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Mountain Migrants
Published by P Sarkar, J Takpa, R Ahmed, S Tiwari, A Pendharkar, Saleem-ul-Haq, J Miandad, A Upadhyay, R Kaul
Survey of Tibetan Antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii) and Wild Yak (Bos grunniens) in Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir, India. A joint survey undertaken primarily by the Department of Wildlife Protection, Jammu and Kashmir and the Wildlife Trust of India, has established the presence of chiru (or Tibetan antelope) and wild yak in two areas of Ladakh and also estimated their numbers. Recommendations for their conservation have also been made in this report.
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The survey of the chiru and the wild yak in Ladakh was the second survey undertaken as Schaller Conservation Surveys by WTI. Both have been in collaboration with the Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Department and both
have been on mountain ungulates. The first one on markhor had been a landmark one in the conservation saga of that species as it set the tone, not only in establishing numerically that the markhor was alive and well in at least two pockets in the Kashmir Valley, but in the establishment of a new national park as part of the stratagem for its survival. Like the markhor survey, the chiru and wild yak survey has established with a little more scientific underpinning, the numbers of these wild animals that exist in Indian territory. The chiru, it is almost safely presumed, exists only in Ladakh in the Indian Union. The yak may have one or two other trans-himalayan ingressions of its range into India, in the eastern sector. We now know that the chiru comes into India in two different regions of Ladakh; at Daulat Beg Oldi in Karokaram and in the Hot Springs Area of the Chang Thang. We also know that their combined number is unlikely to exceed 500 animals and the survey itself has established it as even below 400. Unlike the markhor survey, however, establishment of these numerical bases
are not only critical for underlining the importance of these wild habitats of the state. It is also important in determining the future course of conservation of the species in a totally different manner.

The fight against the use of shahtoosh shawls has been one which has been spearheaded by the Wildlife Trust of India, since its inception and in fact by its Vice Chairman Ashok Kumar, long before its inception. It was the message and the photographic documentation of the senseless slaughter of the Tibetan Antelope provided by George Schaller to Ashok Kumar that raised the issue for the first time to Indian conservation and since then, through the aegis of three different organizations, Ashok Kumar has led the conservation brigade in its charge against the shahtoosh trade. Whether it was through litigation, or through enforcement action, or through a well orchestrated fashion campaign that declared the 'mousy shawl' unfashionable or indeed through the promotion of its alternative (the handmade pashma), WTI has spent most of its living history trying to make inroads into chiru conservation. One of these was to convince certain sections of the Jammu and Kashmir polity to the idea that the chiru could be captive bred and the wool shorn for the shawl was a pie-in-the-sky idea that would not take off. Through its representation in a high level committee of the Textile Ministry, WTI had put this idea forward and the final report of that committee had  concurred with this. However, some sections of the Kashmir administration still believed that this was possible and should be explored. This Schaller Conservation Survey should put to rest such theories. An animal that has less than 500 numbers, sporadically visiting India from the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, does not provide any sort of population that could sustain such a venture. Let alone captive breeding, even captive stocks of this species has not been possible thus far, as the animal is extremely shy and has low tolerance to living in captivity below its altitudinal range. It is now also clearly shown, after two years of work, that there are not many of them coming into India in the first place. The formation of all male groups in Chang Chenmo also points to the essentially migratory nature of these visiting herds. These are not resident Indian chiru, they are a migratory Tibetan species, a few of which enter Indian territory in its range extremity. To do, anything other than give it protection, while it undertakes this important biological march in its natural history, would be both ecologically insensitive and futile.

It is our hope, that this bit of science will be useful instead, in providing the background for the long term conservation of this flagbearer of the high reaches of the Tibetan plateau.
Vivek Menon
Executive Director
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