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Kedarnath Wild Life Sanctuary, in Uttarakhandmarker in Indiamarker, is a national sanctuary established in an area of . It was established primarily to protect the endangered Himalayan Musk Deer. Hence, it is also called the Kedarnath Musk Deer Sanctuary. It is an IUCN grade IV category (Managed Nature Reserve) sanctuary in the Biogeographical Province 2.38.12 (Himalayan Highlands).

Between 1916 and 1920, it was a notified reserve forest. This notification was subsequently changed to a sanctuary on January 21, 1972 covering an area of between elevation (near Phata) to the Chaukhamba peak at within the ambit of 30°26' and . The area under the park has undergone change from as per Kedarnath Forest Division records.

The sanctuary takes its name from the famous Hindu temple of Kedarnathmarker, which is just outside its northern border. There are many other Hindu temples of great religious pilgrimage importance. The entire route from Ghauri Khund to Kedarnath temple ( ) passes through the sanctuary. It is also the largest protected area in the western Himalayas. Its international importance is attributed to the diversity of its flora and fauna (particularly of ungulate species).

Geography

Geographically situated in the Chamolimarker and Rudraprayag districtsmarker of Uttarakhand, the sanctuary is impressive with spectacular natural assets of snow covered mountain ranges, lakes and glaciers, scenic valleys with remarkable landforms and famous river systems with climatic diversity in "varied several transitional environments". It abounds in religious places (part of the 'Deva Bhumi' – "the land of the gods") of immense significance, with rich biodiversity in floral and faunal varieties.

The sanctuary lies within the larger Western Himalayan alpine shrub and meadows of alpine ecoregion of Indiamarker, Nepalmarker and Tibet. The western portion of the Himalayanmarker range, is situated between the tree line and the snow line. The alpine shrub and meadows lie between approximately elevation. Below lie the Western Himalayan sub-alpine conifer forests. Permanent ice and snow line has been deciphered as .

The sanctuary is host to temperate forests in the middle altitudes; higher elevations are dotted by coniferous, sub-alpine and alpine forests, and further up by alpine grasslands and high-altitude Bugyals. The sanctuary is also reputed as one of the world’s richest bio-reserves.

The northern catchment of the Alaknanda Rivermarker where the sanctuary is located originates beyond Kedarnath temple. The river valleys, generally in a north-south direction, are formed by the Mandakini, Kali, Biera, Balasuti and Menan rivers. It constitutes the Uppper Gangesmarker river valley. The gelogical formation in the catchment is made up of "Central Crystallines" that are metamorpic rocks such as gneisses, granites and schists.

The highest peaks in India are located in the Garhwalmarker Himalayasmarker where the sanctuary is delimited. The much venerated Kedarnath templemarker is situated in this forest reserve and is visited by a very large number of pilgrims. The great variety of vegetation types reflects the complex and diverse nature of the climate, geology and topography. IUCN has reported that:
From 44.4% to 48.8% of the sanctuary is forested, 7.7% comprises alpine meadows and scrub, 42.1% is rocky or under permanent snow and 1.5% represents formerly forested areas that have been degraded.


The high altitude areas of the sanctuary are also characterised by glaciers. Glacial action (melting) of the glaciers over the centuries has resulted in formation of the upper tracts of the reserve. The fast current of the flows is attributed as the cause for creation of deep "V" shaped valleys.


Religious and social aspect

The sanctuary has a large number of Hindu temples located within its precincts. Kedarnath templemarker is the most historic of these temples, which is dated to the 8th century (credited to the Guru Adi Shankaracharya who built it) but has even more hoary legend linked to Pandavas of the epic Mahabharata fame. Other temples, though not of matching importance but have strong legends related to the epic Mahabharata days, are the Mandanimarker, Madhyamaheshwar, Tungnathmarker, Ansuya Devi and Rudranath. The local Hindu culture is also imbibed by the Bhotiyas (may be with some Tibetan link) who have pastoral work culture are an integral part of the valleys.

Climate

A typical temperate to sub-arctic climate prevails in the locale of the sanctuary. The South West summer monsoon rains recorded is the mean annual precipitation of . This high value of precipitation is due to the fact that the hill ranges to the south, of about height, are open without much of rain-shadow effect. On the basis of rainfall of recorded near Tungnathmarker in 1979-81, the monsoon rain (June to September) was about 81 % while snow precipitation during December-March was 11%. Summer temperature recorded is , the highest in May or June; a mild and pleasant condition. The lowest winter temperature recorded in the first half of January is , when heavy snowfall is received in the upper region. This results in severe cold conditions. For about three months, following heavy snowfall in December, the sanctuary is snow covered.

Flora

The diverse climate and topography in the sanctuary area has created dense forests of chir pine, oak, birch, rhododendrons and alpine meadows with incidence of numerous Himalayan flowering plants. However, the sanctuary does not have tropical zone, as this zone is generally reported below . Chir pine Pinus roxburghii is the main subtropical zone's vegetation recorded up to . In the dry southern slopes, Euphorbia royleana occur up to . In the temperate zone, at different elevations, ban Quercus incana ( ), moru Q. dilatata ( ) and karsu Q. semecarpifolia (2,500-3,300m) oak forests have been reported. Rhododendron arboreum is generally seen at the second level. Oak combined with fir Abies pindrow are recorded at higher elevations ( ). The sub alpine zone consists of birch Betula utilis ( ) with an "understorey" of Rhododendron campanulata. Rhododendron extends into the alpine zone, from above the forest limit to . At Tungnath, the flowering plants consisting of two sedges, Carex lacta and C. munda, have been reported. In the past, these were reported only in the far west region of Nepal. Pasture land and medicinal plants and other plants have been reported between the bush line and permanent snow line. The herb community of the subalpine and alpine meadows are dominated by Danthonia cumminsii, which forms tussocks of grass over extensive areas.

Fauna

Schizothorax Sp.
The sanctuary is rich in faunal, avifaunal and aquafaunal species (some are pictured in the gallery). Details are explained below.

Some of the mammalian species of the carnivores are: jackal (Canis aureus), fox (Vulpes vulpes), Himalayan black bear (Selenarctos thibetanus) (V), yellow-throated Marten (Martes flavigula), leopard cat (Felis bengalensis), common leopard (Panthera pardus) (T) and snow leopard (Uncia uncia). Many of them are found above elevation.

Ungulates found are: Wild boar (Sus scrofa), Himalayan musk deer (Moschus leucogaster), Indian muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak), sambar (Cervus unicolor), goral (Nemorhaedus goral), serow (Capricornis sumatraensis), Himalayan Tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus) and bharal (Pseudois nayaur).

The primates recorded are: rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) and common langur (Presbytis entellus).

Smaller mammals noted are: Hodgsons's Brown-toothed Shrew (Soriculus sp.), red giant flying squirrel (Petaurista petaurista), Royle's Mountain Vole (Alticola roylei), crested porcupine (Hystrix indica) and Royle's Pika (Ochotona roylei), snow cock (Tetraogallus himalayensis).

Reptile species recorded are: Himalayan pit viper (Gloydius himalayanus syn. Ancistrodon himalayanus) (common) and Boulenger's keelback (Amphiesma parallelum).


Birds

Important bird species reported are: Little Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula westermanni), Grey-cheeked Warbler (Seicercus poliogenys) and Nepal Tree-creeper (Certhia nipalensis), Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus) (it is the state bird of Uttarakhand, considered as endangered), Kalij Pheasant (Lophura leucomelanos) and Koklass Pheasant (Pucrasia macrolopha).

Aquatic life

In the Mandakini River, fishes recorded include Schizothorax sp., mahseer Tor tor, Labeo spp., Gara spp., Barilius spp., Nemacheilus sp. nov., Glyptothorax spp. and Balitora brucei.

Himalayan musk deer

The Himalayan Musk Deer which has the scientific name of Moschus leucogaster with the synonym Moschus chrysogaster is found as an endangered specie in the Kedaranth Musk Deer Sanctuary in the demarcated area between the Mandal-Ukhimath road and the high snow peaks to the north. The taxon of this specie was deduced by scientists as the Himlayan sub species of Alpine Musk deer, on the basis of diverse proportions of the skull. Declining population (over 40% in 21 years) of this specie and large scale poaching for profit, dictated the decision to declare it as an endangered animal (EN) in 1973 (Halloway, 1973) and the specie was listed vulnerable in the red data book of IUCN in 1974. It is found, not only in Uttarakhand in the Himalyan belt up to lowest elevation of (within a restricted zone), but also in some parts of the Himalayan belt starting from Northern India in Jammu and Kashmirmarker and Sikkimmarker, and in Bhutanmarker, Nepalmarker and Chinamarker (southwest Xizang) with small numbers reported in China.

In the terrestrial habitat of barren plateau at high altitudes, the deer's habitat is "in meadows, fell-fields, shrublands or fir forests", roams around generally singly. Grasses, shrubs, leaves, moss, lichens, shoots, and twigs reportedly form its main diet.

The colour of the deer is faintly grayish sandy brown with a body length of , shoulder height of , tail length of in the weight range of and do not have antlers. They are most active from morning till evening with frequent breaks for feeding. They breed during December-November. They do not change their defined habitat range even under severe weather conditions and their population density is recorded to be 3-4 animals per square kilometer .

The male species of the endangered musk deer in the Kedarnath Wild Life Sancturay carries the much valued pods musk pod (glands). They are poached for its pod, which is valued at US$45,000 (Indian Rs 2 million) per that is used in cosmetics. It has reportedly pharmaceutical properties also. In view of this economic value and consequent great demand it is extensively poach. Its meat is also consumed as a delicacy.

Conservation

The Government of India and WWF have worked together for the conservation of the Himalayan musk deer under the specific programme of the “Threatened Deer Programme” of the IUCN, in Kedarnath Wild Life Sanctuary. Further, in order to propagate the endangered specie of Himalayan musk deer, Forest Department of Uttarakhand Government established a breeding centre at Kharchula Kharak in 1982, about , from Chopta, on the outer limits of the sanctuary and from Gopeshwar on the road to Ukhimath. The main objective setforth was to a) carry out an ecological study of the musk deer in order to identify its conservation requirements and b) to breed the musk deer in captivity with the purpose of reintroducing it in different natural habitats. The breeding centre reported success in breeding in captivity, in 1984. Till late 1987, nine musk deers were reared here, out of which only one was outside of captivity. This centre has an area of and provides excellent views of rare Himalayan wildlife. In addition, Kharchula Kharak is also well known for its dense forests and aromatic flowers.

Other scintifc activities centered around the sanctuary have been: the high-altitude botanical field station established at Tungnath ( ) by the Garhwal University; further ecological studies of the ungulates; WWF on ecology of the Himalayan musk deer and other ungulates near Tungnath, together with surveys of the mammalian fauna and avifauna; and fish fauna studies in the Mandakini River.

Since the sanctuary was established mainly to protect the musk deer, only of the sanctuary area was permitted for use for commercial exploitation of chir pine. Further management plan was suggested in a core area of by upgrading the sanctuary to the status of a national park.

Issues

There are several issues concerning the threats posed to the sanctuary, which needs to be addressed. These are:

  • In spite of declaring the forest area as a sanctuary to protect musk deer, poaching, particularly of musk deer and pheasants, in remote areas has been reported
  • Grazing by domestic livestock (goats, sheep and water buffalo), burning of pastures and collection of forest products and medicinal herbs remain uncontrolled
  • Tourism, mostly religious, connected with pilgrimage to temples such as Kedarnath in the Mandakini Valley results in substantial extraction of minor forest and scrub, and also results in noise and litter
  • Inadequte security to pilgrims and other people, since it was reported that people and livestock were injured/killed by leopard, bear and wild boar.


Visitor information

Visitors are mostly Indian nationals on pilgrimage to various temples, though a few international tourists also visit the area. The approach to Kedarnath Temple is only through the sanctuary. Visiting season is from April to June and again from September to November. The number of visitors to the Kedarnath shrine, who passed through the sanctuary, was 5,57,923 in 2007 as against 87,629 in 1987, a quantum jump in 20 years. The Chameli-Ukhimath road skirts this sanctuary from the south and serves as an excellent approach.

The nearest airport is at Jolly Grant Airportmarker at Dehradunmarker at a distance of from Chopta, the entry point to the sanctuary. Rishikeshmarker is the nearest rail head at a distance of from Chopta. National Highway NH 58marker from Delhimarker passes through Chamolimarker via Meerutmarker, Muzaffarnagarmarker, Roorkeemarker, Haridwarmarker, Rishikeshmarker, Devprayagmarker, Srinagarmarker, Rudraprayagmarker, Okhimath; and by state highway to Chopta.

Within the sanctuary area, the road distances from Kedarnath are to: Rambara , Gaurikund , Soneprayag , Guptkashi , Kund , Tilwara , Rudraprayag , Chopta , Mandalmarker and Chamolimarker .

Visitors could stay at the forest hut at Madhyamaheshwar for which prior reservation needs to be done through the DFO, Kedarnath Wildlife Division, Gopeshwarmarker. The Temple Committee maintains Dharamshalas (rest houses or inns) for use by pilgrims and tourists at Trijuginarayan, Dougalbitta, Mandalmarker, Gaurikundmarker and Kedarnath. There is also a guest house at Sonprayag.

Gallery

File:Stavenn Pucrasia macrolopha.jpg|Koklass PheasantFile:Mahseer.jpeg|Mahseer or Tor torFile:Abies pindrow.jpg|The Pindrow Fir or West Himalayan FirFile:Danthonia decumbens horst.jpeg|A genus of grass speciesFile:Bengalkatze.jpg|Leopard CatFile:Wild Boar Habbitat 3.jpg|Wild boarFile:Himalaja-Tahr.JPG|Himalaya TahrFile:Uncia uncia.jpg|Snow Leopord

References




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