The Himalayan Ibex (Capra sibirica hemalayanus) is regarded as a subspecies of the Siberian Ibex (Capra sibirica). They are found in the western Himalaya in Pakistan and India, usually at elevations of 3800m and higher. An adult ibex weighs about 90 kgs, and stands around 40 inches tall, with huge curved horns. The horns have notches on the front, and grow each year. Their coat is thick and woolly in winter, and shed in early summer. Colour ranges from pale brown to dark brown, with a darker dorsal stripe. They are usually found in small herds, and sometimes around 50 together. They normally feed on grass, moss and small shrubs. In winter, they come down to lower elevations in search of food as the mountains get covered in snow. In summer they move back upward as the snow melts.
Kibber is a small village situated at a height of 4200m in the Spiti Valley region of Himachal Pradesh. During winter, the heavy snow on the mountains brings blue sheep (Bharal) and ibex down near the village. This in turn also brings their predator — the snow leopard — to the vicinity of the village. We had gone there in search of this elusive ‘ghost of the mountains’ in March 2014, which is almost the end of winter. We had a great sighting of a herd of 20 ibex, which were grazing the small shrubs and lichen on the exposed rocks.
A study by Sumanta Bagchi, Charudutt Mishra and YV Bhatnagar published in Animal Conservation (2004) indicates that domestic goat / sheep impose serious resource limitations on Himalayan Ibex and exclude them from certain pastures. Such multiple-use is not compatible with wild herbivore conservation in the cold deserts of the Trans-Himalaya like in the case of Spiti valley. The study urged urgent review of this human / livestock dependency on fast-depleting natural resources and the adoption of a trans-disciplinary conservation approach where human and ecological systems are seen in unison.
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Human and livestock dependency on fast-depleting natural resources in the cold deserts of the Trans-Himalaya needs urgent attention and a trans-disciplinary conservation approach where human and ecological systems are seen in unison.