Status of the Tibetan Argali

Aiding the survival of an endangered sheep

Tibetan argali (Ovis ammon hodgsoni), locally known as nyan, is the rarest among the wild sheep. This argali subspecies inhabits the widest distribution, covering c. 2.5 million km2 across the Tibetan Plateau and its margins and is one among the two argali subspecies categorised as endangered by the IUCN.

The Tibetan Argali

Tibetan argali (Ovis ammon hodgsoni), locally known as nyan, is the rarest among the wild sheep. This argali subspecies inhabits the widest distribution, covering c. 2.5 million km2 across the Tibetan Plateau and its margins and is one among the two argali subspecies categorised as endangered by the IUCN. A project on status, distribution and ecology of argali was initiated in 2004 with a focus on generating information base on this least studied subspecies of argali for its effective conservation and management in India. The research work is being led by Navinder J Singh in collaboration with Prof. Nigel G Yoccoz and Dr. Joseph L Fox of the University of Tromsø, Norway. 

The last foothold in Ladakh

The project has updated the population status of argali to c.600 to 800 animals surviving in India and c.400 to 600 animals in eastern Ladakh compared to the earlier estimates of only 200 animals. Our estimates based on recent surveys shows that the Tso Kar Basin population is possibly the largest in Ladakh with an estimated 120 argali. The work has also generated information base regarding the multiscale habitat and resource selection patterns of argali in the Tso Kar catchment area of eastern Ladakh. Sexual segregation patterns in argali were studied during the project to identify factors driving the process. The primary factors driving year round segregation in argali appear to be predation risk and resource availability and quality. The project also focuses on assessing the likely interactions between argali and domestic livestock that use the pastures in the area. Sampling of rare and scattered species is a challenge in the remote landscape of Himalayas and Transhimalaya. We initiated the use of resource selection functions to stratify the area for sampling of rare species, this method was tested on argali and resulted in a reduced survey effort and increased precision. Large scale surveys are now planned using similar method to sample argali in entire region. The above results and planned research aim at effective conservation of argali in India.

What next?

The study is in close collaboration with the state’s Wildlife Department and we hope that outputs from the project will feed into the official management plans. During the immediate future, we plan to also initiate focused awareness programmes and expand the study into adjoining areas of eastern Ladakh as well as Sikkim in the north eastern part of the country where a small population of argali thrives.

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