Conflict between the kiang and pastoralists in Ladakh
It is locally believed that Changthang’s rangelands are overstocked with kiang, also called the Tibetan wild ass, resulting in forage competition with livestock. In this study, we provide a review and preliminary data on the causes of this conflict.
An emerging conflict with Trans-Himalayan pastoral communities in Ladakh’s Changthang Plateau threatens the conservation prospects of the kiang (Equus kiang) in India.
It is locally believed that Changthang’s rangelands are overstocked with kiang, resulting in forage competition with livestock.
In this study, we provide a review and preliminary data on the causes of this conflict.
Erosion of people’s tolerance of the kiang can be attributed to factors such as the loss of traditional pastures during an Indo-Chinese war fought in 1962, immigration of refugees from Tibet, doubling of the livestock population in 30 years, and increasing commercialization of cashmere (pashmina) production. The perception of kiang overstocking appears misplaced, as our range-wide density estimate of 0.24 kiang km2 (± 0.44, 95% CL) is comparable to kiang densities reported from Tibet.
A catastrophic decline during the war and subsequent recovery of the kiang population apparently led to the perception of overstocking in Ladakh. In the Hanle Valley, an important area for the kiang, its density was higher (0.56 km2). Although, even here, we estimated the total forage consumed by kiang to be only 3-4 % of that consumed by the large livestock population (78 km2).
Our analysis suggests that at a localized scale, some herders face serious forage competition from kiang in key areas such as moist sedge meadows. Management strategies need to be devised at this scale.
Surveys are needed to identify all conflict hotspots, and adequate compensatory mechanisms need to be devised for herders who face genuine forage competition from the kiang.