Gazelles on the brink

Local extinction looms large for the Tibetan gazelle

Our recent assessments of the gazelle’s conservation status in Ladakh indicate that it is on the brink of local extinction, with a total population of c. 50 surviving precariously, largely in the Hanle Valley of eastern Ladakh. The present range of the species in Ladakh has declined to c. 100 sq km.

Introduction

The Tibetan gazelle Procapra picticaudata is endemic to the Tibetan plateau, and given its wide distribution across Tibet, Ladakh, and parts of Sikkim, the species was of little conservation concern until recently. Recent assessments indicate that its population has declined by half in Tibet over the past decade. Similarly, in the Ladakh region of northern India, its range declined from c. 30,000 sq km in the early 1900’s to c. 1000 sq km in the late 1980’s.

Our recent assessments of the gazelle’s conservation status in Ladakh indicate that it is on the brink of local extinction, with a total population of c. 50 surviving precariously, largely in the Hanle Valley of eastern Ladakh. The present range of the species in Ladakh has declined to c. 100 km2. Known gazelle populations in the Tso Kar basin and Dungti have gone extinct in the past decade.

Hunting was the primary cause of the decline of the Tibetan gazelle throughout the last century. While hunting has been brought under control since the past two decades, intensified livestock grazing has presumably prevented the gazelle’s recovery, and may be precipitating further declines. The species needs immediate, participatory conservation management, as well as a reassessment of its IUCN Red List status, which classifies it as a ‘Low Risk/near threatened’ species.

Next steps

Our studies on the ecology of the gazelle have identified its habitat requirements, and its relationships with the sympatric wild (kiang) and domestic ungulates. We have identified the main areas where a recovery programme needs to be started in the Hanle Valley, and also profiled the socio-economy and land use of the indigenous Changpa community, as well as the Tibetan refugee community in the Valley. Based on the information generated on the ecology and human society, a management plan has been developed. Broad findings of our work have also been communicated to the state wildlife department through a workshop, as well as to the indigenous communities living in the Hanle Valley. 

As a next step, we are poised to catalyze the initiation of the conservation programme based on the management plan that has been developed. A desk poster highlighting the precarious conservation status of the gazelle has also been developed and distributed.

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