A major attraction of travelling in the Himalayas is encountering unique wildlife. From colourful birds to elusive big cats, you can’t see these animals at home, outside a zoo. Read on for information on wildlife in the Himalayas you can expect to see, and where to spot these beautiful creatures.
A yak is a long-haired animal related to a cow or buffalo, which lives across the Himalayan region. It has been domesticated, and is regularly used to transport goods around mountain areas because it is extremely strong. It can live at high altitudes, and has a lot of hair to keep it warm. They mainly eat grass, and spend a lot of time grazing in herds, much like cows.
While you can find yak in Nepal, much of the time what is taken to be a yak is actually a cow-yak hybrid, the dzo.
These animals are elusive, as there aren’t very many left in the wild (it’s listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species). They live at very high altitudes, have thick heavy tails that help them balance and manoeuvre in the mountains, and blend perfectly into snowy, rocky landscapes.
For the best chances of spotting one in Nepal, head to some of the remoter parts of the country, such as Dolpo. This region was immortalised in Peter Matthiessen’s 1978 book, ‘The Snow Leopard’, a worthwhile read for all visitors to Nepal.
The red panda is much smaller than its more famous distant relative, the Giant Panda and, well, red and white instead of black and white! It’s native to the eastern Himalayas (and parts of China). Its image will be familiar to anyone who uses a certain web browser, as it’s also known as a firefox.
While the red panda is endangered, meaning the chance of spotting one is not very high, they are most common in the eastern districts of Nepal, such as Ilam, the areas around Kanchengjunga, and as close to Kathmandu as the Langtang National Park.
Royal Bengal Tiger
While not actually found in the mountains, the Royal Bengal Tiger can be spotted in Nepal. Although the magnificent creature is endangered, and poaching continues across India and Nepal, the number of tigers in Nepal has been increasing. The best places to spot the animal are the Chitwan National Park, Bardia National Park and Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve.
Himalayan Monal (Danphe)
Although often called a pheasant in English, that word doesn’t quite conjure the right images for this magnificent bird. The danphe is Nepal’s national bird, and the male is spectacularly colourful and iridescent, almost like a peacock. It can be found across the Himalayas, and it’s likely that you’ll spot one in the Sagarmatha National Park if undertaking the Everest Base Camp trek.
Himalayan Black Bear
This subspecies of the Asian Black Bear is found in the Himalayas of Tibet, Nepal, China and India. In the summer they stay around the timberline (around 3000 metres), but in the winter come down to the more tropical forests, as low as 1500 metres. It’s a medium-sized bear, so not quite as formidable as North America’s Grizzly!
This beautiful animal is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, due to hunting and habitat loss, so it’s pretty rare. While it’s related to the wild goat, it is better adapted to the rocky slopes of the Himalayas, and from afar might even resemble a yak, with its long shaggy hair.
Blue Sheep (Bharal)
No, they’re not really blue, but this animal’s greyish coat can sometimes appear to have a blue sheen. These animals live in the high Himalayas, from Pakistan in the west to Bhutan in the east. They are a major food source of the snow leopard, but are not endangered or threatened themselves, so you have a far greater chance of seeing them in the wild.
These mighty animals aren’t found in the Himalayan mountains themselves, but no trip to Nepal would be complete without a visit to Chitwan National Park, on the Terai. Chitwan is home to the vast majority of one-horned rhinoceros in Nepal, as it has run a very successful conservation programme there. With over 600 of the animals, a sighting is practically guaranteed while on safari at Chitwan.
This ‘garden-variety’ monkey is ubiquitous across South Asia, and it’d be a challenge not to see it sometime during your travels! A favourite spot in Kathmandu is Swayambhunath Temple (colloquially known as the monkey temple), where hundreds of these cheeky creatures hang out. But be warned, they are very cheeky, and won’t hesitate to snatch food from you, so take care.
Elephants in the mountains? Again, no, not exactly. But the Asian elephant can be found on the plains of Nepal. A trip to Chitwan or Bardia National Parks is a must while in Nepal, and lots of these beautiful and gentle creatures can be found in and around these parks. Be aware that riding elephants is an ethically controversial practice, and there are other ways of enjoying the wild creatures that don’t threaten their health. Going on a jeep safari while at Chitwan and observing the elephants from afar does much less harm.
Top image: Cloudtail the Snow Leopard/Flickr
Inspired? To see some of the wildlife described here, Royal Mountain Travel can take you to Chitwan in the following trips: