Species

The Eastern Himalayas is a region that harbours thousands of different species, including over 10,000 plants, 900 species of bird, and 300 species of mammal. Many of which are endangered or critically endangered.
Its grasslands are home to the densest populations of Bengal tigers, Asian elephants, and one-horned rhino. Its mountains offer refuge to snow leopards, red pandas, takins, Himalayan black bears, and golden langurs, and its rivers contain the world's rarest dolphins (Gangetic). It is also one of only 2 places remaining globally where elephants, tigers, and rhinos co-exist.
 / ©: WWF / Seth JACKSON
© WWF / Seth JACKSON
There are 643 species of butterfly found in Nepal alone. The great diversity relates to the incredible bioclimatic variation of the Himalayan region; from tropical and subtropical, to tundra and arctic.

Priority species

WWF focuses conservation efforts on priority species that are especially important, either for their ecosystem...

* Species forming a key element of the food chain
* Species which help the stability or regeneration of habitats
* Species demonstrating broader conservation needs

...or for people

* Species important for the health and livelihoods of local communities
* Species exploited commercially
* Species that are important cultural icons.

In the Eastern Himalayas 163 species are considered threatened, of which 19 mammal, 28 bird, 17 reptile, and 12 amphibian species are considered priority species.

Most threatened

Front cover of the report / ©: WWF
The Eastern Himalayas - New Species Discoveries - Living Himalayas Initiative - Where Worlds Collide
© WWF
Many species are at risk of extinction in the Himalayas, but new species are also being discovered. The bioclimatic diversity of the region, combined with the remoteness of many of its peaks and valleys means that new species are being discovered every year. Since 1998 over 350 new species have been recorded in the region.
 / ©: Martin Harvey / WWF-Canon
Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris)
© Martin Harvey / WWF-Canon

Greater one-horned Rhino

 / ©: Vivek Raj Maurya
Chitwan National Park is home to the second largest population of greater one horned rhinoceros.
© Vivek Raj Maurya
Once found across the entire northern part of the Indian sub-continent, the greater one-horned rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis) is the largest of all rhino species. Today, there are fewer than 2,800 left in the wild, with significant populations in Chitwan National Park in Nepal and Kaziranga National Park in India. However, many Protected Areas are surrounded by dense human populations who are encroaching on the rhino’s habitat. To conserve this species in the Eastern Himalayas, WWF is working to strengthen anti-poaching efforts and Protected Area management; create additional populations through translocations; and assist local communities to benefit economically from the presence of rhinos.
 / ©: WWF / Christy Williams
The greater one-horned rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis) is a conservation success story. With WWF's help the species has been saved from extinction. However, the species still faces the ever-present threat of poaching for its horn.
© WWF / Christy Williams
The greater one-horned rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis) is a conservation success story. With WWF's help the species has been brought back from the brink of extinction. However, the species still faces the ever-present threat of poaching for its horn.

Asian elephant

 / ©: WWF-Canon / A. Christy Williams
Habitat loss and fragmentation are threatening the future of elephants in India. Rajaji National Park, north India.
© WWF-Canon / A. Christy Williams
The Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) is considered a sacred species, revered for its role in Asian culture and religion. But with more than 20% of the world’s human population living in or near Asian elephant habitat, there are constant threats to its esteemed status. Major threats to the Asian elephant today are the loss, degradation or fragmentation of their habitat due to agriculture, infrastructure development and human settlement. It means that when elephants try to follow traditional migration corridors or find food, they may instead encounter roads, fields of crops and villages. This leads to increasing conflict between people and elephants, which can be fatal for both sides – scores of people and elephants are killed every year. Elephants in this region have also been killed for its prized tusks, that the adult males posses. In the Eastern Himalayas, WWF is working to restore and/or secure biological corridors - so that large animals such as elephants can access their migratory routes - along with community based management of human elephant conflict, and also working with partners to curb poaching of elephants.
 / ©: WWF Living Himalayas
Reducing Human-wildlife Conflict in the Eastern Himalayas Factsheet
© WWF Living Himalayas

Takin

 / ©: WWF Bhutan - Kimberlee ADOLPH
Bhutanese Takin finding refuge in a WWF funded nature reserve
© WWF Bhutan - Kimberlee ADOLPH
The Takin is listed as a vulnerable species of goat-antelope, found in the high altitude alpine meadows of Bhutan, India, and China (>3,700m). These meadows provide rich grazing ground, and males of the species can weigh as much as 1 tonne. These high altitude habitats also provide domesticated yak herders with a vital source of feed, and in recent years herd numbers have increased, competition for space has intensified, and many areas have become overgrazed. This has led to the once species-rich alpine meadows becoming dominated by a few species of unpalatable shrubs; threatening the survival of the Takin. WWF hopes to reverse this trend by engaging local communities in natural resource management. Providing community groups with the ability to promote and adopt sustainable grazing practices; reducing grazing pressure, and increasing natural regeneration.

The Legend

Legend has it that when Lama Drukpa Kunley (‘The Divine Madman’) visited Bhutan in the 15th century, hundreds of people gathered to witness his powers. On being urged to perform, the saint demanded that he first be served an entire cow and a whole goat for lunch. These were produced, and he promptly set about devouring the animals; leaving only the bones. After a loud burp, he picked up the skull of the goat and stuck it onto the skeleton of the cow. Then; with a snap of his fingers he commanded the bones to “rise-up and graze on the mountainside”. To the audiences amazement the beast obeyed and ran off into the meadows to feed. This animal became known as dong gyem tsey (the Takin: the nation animal of Bhutan).

Red Panda

 / ©: WWF-Germany / Peter PROKOSCH
Red Panda
© WWF-Germany / Peter PROKOSCH
Eastern Himalayas comprises almost 50% of red panda’s (Ailurus fulgens) habtiat, and it is iconic with this region. Occurring mostly in the temperate forests and also sometimes in the sub-tropical forests in Bhutan, India and Nepal within the Eastern Himalayas, this species also has its range extended into China and Myanmar. This species is presently threatened due to poaching, and habitat destruction and degradation. Red panda is presently confined in patches within this region, and needs urgent attention of the national and provincial governments, conservation organisations and local communities for its long term survival. WWF has been working with its partners to conserve this species and their habitat through a plethora of activities in the three countries within Eastern Himalayas.
 / ©: WWF Living Himalayas
Eastern Himalayas Factsheet
© WWF Living Himalayas

Tiger

 / ©: WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY
Indian tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) two month old cub
© WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY
The Eastern Himalayas is home to a significant population of tigers (Panthera tigris tigris). Found in the Terai-Duar grasslands of the Himalayan foothills and the temperate forests of Bhutan, this once contiguous population of tigers is becoming more fragmented due to growing threats. Increasing human pressure is pushing into the tigers’ natural habitat and causing human-tiger conflicts. The creation of Tiger Reserves throughout the region has helped to stabilize numbers but poaching in recent years has once again put the tiger at risk. WWF has been working with the respective governments and local partners in the Eastern Himalayas to strengthen anti-poaching efforts and to reduce threats to its habitat. WWF is also working in India to monitor the status of tiger in some of its key ranges.
 / ©: WWF Living Himalayas
Species Conservation in the Eastern Himalayas
© WWF Living Himalayas

Snow Leopard

 / ©: WWF / KLEIN & HUBERT
Snow leopard (Uncia uncia), one of the many species that comes into conflict with humans.
© WWF / KLEIN & HUBERT
Living at elevations between 3,000-5,500m in the high mountains of the Eastern Himalayas, the snow leopard (Panthera uncia) remains elusive. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the population estimates at 200-600 in India, 300-400 in Nepal and 100-200 in Bhutan. The main threats to the snow leopard’s survival are loss of habitat and prey, poaching and human-wildlife conflict. WWF is researching and protecting this Endangered species by working with partners and local communities to stop the illegal trade in cat skins, creating anti-poaching activities, establishing innovative relief funds and reducing pressures on the snow leopard’s habitat.
 / ©: WWF Living Himalayas
Snow Leopards of the Himalayas Factsheet
© WWF Living Himalayas
  •  / ©: bhutanclimatesummit.org.bt

WWF Goals

    • Climate change adaptation and biodiversity conservation will be mainstreamed into the management of river systems.
    • A mosaic of over 7 million hectares of high conservation value forest, grassland and wetland will be secured, connecting 1,500 km of conservation area.
    • Viable populations of iconic and threatened species will be secured and will live in harmony with human communities.

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