Rangeland Management and Wildlife Conservation in HKH
Rangelands comprise over two million km within the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region (Miller 1995, 1997), including a large portion of the sub-alpine, alpine, and steppe-vegetated high elevation environments. These lands provide extensive pasture for domestic livestock. In more marginal areas (dry, rugged, high elevation with low plant coverage), however, rangelands are relatively rarely exploited by man and continue to constitute important habitats for wildlife. In areas where pastures are not heavily overexploited, many rangelands of the world characteristically permit a combined management of both livestock and natural ecosystem values, including wildlife conservation. Thus, for example, mountainous rangelands in the cattle and sheep country of parts of western North and South America still support populations of various wild ungulates. Likewise, the mountain rangelands of central Europe continue to host populations of ibex, chamois, and deer. Vast rangelands of Australia continue to maintain populations of kangaroos and many other wild herbivores.
Nevertheless, the demise of wild animal populations in many areas that have undergone profound changes in livestock development suggest that some similar changes will take place in the more productive rangelands of the Hindu Kush-Himalayas. The virtual elimination of wolves and buffaloes and great reduction in the cougar, lynx, pronghorn antelope, and some wild sheep populations in western North America is a good example of this demise (Craighead 1991), as well as more recent changes in the dry African rangelands where Prins (1992) has argued for the incompatibility of livestock husbandry and wildlife. Thus, the directions in which governments and markets drive rangeland management and animal husbandry development in the Hindu Kush-Himalayas (Sabaerwal 1996) will have a profound effect on the continued existence and sustained viability of wild ungulates, other native herbivores, and their natural wild predators (Fox et al.1994, Miller and Jackson 1994).
It is likely that, whereas the more rugged mountain areas (marginal rangelands) will be able to maintain a compatible livestock industry and wildlife populations, livestock development in more open and productive mountain basin regions, however, will have a significant and detrimental effect on some wildlife populations. These areas are more easily exploited both by livestock and by humans for pest (e.g., predator) removal and for meat/sport hunting. The continued coexistence of wildlife and man in the Central Asian highlands will depend greatly on the type of development livestock industries undergo and the nature of national decisions regarding range management and biodiversity conservation.
The presence of wildlife on rangelands leads to several types of interaction between pastoral communities, domestic livestock, and the wild species of flora and fauna. Some of these interactions are listed below.
The economic uses of wildlife include:
In Ladakh, India, livestock owners have received monetary compensation for grazing competition between the Tibetan wild ass or kiang and domestic livestock (Fox et al.1991, N. Kitchloo, Wildlife Warden, pers. comm.). Blue sheep and takin populations have been reported by Bhutanese officials (this workshop) to be so dense in some areas that these populations raise concerns with regard to food competition with domestic sheep and yak. The pika or mouse-hare (rabbit-rat) is the target of large-scale eradication programmes on the plateau of western China. Their burrowing habits apparently cause soil degradation, and they compete with livestock for forage (this workshop). Similarly, compensation programmes to livestock owners for animals lost to predators have been introduced in Ladakh, India (N. Kitchloo, pers. comm.), and in Mongolia (R. Jackson, pers. comm) but are fraught with problems of verification and equitable distribution of available funds.
In general, areas of concern associated with the interaction between animal husbandry and biodiversity conservation include the following.
The Hindu Kush-Himalayan region, including the Tibetan highlands, is comprised of an area of substantial wild ungulate diversity, and the path of development for pastoralism and rangeland use will greatly influence the conservation of this great variety of species. In many cases, such species are in direct competition with domestic ungulate livestock. Both wild sheep and goat (Caprinae) and deer (Cervidae) groups of wild ungulates apparently evolved somewhere between the Himalayan region and the Middle East (Geist 1987), and a wide array of primitive (e.g., goral, musk deer) to advanced (e.g., argali, red deer) species still occur in the region. Today, the higher reaches of the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region support over 30 species of wild ungulates (Table 1), providing a diversity within relatively short cross-sectional distances similar to that found over comparable areas on the African savannas. Some of these species occur in the dense forests of the lower Himalayas; but most are, at least in part, associated with forest and sub-alpine rangelands or high, dry non-forested alpine and steppelands. In addition, various species of smaller mammalian herbivores (Table 1) also significantly contribute to the ecosystemic dynamics of these rangelands, sometimes with deleterious consequences for human exploitation of pasturelands.
Threatened wild species, indigenous to the rangelands of the Hindu Kush-Himalayas, include the wild yak, Tibetan argali, Ladakh urial, Tibetan antelope, snow leopard, wolf, and brown bear. Other species are affected by land-use patterns associated with pastoralism some are considered a menace to livestock husbandry. These include small herbivores such as the pika, marmot, and hare, as well as large herbivores such as the Tibetan wild ass, Tibetan antelope, Tibetan gazelle, blue sheep, and Asiatic ibex and predators such as the wolf, wild dog (dhole), and lynx. Note that today, while large predator and wild ungulate numbers continue to dwindle in the Hindu Kush - Himalayas, they have been or are currently being re-established in the mountain rangelands of North America (e.g., the wolf in Yellowstone) and Europe (e.g., the ibex and lynx in the Alps). Timely efforts to maintain the existing, large mammal biodiversity can help avoid expensive re-establishment programmes in the future.
At present, some 10 per cent of the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region has been legally designated as protected areas for nature conservation (Green 1993; 1994). The vast majority of these parks and reserves are situated in mountain rangelands. The spectacular alpine scenery of mountain conservation areas does not generally constitute the most productive habitats and for that reason can be relatively more easy to protect from human alteration than tropical areas. However, because of their low productivity, these habitats often require large areas to maintain viable populations of wildlife.
The management of protected areas and their surrounding lands, both for wild species and the maintenance of pastoral systems, has recently become a major concern of conservationists in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region. This shift represents an important advance in outlook that has taken place over the past several decades. Whereas the conservation management prescriptions for these areas are still being derived, especially with regard to traditional human land uses, it is clear that national imperatives associated with conservation and tourism will demand management to maintain some definition of natural wild plant and animal communities in such protected rangeland areas, as well as in healthy rangelands outside legally designated protected areas. This requires a sound understanding of the interaction between livestock husbandry and both forage pastures (plant food species for livestock) and wild animal species to ensure effective management. Unfortunately, our knowledge of the functioning of these rangeland ecosystems and their likely reactions to imposed changes is quite limited. Specifically, such ecosystem questions have rarely been addressed when considering either proposed livestock development programmes or nature conservation programmes. In situations in which these concerns overlap, such questions are virtually non-existent. This needs to change.
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