Species encountered and photographed during a Snow Leopard Study in Sikkim
Rohan Pandit, WWF-India
While the snow leopard remains a chief interest for government and NGOs alike, it is the presence of other species of flora and fauna that work in a synchronised manner to build a diversified ecosystem – a web of life - where every living being plays a vital role.
Below are few of the unique species encountered during the survey in the Tibetan plateau area of North Sikkim:
Tibetan Gazelle (Procapra picticaudata):
This Near Threatened species is found across the Tibetan Plateau. In India, the species has only been recorded in Ladakh and Sikkim. It faces major threats in form of competition with the domestic livestock and illegal hunting.
Tibetan Sand Fox (Vulpes ferrilata):
This wise looking fox primarily inhabits semi-arid to arid grasslands in the Tibetan plateau. Its flattish and bulky looking head is thought to help hide its body while stalking Pikas, Marmots, Wooly Hares and Lizards.
Tibetan Wild Ass (Equus kiang):
Commonly known as Kiang, this hardy species is found across the Tibetan plateau, where it inhabits alpine meadows and grasslands. Major threats to the species include habitat fragmentation due to livestock herding practices, possible disease transmission from domestic livestock and illegal hunting.
Tibetan Snowcock (Tetraogallus tibetanus):
They inhabit open slopes in the highly elevated mountainous regions of the Indian Himalayas and Tibetan plateau.The species mainly forages on the ground among the sparse vegetation of the rocky slopes and feeds on plant matter. While resting, one or more adult birds act as sentries, warning the flock about any possible threat.
Hume’s Ground-tit (Pseudopodoces humilis):
It inhabits open alpine steppe and semi arid areas of the Tibetan plateau. It uses its long bill to find insects by probing the Yak dung and digging the ground.
White-rumped Snowfinch (Montifringilla taczanowskii), Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris) and Brandt’s Mountain Finch (Leucosticte brandti):
All these species inhabit the highly elevated open steppe grasslands of the Tibetan Plateau. They stay in flocks, feeding on small seeds and insects on the ground.
Conducted in partnership with the Forest Environment and Wildlife Management Department, Government of Sikkim and supported by Tata Housing, these photographs were clicked during the ongoing snow leopard study in Sikkim, which aims to understand the distribution and population of the mighty snow leopards during the winter season. As a part of the study, camera traps were set up at 15 locations to collect and sample data across three months, from November 2017 to February 2018. In addition to this, cursory assessment was done to understand the distribution of other associated species (carnivores, herbivores and birds) in the area.