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Dedicated to the people of the Himalaya, who are the present and future stewards of this grand landscape.


H I M A L AYA M O U N TA I N S

O F

L I F E


THE LAND


The Eastern Himalaya >


from the lush forests of Namdapha and the Siang Gorge in the east


to the barren mountainsides along the Kali-Gandaki Gorge to the west, >


encompasses within its boundaries not only a tapestry of ancient mountain kingdoms


but also a landscape of densely forested valleys and snow-covered peaks.


This region has nine of the world’s fourteen highest peaks including Kangchenjunga -‘The Five Treasures of Snow’.


At 8585 metres it is the world’s third highest peak and straddles the border of India and Nepal.


THE PEOPLE


A complex melting-pot of cultures, languages and religious affinities, the Eastern Himalaya presents a fascinating picture for ethnologists. The steep terrain and isolated valleys of the region have helped preserve the cultural identities of groups living in the area for millennia. Although the majority here belong to the Indo-Mongoloid stock, they speak languages ranging from Indo-Aryan and Austro-Asiatic to Tibeto-Burman, and follow religions as diverse as Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity, with a large number still animistic in belief.


Epicentre of an Adi home, the kitchen fire is not only used for cooking but also helps keep the house warm and dry. Furthermore it allows for smoking of meat, usually kept on a rack above. Here, an Adi family in Arunachal Pradesh ward off the cold sitting by the warmth of a kitchen fire.


Said to have been introduced by Guru Padmasambhava in the 8th century, masked dances known as chham are sacred performances supposed to protect the onlookers from misfortune. The performances are of various types, all involving dancers in colourful silk robes playing the roles of deities, demons, heroes and animals. Accompanied by loud instrumental music, they typically draw large crowds.


THE PLANTS


Found mostly in the temperate belt of the Northern Hemisphere, Primula is a genus of flowering plants with about 500 species worldwide. The group derives its name from the word primus which means first, referring to the flowers being the first to bloom in spring. The species here, Primula denticulata or Drumstick Primrose, is amongst the more common species in the Eastern Himalaya and is also grown as an ornamental plant worldwide.


Growing at around 2000 metres in Arunachal Pradesh, Ctenitis (Dryopsis) apiciflora is one of 1000 species of ferns and their allies known from India. Many of these primitive, non-flowering vascular plants are known for their medicinal properties.


Widespread across the temperate regions of the world, genus Rhododendron reaches its greatest diversity in Asia, with about 100 species in India alone. The name Rhododendron means ‘red tree’ in Greek, referring to the red flowers commonly associated with the species. The stiff, waxy leaves of these evergreen species provide shelter to a great variety of insect fauna, which incidentally help in pollination. However, some species have adopted ornithophily; in these cases, birds such as this Beautiful Sibia Heterophasia pulchella help transfer pollen from one plant to another.


THE ANIMALS


Named either after the Titans, a race of giant-deities in ancient Greek mythology, or for the map-like pattern on its wings, the Edward’s Atlas Moth Archaeoattacus edwardsii is found in the tropical forests of South and Southeast Asia. In terms of the total surface area of the wings, it is the largest Lepidopteran in the world. In case of danger, it uses a unique defence strategy - dropping to the ground and undulating its wings slowly, it makes the apical ends of its forewings resemble a snake’s head in motion.


Under the cover of darkness, a Bengal Tiger Panthera tigris tigris feeds on the carcass of a Greater One-horned Rhinoceros Rhinoceros unicornis in Kaziranga National Park. The alluvial plains of the Brahmaputra Valley in Assam support the highest densities of large mammalian prey in Asia, which in turn support one of the largest populations of tigers in the world. Although tigers on occasion take down a rhino calf, a full-grown adult rhino is normally not on the tiger’s menu. But sometimes even these top predators turn scavengers, especially when a two-tonne rhino carcass can provide easy meals to more than one tiger for an entire week. 28


29


A lizard without a name. The Eastern Himalayan region undoubtedly still holds many undescribed reptile species. One such is this impressive individual -- a member of the genus Japalura, but still awaiting official description, naming and inclusion in the genus. India is home to eight of the 28 species of Japalura known worldwide. This one could perhaps be number nine. Between 1998 and 2008, 16 new species of reptiles were discovered in the Eastern Himalaya. 30


Japulara lizard

31


Rhacophorus bipunctatus


H I M A L AYA M O U N TA I N S

Kamal Bawa

O F

L I F E

Sandesh Kadur

Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and allied Trusts


HIMALAYA

Mountains of life Book Manager

Sandesh Kadur Authors/Photographers

Kamal Bawa & Sandesh Kadur Editors

Reinmar Seidler Priya Singh Design & Layout

Felis Creations Design Studio George Thengummoottil Illustrations and Maps

Nandita Mondal Vijayakumar S.P. Uttam Babu Shrestha First published 2013 Ashoka Trust for Research in Education and the Environment Royal Enclave, Sriramapura, Jakkur Post, Bangalore 560064 Karnataka Tel: +91-80-23635555 Email: info@atree.org www.atree.org Text © Kamal Bawa/Sandesh Kadur The moral right of the author has been asserted.

ISBN 978-1-61584-512-5 All rights reserved under International Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner. Distributor – INDIA Felis Creations Pvt. Ltd. #295 10th Main 5th Block  Jayanagar Bangalore - 560 041 www.felis.in Distributor – USA Gorgas Science Foundation 8435 Sabal Palm Rd. Brownsville, Texas 78521 www.gorgassiencefoundation.org Printed and bound at Pragati Offset Pvt. Ltd. www.pragati.com Printed on FSC certified paper

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CONTENTS Preface Foreword - George B. Schaller Foreword - Peter H. Raven Introduction Biodiversity Hotspot

37 39 43 44 48

The Land Ecoregions Arunachal Pradesh Assam Kaziranga Manas Bhutan Sikkim Eastern Nepal Rivers

50 54 58 64 68 72 78 82 88 94

The People Apatani Bodo Lepcha Naga Nyishi

106 112 116 120 124 130

The Plants Ferns Conifers Arisaema Orchids Zingiberaceae Rheum Nobile Balsams Primulas Rhododendrons Rhododendrons and Sunbirds Pedicularis

134 138 140 144 146 151 154 156 160 166 172 174

The Fungi Caterpillar fungus

182 186

The Animals Invertebrates Butterflies Fishes Amphibians Reptiles Birds Mammals

188 190 196 202 206 212 224 246

Threats to Biodiversity Climate Change Tourism Saving our Biodiversity Afterword - Rohini Nilekani Acknowledgements References

262 280 282 286 301 302 305 35


Great Hornbill Buceros bicornis

36


PREFACE

L

ife on Earth is rich, beautiful—often spectacular. Nowhere are these qualities more apparent than in the Himalaya. Native home of rhododendrons, primroses, wild gingers—snow leopards patrolling the high ranges—rhinos and tigers resting in the low hills and along the grassy flood-plains of its great rivers, alongside literally countless other organisms … the Eastern Himalaya teems with life. Himalaya, in Sanskrit, means ‘Abode of Snow.’ But these mountains are also known as ‘Asia’s Water Tower’ because eight of the continent’s largest rivers originate here. Thus, in addition to supporting many thousands of wild species, the Himalaya sustains as much as a third of humanity who depend on the fresh water supplied by these rivers. Today, dramatic changes are underway in the Himalaya. Human activities are modifying habitats, as well as limiting the space for wild species. Climate change is altering long-standing patterns of temperature and precipitation. Air pollutants are being found in the most remote valleys and on the highest peaks.

picturesque peaks and valleys of the Himalaya, but few have explored the diversity of life in all its fullness. Our interests lie specifically in the interactions among wilderness, people, and landscapes. This book is part of a multi-year journey to document India’s incredible diversity of life, people and natural habitats. This journey started with the publication of our first coffee-table book, Sahyadris: India’s Western Ghats—A Vanishing Heritage. We continue the central theme of that book here, as we explore this second South Asian biodiversity hotspot covering India, Nepal and Bhutan. Our theme is the challenge of sustaining our heritage—this vast biocultural diversity—in the present era of global change. We invite you to join us in our quest to document and sustain life in all its dimensions—here in the Himalaya, through the pages of this book—and elsewhere, as we continue our journey to other parts of the unendingly diverse and complex land that is India.

This book, however, is intended to celebrate life in the Himalaya, not to mourn its decline. Many coffee-table books have portrayed the

Kamal Bawa President - Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment - ATREE Distinguished Professor - University of Massachusetts, Boston

Sandesh Kadur Wildlife Photographer/Filmmaker Felis Creations Bangalore, India

37


Clouded Leopard Neofelis nebulosa

38


Foreword George B. Schaller

M

ountains of Life opens our eyes to a hidden part of the world, that of the Eastern Himalaya with a focus on India. From the plains of the Brahmaputra River, the home of the Great Indian Rhinoceros, up through the evergreen and coniferous forests to the alpine meadows, and finally to the sublime peaks and glaciers, this book celebrates scenic splendor and the glorious variety of plants and animals. Within a short distance, the terrain climbs from a few hundred metres to over 8000 metres, a wild natural treasure that has been largely ignored and neglected. Sandesh Kadur and Kamal Bawa have with this book made a heart-felt and major contribution to our knowledge of the region. The photographs are evocative and eloquent, revealing the grandeur of the high Himalaya, as well as offering intimate glimpses of butterflies, frogs, birds and other creatures that lead secluded and cryptic lives in the forest. Many of the photographs arouse our emotions by their beauty and rarity. The perceptive text gives meaning to those feelings, making us even more aware of what we have to lose, and how much the future of this great biological diversity depends solely on us. During the late 1990s, wildlife surveys took me to various parts of the Eastern Himalaya, particularly to the state of Arunachal Pradesh, regions treated with such passion in Mountains of Life. My travels included long treks through the areas of Tawang in the west, the Dihang River near the Line of Control, the disputed border between India and China’s Tibet, and the Lohit River in the east. I was there to determine the status of the larger mammals and promote their protection. The Brahmaputra Plain has several fine reserves, among them Kaziranga, where tiger, buffalo, deer, and other species, can lead traditional lives; by contrast, most Arunachal forests are almost empty of large mammals, all of them relentlessly hunted for food or for sale by the Mishmi, Adi, Monpa, and other tribes. It seems that almost

every man we met afield carried gun, snare, or bow and arrow. To observe wildlife we had to visit local homes of which many have a trophy wall of dusty Mishmi Takin, Serow, Barking Deer, and other horns. Sometimes a hospitable host might show us the hides of Capped Langur, Asiatic Black Bear, or Asiatic Golden Cat, to name just three. Too often I felt glum after days of recording the artifacts of these once vibrant animals. However, Mountains of Life reminds me that I should have tramped leisurely through the forests and patiently looked closely at the orchid, lizard, or other small treasure rather than rush along in search of an elusive tiger track. The forests of Arunachal extend into the Medog area of Tibet where the Siang River changes its name to the Yarlung Tsangpo. Originating in western Tibet, this river follows the foothills of the Himalaya before entering the deepest canyon in the world, hemmed in by the peaks Gyali Peri and Namcha Barwa, both over 7000 m high. The tumultuous, roaring water, curves around Namcha Barwa and then heads south towards India. With my Chinese coworkers, I made long treks through the region in 1998 and 2000. The journeys took us to both ends of the great gorge and through the forested hills of Medog east of the Yarlung Tsangpo. As in Arunachal, I marveled at the lush life, particularly at the vegetation with its great variety of orchids (216 species recorded so far), rhododendrons (154 species), and primulas (52 species). The birds were a constant delight, and my list has well over a hundred species. But, as in Arunachal, the forests were eerily vacant of large mammals because of uncontrolled hunting and the open sale of wildlife products from Red Panda skins to Musk Deer pods. We estimated that perhaps fifteen tigers persisted, their future dim because the cats have so little natural prey that they kill mainly horses and cattle. The Lopa and Monpa are slash-and-burn agriculturalists, planting maize and upland rice even on steep slopes after felling the forest, and after a year or two abandon the fields, the soils depleted.

Left: Runaa, a Clouded Leopard cub rescued from poachers, being rehabilitated back into the wilderness.

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Namcha Barwa, Tibet

40


I mention the Medog region because it is part of the same grand landscape as on the other side of the border in India--and it has similar problems. No matter what the political differences between the two countries, they have there a common natural heritage. A new threat that will affect both is the construction of large dams on the rivers. For example, a huge hydroelectric project has been proposed for the Yarlung Tsangpo at Namcha Barwa, even though an earthquake measuring 8.6 on the Richter scale devastated the region in 1950. As the authors rightly emphasize, China and India must cooperate in trans-boundary conservation to protect this part of the Eastern Himalaya. Arunachal Pradesh does have several reserves, though feebly administered, and in 1999, China established the Yarlung Tsangpo Great Canyon National Reserve, 9600 km2 in size. A good road has being built across the mountains into the reserve and tourist facilities now exist in the town of Medog. The basis for fruitful cross-border conservation initiatives now exist. While roaming through the physical geography of Medog, I also became aware of the spiritual geography in this secret and sacred land. In the 8th century, the Indian sage Padmasambhava brought Buddhism to Tibet. He also created eight remote sanctuaries, hidden lands or beyul, places of inner peace and outer tranquility. The great canyon of the Yarlung Tsangpo and the Medog area represent one such beyul, known as Dechen Pemako, the ‘Hidden Land of the Lotus’. The female deity Dorjie Pagmo, ‘Diamond Sow,’ reclines over the landscape with, for instance, Gyala Peri her head, Namcha Barwa one of her breasts, and the Yarlung Tsangpo her main energy channel. The lower part of her body lies in Arunachal and has yet to be discovered. Buddhism encourages respect, love, and compassion for all living beings, and the spirit of Dorjie Pagmo unites the adjoining landscape of Tibet and Arunachal. Conservation must emphasize this common ground and strive for peace and security for all plants and animals there. To protect this whole landscape with its natural and cultural communities is a goal, yet one that remains elusive as conditions change, not only with an increasing human population demanding resources, with dams and other development—but now also with climate change. Species will

have to adapt, move, or die. Of the thousands of glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau, 95% are in retreat and many will have vanished by mid-century. The greatest rivers in the region, such as the Ganges, Indus, Brahmaputra, Yellow, Yangtze, and Mekong, have their origin on the Tibetan Plateau or in the Himalaya. At present they provide water and a livelihood to hundreds of millions of people. Nature, we are reminded, is not just a commodity to use, buy, sell, and destroy; resources are finite and we must show them restraint. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “There is enough in the world for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed.” Conservation is based on knowledge and beauty. Science can provide the knowledge needed for solutions to problems. Beauty, however, is based on ethical and spiritual values, coming from the heart. Mountains of Life will, I hope, have an important role in generating public support for the Eastern Himalaya. Do not look at the photograph of a blue poppy or sunbird as some separate reality on a page, as something removed from their fate and yours, but as beings with whom we share this planet and who need our commitment to endure. We can each contribute in some way to save these forests and their creatures, or others like them. Go into nature and enjoy it, gain knowledge, join a conservation organization or donate funds to it, and make your voice heard by speaking out on behalf of any issue that might despoil the land. There are many ways to help, but do something. I view this book above all as a call to action to save this and other mountain realms from further degradation. When visiting places of seemingly untouched nature in the Eastern Himalaya, I worry about mitigating potential deforestation and the impact of climate change. I am entranced, however, and my soul is uplifted at the sight of the rugged, remote peaks and by the mere thought that a tiger may still roam here on shadowed trails in all its flaming beauty. May the spirit of the deity Dorjie Pagmo continue to protect this hidden land, though she will need all of our help to do so.

George B. Schaller Panthera and Wildlife Conservation Society

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Clark’s Iris Iris clarkei

42


Foreword Peter H. Raven

T

he sky-piercing peaks of the Himalaya have remained objects of awe and reverence ever since people were first able to comprehend their majesty. Today we perceive them as the Earth’s “third pole,” where glaciers and snowfields lock up vast amounts of water and, melting, feed the rivers that supply this precious fluid to the surrounding countries. If present trends are allowed to continue, these resources will be lost in a matter of decades, and millions of people will suffer the consequences.

Many of these habitats were novel, affording ample opportunity for the evolution of the organisms so beautifully displayed here. Through the combination of visual and textual material, readers will be able to understand the richness of Eastern Himalayan life and the importance of conserving it—both for its own sake and because it collectively forms the basis for continued human existence.

The Gondwana strata that traverse the southern Himalaya were formed at a time when the southern lands were united in a “supercontinent” called Gondwanaland. Breaking out of this mass some 90 million years ago, the Indian plate moved rapidly northward, colliding with and crowding into the Asian plate as much as 55-50 million years ago. Its basaltic underpinnings in effect formed a gigantic conveyor belt, moving northward and ultimately smashing its lighter rocks onto the Asian mainland, there to be uplifted to their great heights by the continued movement of their underlying “conveyor.”

This book discusses the regional threats to biodiversity, due both to the ever-increasing numbers of people and their activities and to the direct effects of global climate change. Together, these factors are in danger of altering many of the region’s habitats more rapidly than most organisms can adapt to the new conditions. The book then presents a thoughtful discussion of the steps that can be taken to preserve as much of the region’s biodiversity as possible. The authors, and ATREE as an organization, are to be congratulated for producing a book on yet another biodiversity hotspot—an extraordinarily rich yet vulnerable part of the world. It absolutely commands our attention.

No less impressive than the spectacular peaks of the Himalaya is the biological diversity of the area, presented so well within the pages of this volume. The upland habitats where this biodiversity is concentrated were formed over hundreds of thousands of years as the mountains rose.

Peter H. Raven President Emeritus, Missouri Botanical Garden

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INTRODUCTION

E

voking images of lofty, snow-covered peaks, remote and austere landscapes—and traditionally known as the ‘Abode of the Gods’—the Himalaya may be the most spectacular mountain range in the world. The Himalayan mountain range is part of a vast upland system incorporating the Karakoram and Hindu Kush ranges to the west and the Tibetan Plateau to the north. The many ranges of the Himalaya cover about 2400 km from east to west and 150-400 km from north to south. Rising more than eight kilometres above sea level, the range contains many of the world’s highest peaks, including, of course, Everest (or Sagarmatha in Sanskrit and in modern Nepali). 44

The Himalaya is not only the most massive among the mountain systems of the world, but it is also the youngest. The range was born in a slow-motion collision of almost inconceivable violence starting about 70 million years ago, when the Indian tectonic plate drifted north across the Indian Ocean and ploughed head-on into the southern coastal edge of the Asian plate. In the chaotic aftermath, many ancient sea-beds were trapped within the folds and buckles of the uplifting mountains. Mount Everest, for instance, is largely composed of marine limestone. This book focuses specifically on the eastern portion of the Himalaya. This sub-range extends eastward from central Nepal through the Darjeeling Hills, Sikkim, Bhutan, and into the northeastern Indian states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. This region is a distinct sub-unit of the entire mountain chain because it is subject to the seasonal pattern of the southwest monsoon, which weakens to the west and north.


Lachen Valley, Sikkim

If the Himalaya as a whole is outstandingly rich in plant and animal life, the Eastern Himalaya in particular is spectacularly so. Take for example, the tiny state of Sikkim, a mere 7096 km2 in area. Because it ranges in altitude from 280 m to 8585 m, the state contains examples of virtually every type of ecosystem one might encounter in the entire Himalaya—from lowland semi-evergreen forests to alpine meadows. Occupying less than 0.0025% of India’s land area, Sikkim harbours 20% of the plant and animal species found in the whole country! The extraordinary diversity of life in the Eastern Himalaya region is matched by its cultural and ethnic diversity. More than 200 distinct ethnic groups inhabit the region, speaking as many distinct languages and many more dialects. Every major religion, with its associated traditions, is represented here. Buddhism dominates the region, and colourful Buddhist prayer flags decorate every mountain pass. Cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity are linked with the diversity of plants and animals, because similar forces—namely, evolution in remote mountain valleys and on

isolated peaks—have generated both the richness of living organisms and the diversity of human cultures. Sadly, the unique biocultural diversity of the region is under considerable threat. Wild species, minority languages and even some entire ethnic communities are on the verge of extinction. Expanding human populations, development pressures, climate change and a host of other factors continue to transform landscapes, imperiling the diversity we cherish and the ecosystems that sustain us. If current trends continue, the consequences for both nature and society will be incalculable. In the following pages we sample the richness of life in the Eastern Himalaya—its landscapes, its people, and its wild species. Such richness is impossible to document completely in a single volume; we can provide no more than a few glimpses here. We then describe current threats to the cultural and natural diversity of the region. Finally, we offer possible solutions to these challenges. 45


Below

Kali-Gandaki Gorge

Nepal Kathmandu

H

im

ala

ya s

India

Area Enlarged

Arabian

Bay of

Sea

Bengal

India

BHUTAN

NEPAL

INDIA

Name: Kingdom of Bhutan Population: 708,427 Total area: 38,394 sq km Land boundary: 1075 km Elevation Extremes: 98 m to 7570 m Highest Point: Gangkhar Puensum National Bird: Raven Corvus corax tibetanus National Animal: Takin Budorcas taxicolor National Flower: Blue Poppy Meconopsis grandis National Tree: Bhutan Cypress Cupressus cashmeriana

Name: Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal Population: 30 million Total area: 147,181 sq km Land boundary: 2926 km Elevation Extremes: 70 m to 8848 m Highest Point: Mt. Everest National Bird: Himalayan Monal Lophophorus impejanus National Animal: Domestic cow Bos primigenius National Flower: Rhododendron arboreum National Tree: Rhododendron arboreum

Name: Republic of India Population: 1.2 billion Total area: 3,287,263 sq km Land boundary: 14,103 km Elevation Extremes: -2 m to 8586 m Highest Point: Kangchenjunga Peak National Bird: Indian Peafowl Pavo cristatus National Animal: Bengal Tiger Panthera tigris National Flower: Lotus Nelumbo nucifera National Tree: Banyan Ficus bengalensis

46


Tibet

Siang Gorge

Arunachal Pradesh Sikkim

Thimphu Gangtok

Te e

Ga n

st a

Bhutan maputra Brah

Assam Guwahati

Nagaland Kohima

ga

Bangladesh Sundarbans

Bay of Bengal

Arunachal Pradesh

Assam

Sikkim

Total area: 83,743 sq km Population: 1. 3 million Forest Cover: 67,410 sq. km. (80.50%) Highest Point: Kangto (7090 m) State Bird: Great Hornbill Buceros bicornis State Animal: Mithun Bos frontalis State Flower: Foxtail Orchid Rhynchostylis retusa State Tree : Hollong Dipterocarpus macrocarpus Major Rivers: Kameng, Lohit, Siang, Subansiri, Tirap

Total area: 78,438 sq km Population: 31.1 million Forest Cover: 27,673 sq. km. (35.28%) Highest Point: Jhingtubum (1867 m) State Bird: White-winged Wood Duck Cairina scutulata State Animal: Greater One-horned Rhinoceros Rhinoceros unicornis State Flower: Foxtail Orchid Rhynchostylis retusa State Tree : Hollong Dipterocarpus macrocarpus Major Rivers: Brahmaputra, Barak, Bhoroli, Manas

Total area: 7096 sq km Population: 607,688 Forest Cover : 3,359 sq. km. (47.34%) Highest Point: Kangchenjunga Peak (8585 m) State Bird: Blood Pheasant Ithaginis cruentus State Animal: Red Panda Ailurus fulgens State Flower: Noble Orchid Cymbidium goeringii State Tree : Rhododendron niveum Major Rivers: Teesta, Rangeet Glaciers : Zemu Glacier, Rathong Glacier, Lonak Glacier

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EASTERN HIMALAYA A Biodiversity Hotspot

T

he word ‘biodiversity’ refers to all forms of life, from microscopic bacteria to tall trees and large elephants, as well as to the ecological communities in which they live. Global ‘biodiversity hotspots’ are regions of the world that are unusually rich in plant and animal species, and also contain an extraordinarily large proportion of endemic species—those that occur nowhere else. The Himalayan range—especially its eastern section—constitutes one of 34 global hotspots of biodiversity. India’s land mass also covers parts of three other global hotspots. One of these hotspots is the Western Ghats region of southwestern India (including southwestern Sri Lanka). The IndoBurma hotspot includes the northeastern Indian states lying south of the Brahmaputra River; while the Nicobar Islands are considered part of the Sundaland hotspot that extends all the way to Indonesia.

48

The Himalayan range constitutes a vast repository of biodiversity indeed. These mountains are probably home to over two thirds of all the species found in India. And the Greater Himalaya, extending to the Tibetan Plateau and into southeastern China, harbours an even larger number of species—perhaps as much as 10% of our planet’s total! Many of these species are unique to the region, for example Himalayan Tahr, Golden Langur and Pygmy Hog. In the following pages we will explore how for a number of plant groups—such as rhododendrons, primulas, louseworts, and poppies—the Eastern Himalaya has acted as a theater for evolution and diversification. Thousands of plant species have originated here, and many remain confined to the region.


Talley Valley, Arunachal Pradesh

Species confined to a particular geographical area are known as endemics. For the Eastern Himalaya, endemism is hard to define precisely, because the mountain landscapes cross the political frontiers of several countries: India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and China. If we ignore political boundaries and consider the entire area a single biogeographical region, endemism for plants and many other groups may well exceed 80%. New species are still being discovered at a rapid rate in the Eastern Himalaya. A recent report from WWF records the discovery of 353 new species of plants and animals in the region between 1998 and 2008, including new species of birds, frogs and mammals. Many remote ecosystems have never yet been fully surveyed. The state of Arunachal Pradesh is regarded as one of the richest places on earth, but has barely

been explored. Other such regions include areas on both sides of the borders of Myanmar. Earning the designation ‘biodiversity hotspot’ lends a certain notoriety. Richness and uniqueness (or endemism) of biodiversity are two criteria for declaring an area a biodiversity hotspot. Another indicator is an unusually high rate of habitat degradation. Biodiversity hotspots are defined as having lost 90% or more of their original habitat. Thus in the sections to follow, as we celebrate the spectacular richness of life in these mountains, we also point to ways to nurture and sustain this precious heritage into the future.

Khonsa District, Arunachal Pradesh

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Himalaya Mountains of Life