Journal Article

2021

Abhirup KharaMunib KhanyariAbhishek GhoshalDevika RathoreYash Veer BhatnagarKulbhushansingh SuryawanshiUdayan Rao Pawar
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The forgotten mountain monarch? Understanding conservation status of the vulnerable Ladakh Urial in India

Abstract: Ungulate conservation directly affects conservation of their predators and habitats. Assessing conservation status of ungulates found in the mountains is particularly challenging given the tough terrain and extreme weather. This is true for Central and South Asia’s mountains which harbour high ungulate diversity. Urial Ovis vignei, a Vulnerable wild sheep, occurs patchily across Asian mountains. Ladakh urial Ovis vignei vignei is a subspecies restricted to Ladakh and Gilgit-Baltistan in the trans-Himalaya. Poor understanding of its conservation status has limited conservation eforts in the region.

We conducted a distribution survey using single-season single-species occupancy, with spatial replicates accounting for auto-correlated replicate-level presence across the entire potential urial habitat (3425km2) in Ladakh, India. We then identifed remaining populations and conducted double-observer surveys to estimate densities. We found urial to use only 32% (16–53%) of its presumed range. We estimated densities of 1.27 (1.27–1.39) urial km−2 and 0.96 (0.96–1.10) urial km−2 across the two landscapes covering 18% of surveyed area.

These two areas are currently the last remaining strongholds for the species in India, yet densities were lower than expected when compared to previous studies. Urial distribution in India overlaps with human use like habitations, livestock grazing, and roads, hence efective conservation of the species will need involvement of local communities. We propose annual monitoring of urial and setting up community-based livestock-free reserves across the two landscapes.

More such robust investigations at meaningful large scales are needed to direct conservation action for the understudied mountain ungulates of high Asia.