Jiwa Nal and Parvati.

Its eco-zone has 160 villages and hamlets, while the boundaries are connected to the Pin Valley National Park, the Rupi-Bhawa Wildlife Sanctuary and the Kanawar Wildlife Sanctuary.

Wildlife officials told IANS that with the harsh winter freezing water resources and wiping out food sources, herds of hoofed wild mammals start moving to lower altitudes. Other forms of wildlife, mainly predators, follow them.

The migration of the Asiatic ibex — a wild goat species — and the Himalayan blue sheep or ‘bharal’ in Lahaul, Spiti and Pin Valleys is common.

Park Deputy Ranger Roshan Chaudhary told IANS that camera trapping devices are being installed at 50 sites in the park’s core zone to catch poachers.

He said a team of 32 frontline staff would be deployed for patrolling in the park, especially in sensitive areas like Shakti and Rolla.

“We did mapping of mammal migration. Involving local people helps gathering intelligence and protecting the animals,” he said.

In the winter, the migratory labourers settled in the park’s eco-zone are a potential threat to the wildlife.

“Most of the labourers go jobless in winter with the slowdown of construction work. As they run short of cash, they turn to hunting to provide food for themselves and their families,” a senior park official, requesting anonymity, admitted to IANS.

“The peak winter is the time when our staff is working overtime to keep tabs on the poachers,” he said.

The ban on donning a cap with a pheasant monal crest, once a tradition in the upper reaches of Himachal Pradesh, especially on auspicious occasions, greatly helped reduce its poaching in the park, he added.

“The sighting of bharal (Himalayan blue sheep) in my field has now increased,” Tashi Dolma, a villager in the Spiti Valley, told IANS over phone.

With the severe weather in the higher reaches, their herd could be common here, she said, adding “even sightings of the red and the common fox have increased in villages”.

Villagers say attacks by the snow leopard on livestock increase in winter.

“Every day you can hear of the killing of a pet dog or a lamb by a snow leopard in our village in the winter,” said another villager Naresh Bodh.

Studies by the wildlife department indicate the density of the snow leopard ranging from 0.08 to 0.37 individuals per 100 sq km in the trans-Himalayan regions of Spiti, Pin Valleys and upper Kinnaur while recording the highest densities, both of the predator and its prey, mainly the blue sheep and the ibex.

These areas are populated mainly by Buddhists, who breed sheep and goats.

With the inclusion of Sainj and Tirthan Wildlife Sanctuaries, the total area, known as the Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area, spreads to 1,171 sq km.

(Vishal Gulati can be reached at vishal.g@ians.in)

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