Abundance, Distribution and Conservation of Key Ungulate Species in Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Western Himalayan (HKH) Mountain Ranges of Pakistan

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Abundance, Distribution and Conservation of Key Ungulate Species in Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Western Himalayan (HKH) Mountain Ranges of Pakistan
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  I NTERNATIONAL J OURNAL OF A GRICULTURE &   B IOLOGY  ISSN Print: 1560–8530; ISSN Online: 1814–9596 13–1104/2014/16–6–1050–1058 http://www.fspublishers.org  Full Length Article To cite this paper:   Khan, B., E. Ahmed, M.Z. Khan, G. Khan, A. Ajmal, R. Ali, S. Abbas and M. Ali, 2014.   Abundance, distribution and conservation of key ungulate species in Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Western Himalayan (HKH) mountain ranges of Pakistan.  Int. J. Agric. Biol., 16: 1050–1058 Abundance, Distribution and Conservation of Key Ungulate Species in Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Western Himalayan (HKH) Mountain Ranges of Pakistan Muhammad Zafar Khan 1,2 , Babar Khan 1,3* , Ejaz Ahmed 1 , Garee Khan 1 , Anila Ajmal 4 , Rehmat Ali 1 , Saeed Abbas 1,5 , Muhammad Ali 1  and Ejaz Hussain 1   1 World Wide Fund for Nature, Pakistan, GCIC Complex, NLI colony Jutial, Gilgit 15100 Pakistan 2  Karakorum International University, Gilgit (15100) Pakistan 3 University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, P.R. China 4 Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan 5 University of Karachi, Karachi, Pakistan * For correspondence: bkhan@wwf.org.pk Abstract The Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Himalayan mountain areas of Pakistan (Gilgit-Baltistan) are known to have significant populations of globally important wildlife species, ungulates being prominent of these, which have never been studied systematically before. This study was conducted to investigate current population, distribution, conservation and habitat condition of the six major ungulate species i.e.,  Himalayan ibex (Capra ibex sibirica) , Blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur) , Astore markhor (Capra falconeri falconeri) , Ladakh urial (Ovis vignei) , Marco polo sheep (Ovis ammon polii)  and Himalayan musk deer (  Moschus chrysogaster) in Gilgit-Baltistan. Bi-annual census surveys using direct and indirect counting methods were held in 86 potential habitats (sub catchments) during 2005 to 2010 and questionnaire based interviews were held with local hunters and herders. Results revealed that C. ibex  is the most common species, followed by P. nayaur   and C. f. falconeri whereas Marco Polo sheep was limited to KNP, Blue sheep to Shimshal and Soqtarabad; Ladakh urial to lower reaches of Karakoram and western Himalayas. Musk deer is confined to rhododendron dominated birch forests of western Himalayas. The study also showed that population of trophy animals i.e.,  Blue sheep,  H. ibex  and  A. markhor   has increased considerably whereas that of non-trophy animals i.e.,  Ladakh urial and musk deer have fallen down to the verge of local extinction. The increases are attributed to overwhelming success of community base conservation program, initiated by WWF, AKRSP and GB Forest & Wildlife department in 1993 while failure to save non-trophy animals is possibly due to their low economic return and lack of community interest. Efforts to maintain balance between conservation needs of the wild resource and development needs of the dependent communities is required for sustainable management of the fragile mountain ecosystem in the region. © 2014 Friends Science Publishers Keywords: Ungulates; Distribution; Abundance; Conservation; Gilgit-Baltistan; Pakistan Introduction Ungulates forming an important element of biodiversity act as key indicators of habitat quality in the mountain ranges. The Himalayas and associated mountains offer home to about 31 species (38.7%) of Caprinae  found worldwide, the richest in any part of the world (Schakleton, 1997). However, status, distribution and abundance of many ungulate species are yet unknown. Problems in identifying and using suitable population estimates have posed a limitation in estimating species abundance in the region. In total, 19 ungulate species belonging to four families namely Moschidae, Cervidae, Bovidae and Equidae, inhabit Himalayas (Bhatnagar, 1993). Seasonal variations in habitat use are associated with seasonal changes in the availability of food and protective cover. The abundance of predator and anti-predator strategies are also important in determining preferred habitats by mountain ungulates (Mishra, 1993; Mishra and Johnsingh, 1996). Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) lying at the confluence of world’s three great mountain ranges viz.,  Hindu Kush, Karakoram, and Himalayas (HKH), is endowed with a variety of species, habitats and ecosystems (ICIMOD, 2010; Shaheen and Shinwari, 2012). The region has significant populations of several globally important wildlife species including 54 mammal, 230 bird, 23 reptile, 20 cold-water fish and 6 amphibian species (GoP/IUCN, 2002). HKH is among WWF’s 200 global priority eco-regions and classified as Endemic Bird Area (EBA) of Urgent Biological Importance (Chettri, 2008). Snow leopard ( Uncia    Mountain Ungulates of Pakistan /   Int. J. Agric. Biol., Vol. 16, No. 6, 2014  1051 uncia ), brown bear ( Ursus arctos ), black bear ( Ursus thibetanus ), Astore markhor ( Capra falconeri falconeri ), blue sheep ( Pseudois nayaur  ), Ladakh urial ( Ovis vignei ), Marco Polo’s sheep ( Ovis ammon polii ), Himalayan musk deer (  Moschus chrysogaster  ), Himalayan ibex ( Capra ibex sibirica ), woolly flying squirrel (  Eupetaurus cinereus ) and Eurasian otter (  Lutra lutra ) are key mammals (Roberts, 1977; Schaller, 2008; Ablimit et al ., 2011; Khan et al ., 2012). Snow leopard, Brown bear, Marco Polo’s sheep, Blue sheep and musk deer are protected yet not fully secure of poaching in their habitats (Rasool, 1990, Khan, 1996). Himalayan Ibex ( Capra ibex sibirica ) is known to be the closest relative of wild goat. It is an animal of higher elevations, mainly restricted to colder climate of northern mountains (Khan et al .  ,  2008). Selection of habitat by H. ibex is mainly influenced by the gradient and extension of mountain slopes and thus is found in areas with cliffs and very steep slopes (Schaller, 1977). The species is categorized as “Least Concern” in Pakistan (IUCN, 2008). Its estimated population in upper Hunza has been 1000 (Roberts, 1977), 600 (Rasool, 1990), 1065 (Shafiq and Ali, 1998), and 899 (Khan, 2012) in literature. Blue Sheep ( Pseudois nayaur  ) is regarded as one of the common sheep of Trans Himalayas. Owing to its abundance, the species has been categorized as “Least Concern” in the IUCN Red data list (IUCN, 2008). Khunjerab National Park (KNP) harbors a significant proportion of Pakistan’s total Blue sheep population. So far, its presence has not been reported from any other areas of the country, so the sheep is nationally endemic to KNP. The species is characterized by its sociability. Ibex and blue sheep have similar anti-predator habitat needs, as both use rugged terrain to escape predators (Namgail et al. , 2004) and also  H. ibex  and Blue sheep constitute the most preferred prey species of the highly endangered S. leopard   (Oli et al.,  1993). Blue sheep in Shimshal is perhaps the western most isolated population of the sheep in Himalayas (Wegge, 1988). Astore markhor ( Capra f. falconeri ) belongs to the Carpinae  group of the  Bovidae  family (Schaller 1977; Roberts, 1977). Five sub-species are reported from Pakistan, and almost all are categorized as “Endangered” (IUCN, 2008). Astore markhor, recognized as the Flare Horned Markhor, is confined to upper catchments of Indus River and its tributaries in Gilgit-Baltistan (Hess et al.,  1997). Like other subspecies of Caprinae, A. markhor is still threatened for its genetic isolation, specialized habitat requirements, low reproductivity, habitat fragmentation, food competition and excessive hunting (Schakleton, 1997). Ladakh urial ( Ovis vignei ) is the smallest of all wild sheep species, categorized as endangered (IUCN, 2002) with a total estimated population of <600 animals in Pakistan (Hess et al ., 1997). Three sub species of Urial have been reported from Afghanistan, Punjab and Kashmir. Ladakh urial  ,  also known for its agile demeanor, is restricted to arid and semi-arid habitats of GB (Pakistan) and Ladakh (India). It likes low elevation gentle slopes in open areas, which are often intensively utilized by mountain people. Excessive hunting for meat, hide and fun coupled with habitat conversion and competition with livestock, has driven the sheep to brink of extinction in GB (Khan et al ., 2011). Roberts (1997) and Khan et al. (2007) had estimated a total population of 700-800 in GB. Although Bunji conservation community, in the proximity of Gilgit, has banned hunting of the sheep in their Conservation Area but its poaching still continues in no-conservation areas across the region. Marco Polo’s sheep (Ovis ammon polii)  is the largest subspecies of Argali sheep found in China, Tajikistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. KNP and Kilik-Minteka (Misgar) are known to have remnant populations of the sheep in Pakistan (Khan, 2012). In KNP, last herd of six sheep was sighted at Khunjerab Pass (> 4700m ASL) in 1982 but now it is confined to Qarchanai valley only because of escalating human interference in Khunjerab Pass area. The sheep come to Qarchanai in May for lambing and returns to Pamir in September with lambs and young (Khan, 2012). There is an estimated population of 45-100 heads in KNP (Khan et al ., 2007,   2008).   Schaller   and   Kang   (2008)   estimated   a population of <150 sheep, visiting Khunjerab in the lambing season while Khan (2012) counted 74 and 38 sheep in Qarchanai in summer 2009 and 2010, respectively. Hunting for meat and trophy has decimated the population in all the four range countries but with better conservation plans in place, there appears to be a recent upsurge in the sheep‘s population on Chinese side (Schaller, 2008; Rasool, 1990; Khan, 2012). Himalayan musk deer (  Moschus chrysogaster)  of Moschidae family is represented globally by four species viz.,  Siberian musk deer, Dwarf musk deer, Black musk deer and Himalayan musk deer (Grubb, 1993). Green (1985) investigated the population, ranging behavior, activity pattern, habitat use, feeding habitats and ecological relationship of Himalayan musk deer with other ungulates and reviewed the status of captive musk deer in the world from 1959-1980. Abundance and ecology of musk deer living in the forested areas of Tibet-Qinghai plateau was also investigated during 1988-1990 where its density was 2-3 animals km -2  (Harris and Guiquan, 1993). No studies for the species have yet been conducted in its potential habitats, except Gurez (AJK) in Pakistan. Large mammals, wild and domestic herbivores have been coexisting in Asia’s high mountains since long, which has been destabilized by the ever increasing ecological imbalances between the mountain vegetation and dependent herbivores. Excessive removal of natural vegetation for grazing and domestic energy by ever increasing numbers of human and animal heads have led to widespread degradation of fragile alpine and subalpine pastures, which consequently has threatened the survival of the region’s most threatened wildlife species, their habitats and the mountain ecosystem (Fox et al.,  1994; Jackson et al.,  1996).    Khan et al.,  /   Int. J. Agric. Biol., Vol. 16, No. 6, 2014  1052 Materials and Methods Study Area Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), formerly called Northern Areas of Pakistan, encompassing an area of about 72,496 km 2  in the extreme north of Pakistan (77° 41´ 20.403˝ E and 35° 27´ 24.81˝ N to 72° 30´ 26.932˝E and 35° 54´ 58.338˝N) bordering internationally with the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China in north, Wakhan corridor of Afghanistan in west, and India in east (Fig. 1), is home to around 1.5 million people (Khan et al.,  2011). The climate varies widely from monsoon-influenced moist temperate to arid and semi-arid cold deserts in the north. Below 3000 m, precipitation is less than 200 mm per annum while there is a sharp precipitation gradient along the altitude, and over 2,000 mm annual snowfall above 6000 m ASL. Temperatures in the lower parts of valleys vary from extreme hot (+40ºC) in summer to many degrees below freezing point (-10ºC) during winter (Khan et al ., 2010). Only 2% of the total area is arable and 4% is covered with natural forests. Vegetation is classified into four distinctive zones viz.,  Mountain Sub-Tropical Scrub Forests, Mountain Dry Temperate Coniferous Forests, Mountain Dry Temperate Broadleaved Forests and Northern Dry Scrub Forests, each having peculiar biota (Rao and Marwat, 2003). Habitats are separated primarily on the basis of terrain ruggedness and elevation, and apparently there is less distributional overlap among species inhabiting rugged terrain than for those inhibiting plain and open hills (Rao and Marwat, 2003). Field Survey Based on geographic conditions, the entire study area was divided into valleys and sub valleys and a total of 86 prospective habitats (valleys) were surveyed for large mammals in spring (April-May) and autumn (November-December) during 2005-2010. Fixed point direct counting method was used during field survey. Animal counts were taken at dawn and dusk when ungulates were active for feeding and drinking. Binoculars (10 × 50 (6.5 o ) PENTAX XCF ; Pentax Co., Philippine) and Spotting scope (80 mm SWAROVSKI HABICHT ST 80) were used to scan the rugged terrain for wildlife. Hand GPS (Garmin GPSmap 76Csx) was used to record geo-references and elevation Campus was used to measure the angle where distance to herd was estimated approximately. Data sheets and still camera (DYNAX 300si, 55mm AF zoom 100-300mm. Minolta Co. Japan) were used to record observations on the number of animals seen, sex ratio and behavior of the sighted animals. Semi structured interviews were also held with shepherds, hunters and herders in the areas where signs of presence were not found but were known once to have significant populations of a certain species. Apart from this, data collected by field staff of GB Forest and Wildlife department and KNP for some of the valleys in 2005-07 were also used after validation from the field. Statistical Analysis Results were analyzed using MS Excel 2007 (Stanford University, 2002) and Minitab 15.0 whereas, GIS Arc View 9.0 was used to develop species distribution maps. Anderson Darling test was used to compute population means for normality. Mann-Whitney U test was applied to compare reliability of sample means between different survey timings (seasons and years). Pearson χ  2  test and two sample T test were used to compute ratios among different sex and age classes. Density was estimated using total counts and the surveyed area (Fox et al ., 1991). Results Species Abundance Findings of the study have been summed up in the tables below. Ibex seems to have the highest population and widest distribution followed by that of Blue sheep and A. markhor whereas, MPS, Ladakh urial and Himalayan musk deer seems to have small populations and comparatively narrower distribution in the study area. Likewise, a maximum number of  H. ibex  (2777) were found having attained the trophy size (>36 inches) followed by  A. markhor   (240) of >40 inches and Blue sheep (155) of >25 inches, respectively. Corrected density ( Corrected density is a multiple of the correction factor (35%) with crude density)  as suggested by Fox et al . (1991) appeared to be highest for Blue sheep (0.52 animals km -2 ) followed by Ladakh urial (0.27 animals km -2 ) and  A. markhor (0.25 animals km -2 ), Fig. 1:  Administrative map of Gilgit-Baltistan (Pakistan)    Mountain Ungulates of Pakistan /   Int. J. Agric. Biol., Vol. 16, No. 6, 2014  1053and lowest for  H. ibex  (0.09 animals km -2 ) as shown in Table 1. Population Structure Male to female ratio was highest for Himalayan musk deer followed by Blue sheep and Ladakh urial; adult female to kid ratio was highest in  A. markhor   followed by  H. ibex  and Himalayan musk deer whereas, female to yearling ratio was maximum in Himalayan musk deer followed by MPS and  H. ibex . Over all, a highly positive correlation was recorded between male and female adults (r = 0.999), male adults and yearlings (r=0.999), adult males and kids (r=0.9998603), adult females and kids (r=0.9980), adult females and yearlings (r=0.999) and adult males and trophy size males (r=0.999) shown in Table 2. Distribution, Population and Conservation Himalayan Ibex   ( Capra ibex sibirica ): Distribution of H. ibex is fairly widespread throughout Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Western Himalayas however; largest populations inhibited the northern, southern, northwestern and eastern catchments of Hunza, Shyoke and Ghizer River. Largest populations were recorded from the sub catchments of Khunjerab, Hisper, Arindu, Hushey and Qurumber valleys (Fig. 2). A total of 15,596 animals including 5065 males, 6164 females, 2933 yearlings and 1435 kids were counted from 86 different valleys during the survey. More than 50% Fig. 2:  Map showing distribution of Himalayan ibex ( Capra ibex sibirica ) in Gilgit-Baltistan Fig. 3:  Map showing distribution of Blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur)  in Gilgit-Baltistan Fig. 4 : Map showing distribution of Astore markhor (Capra falconeri falconeri)  in Gilgit-Baltistan Fig. 5:  Map showing distribution of Ladakh urial (Ovis vignei)  in Gilgit-Baltistan    Khan et al.,  /   Int. J. Agric. Biol., Vol. 16, No. 6, 2014  1054of the total male population (2777) had reached to the productivity threshold level acquiring >36 inches of the horn size (> 9 years of age). On average, about 9318 animals were counted every year for the last five years (2005-2010). Blue sheep (  Pseudois nayaur ): Herds of Blue sheep were sighted at three places viz.,  Khunjerab pass, Soqtarabad and Shimshal in KNP (Fig. 3). A total of 1036 animals covering 412 males, 408 females and 216 yearlings were counted in the aforementioned habitats during the survey period. About 58% of the total male population exceeded the trophy size (>25 inches of horn size). Its estimated density in Shimshal and KVO was 0.523 animals km -2 , which is considerably low, and female to lamb ratio was 1.0 during the survey period. Astore markhor   ( Capra f. falconeri ): The results showed a wider distribution of A. markhor in the Karakoram, Himalayas and Hindu Kush mountain ranges encompassing Darel, Tangir, Chillas, Sakwar, Jutial, Barmas, Kargah, Rahimabad, Jaglote, Sikandarabad, Bunji and Rundu valleys of Diamer, Gilgit, Hunza-Ngar, Asotre and Skardu districts of Gilgit-Baltistan (Fig. 4). A total of 1071 animals including 331 males, 452 females, 273 yearlings and 15 kids were recorded from 09 valleys. Considerably, larger herds were sighted in community managed conservation areas of Skoyo-Karabathang-Basingo (SKB), Bunji, and Jutial but other significant populations were also reported from Danyore, Sikandarabad and Jaglote valleys. Rahimabad and Jaglote Goor are still considered to be the potential habitats of A. markhor. Almost 47% of the total males counted exceeded the productivity threshold level (>40 inches of horn size) but female to kid ratio was unexpectedly low (30:1). Ladakh urial ( Ovis vignei ): As shown in the Table 1, compared to other ungulate species, Ladakh urial (Ovis vignei)  has shown lowest population with sporadic distribution in the entire Gilgit-Baltistan region (Fig. 5). The most concerning aspect of the Ladakh urial observed was a non-viable population with very few males and females, only five yearlings (animals > 6 months age) and no lambs (animals < 6 months age). Male to female ratio was 0.84 among adults but its trophy hunting is yet not permitted under Community based Trophy Hunting Programme (CTHP) in Gilgit-Baltistan (Table 2). Marco Polo’s sheep ( Ovis ammon polii ): Marco Polo sheep (Ovis ammon polii),  an icon of Asia’s highland pastures is one of the nine Argali subspecies whose long, winding horns greatly intrigued Marco Polo in 1273 and has been a cherished trophy of foreign hunters. General distribution of Marco polo sheep is limited to Qarchanai and Khunjerab Pass areas of the Khunjerab National Park (Fig. 6) where females with sub adult males usually come to Qarchanai in late May for lambing and stay there till mid-September and return to Taxkorgan (China) with lambs for wintering. Table 1 represents the average total population of 48 individuals sighted including 21 males and 26 females, along with a very small population of 10 yearlings and 9 lambs in the Qarchanai area of KNP. Some 14 animals in the herd sighted (n=48) were full grown adults. Musk deer (  Moschus chrysogaster ): Himalayan musk deer seems to be decreasing fast in Gilgit-Baltistan. On average, a total of 10 individuals including 6 males, 2 females and 2 yearlings without any fawns were observed in all potential habitats viz.,  Bulashbar, Bobin, Raikot, Sakwar and Baghicha-Khomera (Fig. 7) at upper reaches in Birch (  Betula utilis ) and rhododendron mix forests during 2004-2007 (Table 1). The highest number of 18 individuals was recorded at Raikot near Fairy Meadows, in 2004. However, Fig. 6:  Map showing distribution of Marco Polo’s sheep ( Ovis ammon polii ) in Gilgit-Baltistan Fig. 7:  Map showing distribution of Musk deer (  Moschus chrysogaster  ) in Gilgit-Baltistan
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