Many think of the Himalayas as a place of cultural wonders but they aren’t just that. It is a place on earth teeming with numerous kinds of animals, known and unknown, that roam in and around this phenomenal terrain. With that stated, it’s time to learn about the unique Himalayan counterparts of some of the world’s most well-known animal species. Throughout this article, you’ll find out just how diverse these animals truly are, and the uniqueness of their characteristics influenced by the environment they live in.
Orphan deer being saved by a local
One of the most well-known of the iconic Himalayan animals, and endemic in Tibet, is the Yak. The domestic yaks have a close resemblance to that of the buffalo but with almost ten-fold the amount of hair. Traditionally known for their gentle nature, the domestic yaks have held an important place in Tibetan societal life. For many farmers and merchants, the yak’s ability to endure even the most extreme of temperature has made them the prime choice for transporting goods. Even its hair is used to make ropes, tents, sacks, and blankets. To distinguish its gender, the female yak is referred to as Dri in Tibetan. Hence, Dri gives milk, not the Yak. They are often crossbred with the cow. The female offspring is called Dzomo. The Dzomo is even more gentle than the domestic yak. It is used in transporting goods and as a source of milk, very much like the domestic cow.
Tibetan Yak - The symbols of Tibet
In the northern grasslands of Tibet live the wild yaks or Dongs, as they are known in Tibet. They are the ancestors of the domestic yaks.
In comparison to their domestic family, they are completely untamed, or wild. That’s because they live in the wilderness all their life. They are so wild that you will not be able to go near them and touch them. Unfortunately, the Dongs are prone to be captured and killed for medicinal purposes. It is speculated that their meat can cure fevers and other ailments.
The wild yaks are not the only endangered animals in the Himalayas. One that has generated much controversy in the western world is the Tibetan antelopes. We recently touched on this in our Shahtoosh articles, the Chiru. It is also an endangered species since they have been exploited and killed for their fur to make what is known as Shahtoosh (the finest cashmere in the world). The declining number of the Chiru antelopes prompted the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) to declare the harming, killing, and trading of the Chiru illegal worldwide. Their horns resemble that of a deer but are noticeably longer. Sometimes the Chiru’s bones are used as an ingredient in Chinese medicine.
Tibetan Antelopes-Endangered Species
Other animals you may find are the mountain foxes which are smaller than the average fox. But they have an incredible amount of fluffy hair to keep them warm as they have been accustomed to living at a higher altitude. On the downside, they have been poached and skinned mercilessly for their fluffy fur. Similarly, one may find snow leopards roaming in the mountains of Tibet, which contrary to the name, are closer ancestors to tigers rather than the leopards. They feed on another Himalayan animal – the blue sheep which ironically are not really blue!
Now here’s a popular colloquialism in Tibet. When someone is trying to be too cunning, they say “Don’t be like a wolf.” Why is that? Well, Tibetan wolves are known for their cunning nature, and many domestic animals fear them. They are notorious for sneaking into villages and preying on sheep or dogs to satisfy their hunger.
Tibetan Mastiff- Nomad's Best Friend, Image (Image Courtesy of:doglime.com)
Speaking of dogs, one of the most common breeds in Tibet is the Lhasa Apso which is small, with lots of hair, and usually acts as a watchdog for some of the monasteries. Another breed is the Tibetan Terrier that famously participated in the National Dog Show and is known for being a popular companion. Lastly considered as the guard dog of Tibet is the Tibetan Mastiff. Some time ago and even in some rural places to this day, they can be found in Tibetan monasteries and nomadic places. They may look slightly scary which helps them to function well as guard dogs. They resemble a bulldog and are almost as tall as a cow! They are a very lucrative breed.
How about birds? Well, the black-necked crane is probably the most iconic bird that lives in the eastern part of Tibet, by a huge lake called Koko Nor. Its name is derived from its black neck, complemented by its equally black plume at its behind. And the rest of its body, pristine white. Incredibly they spend their entire summer living in Tibet and then migrate to the Indian sub-continent during winter. Their migration covers a distance of around 80-140km at a very high altitude which is an incredible feat for such an animal to do. Now here’s a bit of fascinating trivia. Sometimes a group of black-necked cranes would stand side by side with heads raised, deliver calls that sound like trumpets while performing a wild dance! It’s a break from their usual gentle behaviour.
Black Neck Crane
What about wild donkeys? They are called Kiang in Tibetan and live in the wild. The Kiang is considered the largest wild ass species in the world! Its stature or height comes close to that of a horse.
Wild Ass in the Tibetan grass land (image courtesy of: www.jktdc.co.in)
Another animal that is immensely popular in the Western world is the Panda, the image of the logo for WWF. Were you aware that they actually originated from the south of Tibet? There is also a special species of monkeys originating from Tibet called the Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey. It has one of the most distinctive red furs that shed during the summer. Unfortunately, they are an endangered species and it is estimated that only around 3800-4000 remain.
There are so many other amazing creatures found in the region of the Himalayas like the ones we just talked about. Other interesting creatures are the following:
- Red Pandas
- Musk Deers
- Tibetan Macacques
- Tibetan Otters
- Giant panda
- Tibetan bears – brown and black
- Himalayan Tahr
- Bengal Tiger
- Tibetan red deer and the white leap deer
Mythical and legendary animals
Yeti-The Legendary mountain yeti (Image Courtesy of: https://cdn.images.express.co.uk/img/dynamic/80/590x/Yeti-footprints-1124015.jpg?r=1557324601671 )
Whilst the real-life Himalayan animals are super interesting, so are the mythical ones! The Snow Lion is referred to as the king of beasts and can be seen on the Tibetan flag. The 13th Dalai Lama, with his entourage, was said to have encountered one time the snow lion in the snowy mountain ranges of the Himalayas. It is also featured in its national emblem. Another mythical phenomenon is the Yeti, a creature that resembles a human, though much larger and hairier with a long hair fringes covering it's face. It is believed that the Yeti lives high up in the mountains and has been seen by only a few. Although countless such stories and reported sightings have not been documented nor confirmed.
These mythical creatures have been immortalized in Tibetan folk tales and have started appearing in recent movies and books.
We have covered a few of the larger, more familiar animals that thrive in the Tibetan plateau. Possibly much more species of fauna dwell high up in the mountains that we don’t know about, that humanity is eagerly waiting to discover.
Most trusted pet animals in many homes in Lhasa, the Lhasa Abso. Short, cute, and cuddly, with bundles of hair.
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Further Readings on The Himalayas
1. Where the Mountains reach up to heaven
2. A paradise of exotic animals