In search of ungulates … To Bradlu we go !

Team scanning the area in confluence of Pagma Glaciers

Team scanning the area in confluence of Panma Glaciers

Although remote monitoring is a more efficient technique , actual field surveys still have their own perks starting from hand on experience and observation of various wildlife’ activities to enjoying the undisturbed natural habitat. One such field survey was conducted by Snow Leopard Foundation research team comprising 5 members.  The team started their journey on 23rd December, 2016. The final destination was upper Braldu valley , District Shigar , Baltistan and survey was to be conducted on population estimation of ibex and Ladakh urial . First five days were spent in making necessary arrangements which included obtaining permission letter from wildlife department, datasheets, equipment (spotting scopes) collections and collaborating with Central Karakoram National Park’s (CKNP) staff.

Ejaz the team leader viewing area through spotting scope

Ejaz the team leader viewing area through spotting scope

The targeted area starts from Askoli and on 29th December, the survey began from this very point.  The team adopted “double observer method” in which two teams are made to count the number of individuals of a particular species. Team started counting Ibex and Ladakh Urial from Askoli till Domurdo upto Panma Glacier. The team successfully spotted 5 herds of ibex but there were no direct sightings of Ladakh urial. However, other signs were found which made urial’s presence affirmative. SLF team also visited a local museum in Askoli village as a recreational treat.  This whole field survey proved to be fruitful in terms of determining status of ibex and urial in Braldu valley and giving a necessary exposure to emerging researchers. Tahir, a research student described his experience to be a learning one. He commented,

“The best thing for me was to observe wild ungulates in their natural wild habitat and learning how to deal with local communities and convince them for wildlife conservation”.

The survey ended on 4th January, 2017. “It was both a great interactive and learning experience” said Ejaz, a field biologist and team leader of this survey.

Inspecting the horn of Ladakh Urial (this Urial was killed illegaly beore the National Park was made)

Inspecting the horn of Ladakh Urial (this Urial was killed illegaly beore the National Park was made)

Snow leopard foundation works for conservation of snow leopards in their habitat. As snow leopards’ survival depends upon an adequate amount of prey, and Ibex and Ladakh urial are principle prey of snow leopard in this area, it is crucial to determine their status and population estimates. Jaffar ud Din , the assistant director at SLF said

“These surveys foster our know how of snow leopards and their natural prey. Understanding ecology of snow leopards, their prey base and interaction with humans is prerequisite identifying conservation hotspots. These surveys are now obligatory under the National Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Priorities (NSELP) endorsed by the Government of Pakistan and Global Snow Leopards and Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP). ”

 The survey would not have been possible without support of CKNP staff. Syed Yasir Abbas, ecologist at CKNP commented

“Indeed it was a great understanding for me to be part of this joint venture with SLF team to conduct mountain ungulates census in Dumurdo Upper Braldo Shigar, one of the important and potential valleys of Central Karakoram National Park. We adopted the double observer method for ungulates surveys for the first time in CKNP,  focusing Ladakh urial and Himalayan Ibex.  Observing Snow leopard and other carnivores signs of presence as well was also one of the objectives of this survey. Looking forward for further fruitful collaboration for research, conservation and management of these important wildlife species in the largest protected area of Gilgit-Baltistan in future”