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Shubhi’s Pyare Pahadi

I am going to be an armchair blogger for a while except when I write about places I actually visited in  Uttarakhand, so please have patience. As soon as my mask is off!  

This time I want to write about an eerie happening. I never heard about the migration of big cats… but  for a few years our royal Bengal tigers have been moving up in Uttarakhand … up to 12,000 feet.

Turning his back on us?

Why did the Royal Bengal Tiger in the lower regions of Uttarakhand climb its way into the high  forests of Askot, and Kedarnath Musk Deer National Parks …  

It‟s not like the chicken crossing the road … I can just try to imagine a royal Bengal tiger climbing up,  swimming through rivers, through the forests, stealthily and when it gets colder he stops for a while  maybe kills a small animal rests under the pine trees on a bed of cones and grass… then again in the  late evening he climbs higher and higher. The tiger is a crepuscular animal and is active after dusk  and before sunrise.  

Local people saw him … WAS HE ALONE? Or did his mate and the young ones follow him? Did he  roar?  

The tiger is the largest of big cats so when the local people reported seeing a big animal like a tiger the  Forest officials thought they had seen a leopard. The attacks on buffaloes and other big domestic  animals forced the forest department to believe the presence of a tiger in the odd land.  

It started being noticed in Uttarakhand since 2016 but despite decisions to study the high altitude  tigers by Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradoon, assessing the significance of the animal at such a  height, we haven’t any conclusions

“Where, when the sun is melting in his heat,
The reeking tygers find a cool retreat;
Bask in the sedges, lose the sultry beam
And wanton with their shadows in the stream.” A very old poem

Forest officials sighted a royal Bengal tiger at an unusually high altitude of above 12,000 feet in the  Indian Himalayas. The ecologists concluded that this was another disturbing instance of climate  change.  

About 5 doz camera traps were installed in different parts of fixed on different parts of the Kedarnath  Wildlife Sanctuary. The photograph of a tiger moving in Madhmaheshwar (also in the Kedarnath  wildlife Sanctuar) area is the most prized of all.  

A tiger heading towards the snowbound area has surprised the forest officials.  The camera trap captured the endangered musk deer, bear, fox and other animals. The snap of the tiger, taken at an altitude of 3400 mt is rare. The development has certainly provided wildlife  scientists a new issue for research. 

The staff of the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary, located in Chamoli and Rudraprayag districts in  Uttarakhand, are thrilled with the recently obtained camera trap pictures.

And the Kedarnath Sanctuary showed one was even spotted just at the “Modi cave”  In 2016, the Uttarakhand Forest Department documented a tiger roaming at 10,740 feet in the Askot  landscape of Uttarakhand- making it the highest elevation record for tiger in India.  A tiger was seen in a picture shot from a camera fixed in Askot Wildlife Sanctuary in March 2016. The  tiger lives at a height of 3,000-4,000 feet—being spotted in the upper ranges of Uttarakhand, will add  to the tenacious animal‟s ability to find a home for itself in diverse lands. 

There used to be so many types of tigers in the world, some have gone extinct. The Caspian tiger  which roamed Australia is extinct and not from prehistoric times but in the last few centuries.  These remarkable cats have adapted to thrive in these variable environments in different corners of  throughout Asia—from muddy mangrove swamps (the Sunderbans) in India to crisp temperate  forests in the Russian Far East — there were once at least 100,000 tigers.  

Today maybe only 3,500 of these endangered animals remain, in India, southeast Asia, and Russia,  where their survival is continually threatened by poaching and habitat loss.  

Putin is doing everything to save his Siberian Tigers. About that and the Siberian Tigress Juzya he  rewilded later.  

In Southeast Asia, for example, the complex coat pattern helps Sumatran tigers blend in with the  dense lattices of tropical vegetation as they stalk their prey. To go through the narrow forest paths,  they are smaller in size.  

The Amur (or Siberian) tigers grow thicker coats than their Asian counterparts. Here, in winter  conditions drive other big carnivores like the brown bear to hibernate, while tigers push through  chest-deep snow to search for prey in temperatures that reach the minus forties. They sometimes cut  their soft foot pads on coarse ice and leave drops of blood in their snowy tracks as they walk.  The Siberians have thick auburn fur to camouflage them among the autumn oak leaves. Tigers persist  and evolve over time by grabbing advantages from wherever destiny takes them.  Tigers are amongst one of the most resilient species, dominating varying landscapes-from hot and  humid jungles, to tropical grasslands to temperate forests, alpine woodlands to mangroves…or low  pressure oxygen, frosty mountains.  

Usually, it is other big cats, like snow leopards, that are found above 12,000 feet.  Unfortunately they don‟t have ways to deal with the most evolved and clever animal: man, whose  fear and awe for them has pitted them against the TIGER. Hopefully the tigers‟ survival instincts, and  dedicated conservationists, will ensure tigers remain for future generations to see the apex animal at  the top of the food pyramid.  

Famous for their musk deer population and conservation, Askot and Kedarnath National Parks are  home to leopard, jungle cat, civet, barking deer and brown bear besides the antelope-like serow and  goral among other mammals.

Photograph-of-tigress-from-Askot Landscape-Uttarakhand

Now the tiger is there in snow leopard country in the Askot and Kedarnath both musk deer  sanctuaries and I‟m so scared he will either hurt my darling grey ghosts, the snow leopards or drive  them back to Mongolia.  

Or the new inhabitants may get a taste of the endangered musk deer (the Uttarakhand State Animal)

Musk deer (Moschus leucogaster) Musk lies in the musk deer’s own nave White-bellied musk deer is a Schedule – I animal, according to wildlife (Protection) act, 1972, classified as Endangered (EN)  by the IUCN. They prefer meadows, shrub lands and fir forests on high altitude plateaus. above 2000 meters. Kedarnath  

sanctuary was set up in 1972 for musk deer conservation. But the funds are insuffiecient for effective actions. Antlers are  absent in White-bellied musk deer, but they have a pair of tusks that project out of their mouths about 10 cm. 

Look I may not be a scientist but I am right in worrying about the State animal the Kasturi mrig  (musk deer) becoming the prey for the Royal Bengal come lately: there is another State symbol, the  Takin of Bhutan being devoured by their hi altitude tigers. This was proved by examining the tiger‟s  poop which showed Takin as his last meal. Takins are highly endangered.

Black to goldish coat and permanent death stare, not so many animals can stand the aura of a takin

The Takin (Burdorcas Taxicolor) national animal of Bhutan associatwd with Bhutanese religious history and  mythology. Legend has it that in the 15th century, a Tibetan saint, Drukpa Kunley well-known as “Divide  Madman” created this unique animal. AKA cattle chamois or gnu goat, large species of ungulate of the  subfamily Caprinae found in eastern Himalayas. 4 subspecies: Mishmi takin (B. t. taxicolor),golden takin (B. t.  bedfordi), Tibetan (or Sichuan) takin (B.t. tibetana), & Bhutan takin (B. t. whitei).

Interestingly, the alpine forests in Mishmi Hills and surrounding areas are not home to ungulates like  spotted deer, sambar and gaur, which are typically part of a tiger‟s diet. So they are preying on  Mishmi takin, an endangered goat-antelope native to Northeast India, Myanmar and China.  Or the snow leopards‟favourite bharal, blue sheep might become the new diet of the hi altitude tigers. Which by the way is neither sheep nor blue… according to Peter Mathiessen who wrote the book  “Snow Leopard” and went traipsing from India to Nepal where all, but never saw a snow leopard,  and when people asked him “So you didnt see the snow leopard?” he won my heart with his answer:  “No. Isnt that nice?”true soul of an animal lover.  

The numbers of tigers in Uttarakhand has grown, as per an all-India estimation last year. The state,  formed in 2000, reported 340 tigers—the country‟s second, after Karnataka (406). A 2014 data put the  country‟s number of royal Bengal tiger–India‟s national animal—at 2,226, registering a 30% jump in  four years.  

Another wildlife expert pointed out that tiger-sighting in higher pose a challenge for the forest  department in monitoring big cats.  

Scientists say tiger sighting at 12,000-ft height indicates an effect of global warming. It‟s not healthy  news they say. Now more animals may scale up. That will pose threat to other animals of the upper  Himalayas.

Tigers present in high altitudes in four states, says NTCA in ...Can the upper Himalayas be the new home for tigers in South Asia?

During a meeting of National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in Delhi tiger sighting in remote areas of both the hill states was discussed and a decision was taken to frame Special Standard  Operating Procedure (SOP) to conduct tiger estimation in these areas.  

The authority directed officers to prepare the SOP in consultation with pioneer Wildlife Institute of  India (WII), an official said.  

Then there is the Folk lore and true stories: This is not the first evidence of a tiger in high altitude  Himalayan regions of the country.  

Irrespective of tiger census reports, the mountains are full of tales of tigers—roars have been heard,  pug marks seen and anecdotes told by people and foresters alike for generations.

G V Gopi, scientist at WII, who is at the helm of surveys in Dibang valley, says, “Idu Mishmis  consider tiger as their brother and have known about its presence in the region since time  immemorial. The animal is revered across the valley and traditional laws prohibit its killing.”  

In Sikkim, he is the Mamu: aba-bompu (maternal uncle), says Dechen Lachungpa, divisional forest  officer, East Sikkim.  

Folklore aside, the writings of Jim Corbett, the British hunter-turned-conservationist, provide proof of  tiger presence in the higher elevations of Nepal and Kumaon region of India in the late 19th and early  20th century.  

Closer in time, in Sikkim, Khituk Bhutia, a yak herder from Yali forest, narrates an incident that took  place 20 years ago when his horse was attacked by a tiger. Two more herders, Rinzing Ronchuk and  Lachung Norbu, from Bhusuk forest share similar stories. 

In December 2012, tiger cubs were found by the Idu Mishmi tribe in the Dibang valley of Arunachal  Pradesh. This prompted a study by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, sanctioned by the  National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). Camera traps set up by WII revealed the presence of  11 tigers in the valley and showed a Bengal tiger roaming in the snow-clad peaks of the Mishmi Hills  in sub-zero temperatures.

The world has a lesson to learn from the small Himalayan kingdom Bhutan.

Bhutan is now home to 103 tigers, according to the country‟s first-ever tiger survey that was released  on Global Tiger Day on July 29. That‟s significantly higher than an earlier estimate of 75 tigers in  1998—and even more than the tiger population in Bangladesh‟s Sundarbans mangrove forests.  In 2010, the BBC captured the first video footage showing the high-alpine tigers living in the  kingdom. Bhutan, once one of the most isolated countries in the world, launched its first conservation  programme focused on tigers in 1996.

In 2010, the BBC, filmed the first ever footage of tigers at over 4000 m altitude in Bhutan for their  documentary series Lost Land of the Tigers. Available on Youtube.  

Bhutan has a Tiger Action Plan dedicated to conserving its rare big cats, protecting their habitat, and  raising awareness about the species across the country, in tune with Bhutan‟s Gross National  Happiness Index, which it uses to measure prosperity.  

The revival of tiger presence in the mountains can be viewed as a good sign and attributed to factors,  including increased tiger population.

Therefore, with an aim to find such remote habitats, the team of biologists led by Dr. Pranav

Chanchani, Lead of WWF-India‟s Tiger Conservation Programme was recently involved with dozens  of other similar teams in the project- “Status of Tiger Habitats in High Altitude Ecosystems in Bhutan,  India & Nepal”, across the four Indian states of Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Bengal, and Arunachal Pradesh.  

Jointly implemented by the Global Tiger Forum (GTF), National Tiger Conservation Authority of  India (NTCA), the State Forest Departments of four selected states, and Wildlife Institute of India  (WII) the project involved carrying out surveys to assess the status and presence of tigers and other  mammals in high altitudinal areas.  

This involved interviews with herders and other knowledgeable individuals from the local  communities, conducting sign surveys to detect wildlife presence and deploying camera traps to  capture some of the most elusive species living in the mountains.  

There is this beautiful account of the WWF India team Tiger, of Pranav‟s deploying camera traps in  grids that fall within the Kedarnath Musk Deer Sanctuary, all the way from Lohva Range (approx.  1400 feet) to Madhmaheshwar Range (approx. 13,000 feet).

Walking through the frosty alpine meadows amidst the Oaks and Rhododendrons, spotting  Himalayan monals and Koklass pheasants rushing through bugyals (alpine meadows of Himalayas)  to seeing a strong herd of Himalayan tahrs moving through the Rhododendron forests.  

From curious gorals to shy Musk deers and rarely seen Himalayan serow, as the team gained height the surroundings became serene, and the habitat grew diverse. The vast, green bugyals which tend to  the nutritional needs of gorals and tahrs, became camping grounds for the team under the starry  nights.  

Braving average temperatures of less than 5°C and incessant snowfall, the team keeps hiking further  up the mountains, loaded with backpacks, camera traps, and batteries. As they reach closer to the  ridge, they are greeted by torrential downpours &strong icy winds, lashing against their exhausted  bodies.  

“The occurrence of tigers in the Himalayas is not a new one- these mountains have been connected  with the Terai forests since time immemorial, and the species has ranged widely. Expansive forests,  diverse prey base and low anthropocentric pressure in these areas make it a viable habitat for the  tigers to grow and survive”says Dr. Pranav Chanchani, National Lead for Tiger Conservation at WWF  India.  

“The results acquired through these extensive surveys across the Himalayas, will provide us with an  improved understanding of the habitats these big cats inhabit and also how the tigers are moving in  High Altitude Landscapes,” says Mr. Nishant Verma, DIGF, NTCA. “This will also allow us to come  up with concerted management interventions for the conservation of the species.” They decided to break their trek here- the coordinates on their GPS told them they had reached yhe place. After  exploring around for a while, a suitable spot was found and two camera traps were deployed- in a hope to find  the presence or at the very least credible evidence of the existence of an apex predator in these hostile  surroundings- the Royal Bengal tiger. 

After 42 days of survey and deployment, the team was back from their high altitude survey in  Kedarnath- hopeful and motivated. As the team sat in their field office in Dehradun, sifting through  thousands of camera trap images, they were reminded of the forest staff from Kedarnath Musk Deer  Sanctuary : Patrolling such vast areas of wilderness, against the weather-beaten conditions, in order  to conserve the flora and fauna of Uttarakhand- is a feat and a reminder of the tedious efforts these  Foresters make on a day-to-day basis.  

Preliminary data showed the distribution of a diverse assemblage of mammals including the Himalayan tahr,  Musk deer, Sambar and Himalayan black bears at almost 12,000 feet above sea level and then the moment of  reckoning: Later, halfway through the sifting process, the team comes across an image taken in the middle of  the night- a young male tiger is caught walking through the frosty alpine meadows amidst the Oaks and  Rhododendrons, just shy of the tree line at 13,000 feet above the mean sea level!  

The idea of tigers living in such cold weather, thriving at altitudes reaching up to 13,000 feet seems the stuff of  dreams, doesn‟t it?  

(With thanks to IANS and Suparna Roy Hindustan Times, Dehradun)  

I leave you with these hopeful thoughts and 3 little paintings of the tiger enjoying the snow just as I did

  • What we do now, and in the next few years, will profoundly affect the next few 1000 years.  ∙ A few conservation models based off the tiger model (multinational cooperation for large  cats) are the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection and Jaguar 2030 agenda ∙ Uttarakhand plans ‘High Altitude Tiger Project!’ The revival of tiger presence in the  mountains can be viewed as a good sign and attributed to factors, including increased tiger  population


  • On the other hand, some ambitious „developmental‟ plans and projects of the Government,  especially in the infrastructure and tourism sectors, may actually end up creating a situation  detrimental to revival of tiger presence in the mountains.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Vani

    Very informative and interesting read.

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