Wild Animals in Tibet
The Endangered Wild Animals of Tibet
The mountains and forests of Tibet are home to a vast range of animal life, including 142 species of mammals, 473 species of birds, 49 species of reptiles, 44 species of amphibians, 64 species of fish and more than 2,300 species of insects. Wild animals found in Tibet include Assamese macaque, rhesus monkey, muntjac, Chitral, serows, leopards, clouded leopards, black bears, wild cats, weasels, river deer, white-lipped deer, wild yaks, Tibetan antelopes, wild donkeys, argalis, Mongolian gazelles, Tibetan eagles, marmots, Himalayan mouse hares, Himalayan ravens, foxes, wolves, lynxes, brown bears, blue sheep, and snow leopards. Following are some of the mammals that are inhabited in the region of Tibetan plateau.
The Tibetan Antelope is also known as the Chiru. Morphological characteristics and DNA analysis revealed that the Tibetan Antelope is most closely related to the wild goats and sheep of the subfamily Caprine. The Antelope’s short, dense, woolly hair is fawn-colored, and the Antelope has black markings on its face and legs. Male Tibetan antelope have long, slender, ridged black horns that curve slightly backward, which they use to defend their harems against rivals during the rut. Horns measure 50 to 60 centimeters (19 to 23 inches) long.
The Tibetan Antelope is virtually exclusive to the Tibetan Plateau. The Antelope has evolved special characteristics that enable it to withstand cold climates and high altitudes. To keep out the cold, the Tibetan Antelope has a unique downy undercoat called shahtoosh (which is Persian for “the king of wool”). The Antelope’s nostrils are filled with air sacs that help the Antelope to breathe, giving its muzzle a swollen appearance.
The Tibetan Antelope’s light and nimble body and the Antelope’s increased capacity for breathing, due to the air sacs in its nostrils, make the Antelope a remarkable runner. Despite the thin atmosphere on the high plateau, the Antelope can run up to 80 kilometers per hour (50 miles per hour). They favor alpine steppes and similar semi-arid habitats. However, the Antelope may also seasonally occupy desert steppes and other arid areas.
The Antelope’s habitat range has contracted in Central and eastern Tibet. The largest Tibetan antelope populations survive in the Chang Tang region of northwestern Tibet, in southern Xinjiang, and in Amdo in northeastern Tibet. There are a number of both migratory and resident populations of antelope in these regions. The Tibetan Antelope feeding on grasses and herbs.
The Argali, or the Asian Wild Sheep, is the largest species of wild sheep in the world. The Tibetan Argali is one of the eight recognized subspecies of the Argali. The Tibetan Argali has light grayish brown upperparts that are darker along the back, a white belly, and a white rump patch. The white rump patch surrounds the Tibetan Argali’s black-tipped tail, which, at less than six centimeters (2.4 inches) long, is the shortest tail of the Argali sub-species. A stripe runs along the side of the Tibetan Argali’s body, separating the light belly from the darker upper parts. During the winter, the contrast between the light and dark parts of the Tibetan Argali’s body becomes more pronounced. The lateral stripe darkens in color, and the backs of the legs, the face, and the male’s neck ruff turn white. The Argali has very large, corkscrew-like horns that grow throughout the sheep’s life. The horns of Tibetan Argali rams are ridged and the horn tips, which point forwards and sometimes outwards, are usually broken or splintered
The Argali predominately inhabits high plateaus, rolling hills, and relatively gentle mountain slopes, at elevations from 3,000 to 5,000 meters (10,000 to 16,500 feet), they forage on grasses, herbs, sedges, and shrubs.
The Tibetan Gazelle is endemic to the Tibetan Plateau. The Gazelle has a sandy-brown to greyish-brown coat that is greyer in the summer than in the winter. The fronts of the Tibetan Gazelle’s slender legs are light grey. The inside of the Gazelle’s legs, the Gazelle’s belly, and the Gazelle’s large, heart-shaped rump patch are white. A light, rust-colored border surrounds the rump patch. The Tibetan Gazelle’s hairs are erectable, and conspicuously fan out when the Gazelle is alarmed, such as when the Gazelle is fleeing from a predator.
The Tibetan Gazelle inhabits open landscapes, including plains, hills, and mountains. In the mountains, the Gazelle is found both in valleys and on high ridges. The Tibetan Gazelle avoids arid areas where few of the small forbs (non-grass herbs) that form an important part of the Gazelle’s diet grow. Most Tibetan gazelles occur in Tibet, but small numbers may also be found in Ladakh and Northern Sikkim. Within Tibet, the Gazelle population is concentrated in the Chang Tang in northern Tibet. They predominantly eat forbs, shrubs, and seeds. The Gazelle has a high metabolism, due to its small size, so it requires the most nutritious forage available.
The Wild Yak is the ancestor of the domestic yak that Tibetans have relied upon for centuries. Yaks belong to the Bovini tribe, which also includes bison, buffaloes, and cattle. Though there are over 12 million domestic yaks in the Central Asian highlands, fewer than 10,000 Wild yaks survive. The only zoo in the world that has a Wild yak is in China. Wild yaks are larger and shier than domestic yaks and their coats are usually a different color.
Young Wild yaks are dark brown, they have a grey area above the tip of its muzzle. The Wild Yak’s coat has an inner layer of dense, short, wooly fur beneath coarse guard hairs. A long fringe of hair grows from the Yak’s lower neck, chest, sides, and thighs. The Wild Yak has a large, bushy tail, they are grey to black and curve outwards, forwards, back, and slightly inward. The horns of males are larger than those of females. The horns of male Wild yaks average 42.6 centimeters (16.8 inches) in length, from tip-to-tip, and 35.2 centimeters (13.9 inches) in circumference. The horns of females average 32.2 centimeters (12.7 inches) from tip-to-tip and 19.5 centimeters (7.68 inches) in circumference.
The Wild Yak’s thick coat and its relatively small number of sweat glands help the Yak to conserve heat. The Yak can tolerate temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius. The Wild Yak’s large lungs and its blood’s high red blood cell count and high concentration of hemoglobin enable the Yak to do well at high altitudes. The Wild Yak’s broad hooves and strong legs allow it to adeptly climb steep, rocky slopes. The Wild Yak has poor eyesight, but this is compensated for with its well-developed sense of smell and outstanding hearing. The Yak responds to sounds several kilometers away.
The Wild Yak inhabits treeless plains, hills, and mountains, from 3,200 to 5,400 meters (10,500 to 17,700 feet) in elevation. The Yak generally avoids arid and warm areas, preferring alpine meadows, and, to a lesser extent, the alpine steppe. The Wild Yak migrates from lower to higher elevations for the warmest months of the year, August and September.
Today, the Wild Yak is mostly confined to the remote northwestern part of the Tibetan Plateau, including North and Northwest Tibet and the southern fringes of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The highest concentration of Wild yaks is found within the 284,000 square-kilometer Chang Tang Nature Reserve
The herbivorous Wild Yak eats grasses, sedges, herbs, and, occasionally, lichens and tubers. In the summer, the Yak drinks water frequently. In the winter, the Wild Yak eats snow to hydrate itself.
Tibetan Wild Ass
The Tibetan Wild Ass, or Kiang, was until recently considered to be a subspecies of Equus hemiones, the Kulan or Asiatic Wild Ass. Though the Kiang is very similar to the Kulan, it is now recognized as a distinct species, Equus kiang. The Kiang has a reddish-brown coat that darkens in color during the winter months. The Kiang’s legs, undersides, the insides of the ears, and the border around the Kiang’s grey muzzle are white. The Kiang’s short mane, the long, tufted tail, and the tips of the Kiang’s short ears are dark brown. The Kiang also has a dark dorsal stripe, which extends from its mane to its tail. The Kiang’s summer coat is short, sparse, and sleek in comparison to its longer, thicker winter coat. The Kiang’s diet consists of grasses, sedges, and other low plants.
Tibetan Red Deer
The Tibetan Red Deer, or Shou, is a sub-species of the Red Deer. The Red Deer has a reddish-brown coat for most of the year; in the winter, though, its coat turns brownish-grey. The Deer has a short, beige tail, and a creamy patch on its rump. Calves are born with whitish spots on their coats, but the spots disappear the first time the calves moult, when they are about two months old. Only male Red deer have antlers. The males lose their antlers annually, between February and April, and grow replacements by August. The Red Deer’s antlers become increasingly branched with age.
The Red Deer has acute eyesight and hearing and a keen sense of smell. The Deer’s several external scent glands serve a variety of functions, including scent-marking territory and indicating sexual fertility in the hinds, or mature females. The Red Deer’s scent glands may also enable individual deer to identify each other. The Deer’s sensitive muzzle serves as the deer’s primary tactile organ. In the winter, the Red Deer frequents lower-lying areas, where more food is available, and the deer can take shelter from the cold. The Red Deer is a browser. The Deer feeds on dwarf shrubs, grasses, herbs, leaves, buds, shoots, and bark. The Red Deer also browses on trees.
Tibetan Blue Sheep
The Blue Sheep, or Bharal, is endemic to the Tibetan Plateau. According to noted biologist George Schaller, Blue sheep are best described as “goats with sheep like traits.” The Blue Sheep has a short, lustrous, brownish grey to greyish blue coat that provides excellent camouflage for the animal among the blue shale, rocks, and brown grasses of Tibet’s open hillsides. The tip of the Sheep’s muzzle, the belly, the inside and backs of the legs, and the rump patch are white. There is also a white spot on the knees and above the hooves.
The front of the neck, the chest, and the fronts of the legs are dark grey in females and black in males. A grey or black stripe divides the darker upper parts of the Blue Sheep’s body from the lighter underparts. The male’s neck is swollen during the rut. Both male and female Blue sheep have ridged horns. The horns of males are relatively short but massive, curving up and out from the top of the animal’s head, then backward, and curling at the tip. The Blue Sheep eats grasses, herbs, lichens, and mosses.
Tibetan Brown Bear
The Tibetan Brown Bear is a subspecies of the Brown Bear. The Tibetan Brown Bear has shaggy, dark brown to black fur, with cream to cinnamon face, and a white collar that broadens from the shoulders to the chest. The Tibetan Brown Bear’s small ears are covered with long black fur. Brown Bear’s sense of smell is much more acute than its hearing and sight. The Brown Bear has a concave outline to its massive head and snout, and high shoulders that produce a sloping back line. Adult male bears are typically heavier than adult females.
The Tibetan Brown Bear inhabits alpine forests, meadows, and steppe, at elevations from 2,000 to 4,500 meters (6,560 to 14,760 feet). Their main diet consists of picas, green and dry grass, and roots. The Tibetan Brown Bear also eats ungulates like blue sheep, argali, chiru, and yaks, as well as marmots, tubers, herbs, and insects. They occasionally attack livestock.
The Snow Leopard, or Ounce, may be distinguished from ordinary leopards by the color of its fur and its wide, long tail. The Leopard’s long fur is light grey, tinged with yellow, and it is marked with dark grey spots and rosettes. This mottled coloring provides camouflage for the Snow Leopard in its snowy, rocky natural habitat. The fur on the Leopard’s chest is solid, unspotted white. The Snow Leopard has a dense, woolly underfur, growing to as long as 12 centimeters, that shields the cat from the cold.
The Snow Leopard is predominately associated with arid and semi-arid shrubland, grassland, steppe, and open coniferous forest, at elevations between 3,000 and 5,500 meters. The Snow Leopard is widely dispersed throughout the mountain ranges on and around the Tibetan Plateau, as well as on the Tian Shan Altar, Kunlun, and other mountains of Xinjiang. They hunt antelope, deer, wolves, and smaller prey, including marmots, pika, hares, other small rodents, and birds. When the Leopard’s typical prey is scarce, the Leopard may attack domestic livestock.
The Tibetan Macaque, also known as Pere David’s Macaque or the Short-tailed or Stump-tailed Tibetan Macaque, is the largest species of macaque in the world. The Tibetan Macaque has long, thick fur that is especially dense around the Macaque’s ears and on the top of its head.
This warm coat provides protection against Tibet’s cold winters. Most Tibetan macaques are greyish brown, but a few are black. The fur of young macaques tends to be darker than that of the adults, with silver or whitish tinge. The Tibetan Macaque’s whiskers and beard are light colored.
The Macaque’s eyelids generally are also light-colored, accentuating the Macaque’s facial expressions. The Tibetan Macaque has large cheek pouches and a hairless muzzle. Many female Tibetan macaques have red skin around their eyes.
They inhabit subtropical evergreen broadleaf forests and mixed deciduous temperate forests at 800 to 2,000 meters (2,600 to 6,600 feet) in elevation. The Macaque may also occur in rocky terrain at higher altitudes. Its population concentrated in Eastern Tibet and China’s Sichuan province. Many Tibetan macaques now live in close association with humans. They eat fruit, leaves, and grass, flowers, roots, mushrooms, insects, eggs, birds and food provided by humans.