Wildlife of Ladakh

30 mammals & birds (Himalayan animals)

Ladakh has a very rich flora and fauna. Several species of them are endemic to the region. Due to its unique climate and topography, distinct species of animals are found in Ladakh. The snow leopard and the black-necked crane are the jewels of the wildlife kingdom of Ladakh along with several other unique birds and mammals.

Tibetan fox and marmot in the Himalayan mountains, photography by Yongqing Bao

In the pastures of eastern Ladakh, wild animals and birds are a common sighting and often compete with domestic animals for food. While in the heavily populated Indus valley and the valleys of its tributaries, they are found in the higher reaches but often descend to lower reaches due to scarcity of food, thus resulting in human-wildlife conflict. Several species of mammals which were extensively hunted for fur and wool in the past are now at the brink of extinction. These include the Tibetan antelope, Eurasian lynx and the musk deer which is now extinct in Ladakh.

Due to the revival of Buddhist traditions and the increasing awareness of the populace regarding the importance of preservation of environment, the future looks seemingly bright for the wildlife of Ladakh.

Golden eagle and red fox fight

Mammals of Ladakh

1. Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard, wildlife of Ladakh

The snow leopard is one of the rarest mammals in the world. Called Schan in Ladakhi language, it is the king of snow-capped mountains. It is smaller and lighter than a common leopard. The snow leopard is a nocturnal animal and is very elusive. It is adapted to live in some of the most climatically hostile environments, in high-altitude mountains and extreme cold. The head, nape and lower parts of legs have black spots while the body and tail is covered with larger rosettes and the belly is witish. The snow leopard inhabits areas especially between 3,000m and 5,000m. It is found throughout Ladakh especially in southern and central Ladakh. Hemis National Park is the best place to view this ‘Grey Ghost’.

2. Tibetan Wolf

Tibetan Wolf, wildlife of Ladakh

Called Shangku in Ladakh, the Tibetan wolf is a sub-species of grey wolf. It is around 76 cm tall and about 110 cm in length. It weighs around 30-35 kg. It is larger than the other sub-species of wolf found in the Indian Peninsula. It has a blackish summer coat and a brownish thick woolly fur in winter. Its fur is black on the back while yellowish white on face, belly and limbs. The Tibetan wolf is found mostly in the mountains during summer and in the upper reaches of valleys during winter. It mostly preys on rodents but often hunts livestock leading to retaliatory killing by the locals. It lives mostly in Changthang region, Zanskar, Upper Suru valley and Markha valley.

3. Eurasian Lynx

Eurasian Lynx, wildlife of Ladakh

Like the snow leopard, the Eurasian lynx is one of the rare mammals on the planet. It is almost extinct in Europe, since it has been extensively hunted for its fur which is in great demand in the fashion industry. Its body is reddish grey with spots over the upper limbs. Its distinctive feature is long tufts of hair on its erect, triangular shaped ears. The Eurasian lynx inhabits in areas at an altitude of over 4,000m. It is a diurnal mammal, especially active at dusk and dawn. It hunts marmots, hares, young ones of bharal and domestic sheep and goats. It is mostly found in the Nubra valley near Hunder and Panamik and in Gya-Meru area.

4. Red Fox

Red Fox, wildlife of Ladakh

Known as Watsey in Ladakhi, the red fox is common throughout Ladakh. Its coat is reddish in colour. It is covered with long, silky fur for which it is extensively hunted. As a result, its population is declining. The red fox is active at night but can also be seen at dawn and dusk. It is a very shy and wary animal. It is mostly found individually as well as in monogamous pairs. The red fox lives in crevices and burrows. It feeds on marmots, mouse-hares, rodents and birds.

5. Himalayan Brown Bear

Himalayan Brown Bear, wildlife of Ladakh

The Himalayan brown bear is a sub-species of brown bear. It has a reddish brown coat. It is regarded as one of the largest carnivore in the Himalayas. It has a large head with small eyes, a heavy body with stocky limbs and flat claws. The Himalayan brown bear lives individually or in small groups with female and cubs. It prefers bare, open areas. It is active both during daytime and at night but rests during midday. It goes into hibernation from November to May. The Himalayan brown bear is territorial with the male territory larger than the female’s. It is omnivore and feeds on fresh grass, insects, rodents, roots, bulbs, carcasses and even livestock. It is found in western and southern Ladakh.

6. Asiatic Ibex

Asiatic Ibex, wildlife of Ladakh

Known as Skyin in Ladakhi, the Asiatic ibex resembles the wild goat. It is a sturdy animal with horns curved backwards. Earlier, its horns were used for making bows in Ladakh. It has a brownish dense, short coat. The back of legs and the tip of tail are whitish. In the cold season, a dense undercoat helps it to withstand the extreme winter temperatures. The Asiatic ibex lives in herds with the males and females living separately but they come together during the mating season. It prefers high altitude pastures on rocky slopes and steep hillsides. The Asiatic ibex is a shy and an ever-vigilant animal. It dwells between altitudes of 3,500 m and 5,000m. It is mostly found in western, southern and central Ladakh.

7. Blue Sheep or Bharal

Blue Sheep or Bharal, wildlife of Ladakh

The blue sheep or bharal is not a true sheep, but rather placed between a sheep and goat as it grazes like a sheep and can climb up high and inaccessible cliffs like a goat. It is called Napo in Ladakhi. It has a slate blue coat which turns reddish brown during the warmer months. It has a sturdy body with a short, black tipped tail. Males have large rounded horns directed sideward while females have short and straight horns with a smaller body as well. Its eyesight, sense of smell and hearing are quite sharp. The blue sheep feeds on herbs, grasses and shrubs. Its habitat lies in alpine pastures and rocky hills between the tree line and snow while during winter it descends to an altitude of 3,500m. It is widely distributed across Ladakh.

8. Ladakh Urial

Ladakh Urial, wildlife of Ladakh

Called Shapo in Ladakhi, the Ladakh urial is the smallest of wild sheep. It is native to Ladakh and is one of the three sub-species of urial. The horns are curved backwards. The distinctive feature of the Ladakh urial is that the tip of the horns point forward. The body is reddish tan in colour, earning it the epithet ‘red sheep’. The Ladakh urial is an alert and agile animal. It lives in herds. During the breeding season, the male visits several herds. It is found in the Indus and Shayok river valleys. As humans inhabit these valleys, there is a continual loss of habitat, due to which its population is decreasing. As a result, it is listed as a vulnerable species.

9. Tibetan Antelope

Tibetan Antelope, wildlife of Ladakh

The Tibetan antelope is known as Rtsos in Ladakhi. It is prized for its fine wool, called shahtoosh, meaning ‘king of wools’. Because of this, the Tibetan antelope has been extensively hunted to make shawls and its population has rapidly dwindled. It is classified as a vulnerable species. Its body colour is brownish with white parts and it has long, slender horns. The Tibetan antelope is a very shy and wary animal, it often runs very fast when it feels threatened. It generally lives in large herds. It has an inflated snout which consists of a sac meant to breathe rarefied air of the high-altitude areas. The Tibetan antelope feeds on herbs and grasses. It is found in northern and eastern Ladakh on the high-altitude plateau in the Pangong lake area.

10. Tibetan Argali

Tibetan Argali, wildlife of Ladakh

The Tibetan argali is called Nyan in Ladakhi. It is the biggest of all the wild sheep. It resembles the antelope in that it has a massive body and long legs. Its coat is light brown, darker at the shoulders while the rest of the body is white. The Tibetan argali has massive horns not exceeding a single circle. The male and the female live in separate herds outside the breeding season. It prefers high-altitude open areas at an altitude of over 4,000m and rarely descends below this level. It feeds on herbs, grasses and sedges. The Tibetan argali is commonly sighted in eastern Ladakh and in some parts of central Ladakh.

11. Tibetan Gazelle

Tibetan Gazelle, wildlife of Ladakh

Known as Goa in Ladakhi, the Tibetan gazelle is stocky with a barrel-shaped body, grey in colour, with thin legs and black-tipped tail while the under parts are whitish. It has short, sharply curved horns. It lives in sexually separated herds outside the breeding season. The Tibetan gazelle prefers high-altitude open grasslands and barren steppes between 4,000m and 5,500m. It is found in small groups. It is a very shy and vigilant animal, and runs very fast on the slightest of suspicion. The Tibetan gazelle was once widely distributed across eastern Ladakh but there remain only 70-80 gazelles today. The Tibetan gazelle is included in the list of threatened animals.

12. Tibetan Wild Ass

Tibetan Wild Ass, wildlife of Ladakh

Known as Kiang in Ladakhi, the Tibetan wild ass is a separate species of its own. It has a large body with a massive head and a short, erect, black-brown mane. Its body is reddish brown on the back with white under part and a long tail with black tuft. The Tibetan wild ass is found between altitudes of 4,000m and 5,200m near wetlands and marshes. The male and female live in separate herds outside the mating season. It is ever-vigilant of threats and runs fast at the slightest of danger. It is found widely in eastern Ladakh (Tso Kar and Tso Moriri area) and in some parts of central Ladakh such as the Markha valley. It is listed as a vulnerable species.

13. Himalayan Marmot

Himalayan Marmot, wildlife of Ladakh

Called Phia in Ladakhi, the Himalayan marmot is one of the two species of marmot found in Ladakh. It is perfectly adapted to the extreme conditions of Ladakh’s mountains. Its body is squat with short limbs and a very short tail; it is pale in colour mixed with black on the top while the face is dark brown. The Himalayan marmot lives in colonies in excavated burrows in open grasslands and grass strewn stony slopes. The burrows are also used for hibernation. The marmot hibernates for around 6-7 months. It feeds on grasses, roots, leaves and seeds of various plants. It is regularly killed for meat and fur due to which it is classified as a threatened species. The Himalayan marmot is found between the altitude of 4,000m and 5,000m. It is widely distributed across the region and it is commonly spotted during treks in Ladakh.

14. Ladakh Pika

Ladakh Pika, wildlife of Ladakh

Known as Zabra in Ladakhi, little is known about the Ladakh pika’s ecology. The Ladakh pika has soft fur which is pale in colour with yellowish white under parts. It has a large skull with small ears. It is a social animal living in family groups in clearly marked territories. Its habitat is high-altitude, semi-desert plains. It lives in burrows. The Ladakh pika is a diurnal creature active throughout the year. It is on the move during morning and afternoon, and takes a sunbath at midday. It is a very alert and vigilant animal. It dwells at an altitude between 4,500m and 5500m. It is widely found in Ladakh. An interesting article about the Ladakh pika can be found here.

15. Woolly Hare or Tibetan Hare

Woolly Hare or Tibetan Hare, wildlife of Ladakh

The woolly hare or Tibetan hare is known as Ribong in Ladakhi. It has thick and curly fur with a bushy tail, long hind legs and black tipped ears. It has a pale eye ring, a brownish-grey coat and white under parts and tail. Its habitat is mountain slopes and meadows. The woolly hare is active during dusk and dawn while spending the day in shallow dugout depressions. It is lives at altitudes between 4,000m and 5,500m. It has excellent hearing and eyesight. It is found in most parts of Ladakh. Not much is known about this animal. There are around 5-7 sub-species of this hare on the Tibetan plateau.

Birds of Ladakh

16. Black-Necked Crane

Black-Necked Crane , wildlife of Ladakh

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17. Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle , wildlife of Ladakh

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18. Himalayan Vulture

Himalayan Vulture , wildlife of Ladakh

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19. Lammergeier

Lammergeier , wildlife of Ladakh

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20. Brown-Headed Gull

Brown-Headed Gull , wildlife of Ladakh

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21. Snow Partridge

Snow Partridge , wildlife of Ladakh

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22. Chukar Partridge

Chukar Partridge , wildlife of Ladakh

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23. Eurasian Eagle Owl

Eurasian Eagle Owl, wildlife of Ladakh

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24. Tibetan Snowcock

Tibetan Snowcock, wildlife of Ladakh

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25. Himalayan Snowcock

Himalayan Snowcock, wildlife of Ladakh

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26. Rain Quail

Rain Quail , wildlife of Ladakh

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27. Bar-Headed Goose

Bar-Headed Goose, wildlife of Ladakh

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28. Greylag Goose

Greylag Goose, wildlife of Ladakh

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29. Brahminy Duck or Ruddy Shelduck

Brahminy Duck or Ruddy Shelduck, wildlife of Ladakh

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30. Eurasian Wigeon

Eurasian Wigeon, wildlife of Ladakh

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Author: Dawa Tondup
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