Surprising range of birds and mammals in Tibet

Red Panda taken in the Highland Wildlife Park.
Red Panda taken in the Highland Wildlife Park.

Tibet is a high mountainous plateau lying to the north of the Himalayas and extending north almost as far as Mongolia.

Much of the land is a rolling plain between 4,000m and 5,500m, punctuated with highly eroded mountains. The ground may be covered with grassland, semi-desert or scree depending on altitude, exposure and bed rock and forests are only found in a few places at lower altitudes. The summers are cool and showery and the winters cold and dry with some snow.

At the February meeting of the SWT in Duns two speakers informed us about their experience’s traveling on separate expeditions in Qinghai in the north-eastern part of Tibet and illustrated their talks with photos of the varied wildlife they encountered.

Dr Stan da Prato traveled there in October and November in search of mammals and birds and he was surprising to see such a wide range of species of large mammals and birds. Many of the mammals were reasonable confiding with humans which would indicate that there was surprisingly little hunting pressure.

Forests were only encountered at the start of the expedition and Stan showed stunning photos of the Red Pandas which live in the tree tops. This species is found across Western China and along the southern ranges of the Himalayas (The Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig in Speyside maintain a nice family party). The Red Panda is much smaller than its distant cousin the Giant Panda, it has a longish tail and much of its body is a rich chestnut brown, the snout, ears and each side of its face are white.

Another large and striking animal in the forests was the Tibetan Macaque, (a type of monkey) a confident and challenging male looked quite intimidating to the intruding humans. In more open countryside herds of several species of deer were seen including one sort closely related to our native Red Deer. They lived in areas where the grass is quite sparse and must be hardy, resilient creatures.

Flocks of Blue Sheep were on the mountain sides and a few Argali, another type of sheep, here the rams have striking, enormous heavy horns which they use to head- butt their rivals when sorting out the hierarchy in the mating season. The Tibetan Antelope or Chiru was more timid, the males have long, erect, saber like horns. It was possible to approach quite close to a small party of Tibetan Wild Ass or Kiang before they trotted away on the snow covered steppe.

One of the principal sources of income for the Tibetans who live on the plateau is farming Yak, which they milk and turn into butter and cheese. It is reputed that there are one third of the world’ yaks in Qinghai. Stan encountered some real wild yaks which stood their ground and looked rather menacing, out on the plain there was absolutely no cover to provide protection so a dignified retreat was thought to be the best option.

To be continued!