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The Eastern Himalayas faces a number of serious issues that threaten the environment, biodiversity and human livelihoods of the region.

The most significant of which are climate change, habitat loss, species loss, and infrastructure (development). As a consequence less than 25% of the Eastern Himalayas' natural habitat remains intact, with some 163 native species considered globally threatened.
Melting glacier, Gorek Shep, Everest region, Himalayas, Nepal. 
© WWF / Steve Morgan
Melting glacier, Gorek Shep, Everest region, Himalayas, Nepal.
© WWF / Steve Morgan
Climate Change

It is widely accepted that climate change is the main factor behind the accelerated glacier retreat observed in the Himalayas. The Eastern Himalayas have the largest concentration of glaciers outside the polar region, and hold vast stores of fresh water. Continued climate change is predicted to lead to major changes in freshwater flows, with dramatic impacts on biodiversity, people and their livelihoods.

Read more about Climate Change in the Himalayas >>


Climate change is already wreaking havoc in the Himalayas, and glaciers are in retreat across the range. This and many other climate change impacts are threatening not only the lives of people and rich biodiversity of the region, but also the development aspirations of hundreds of millions of people downstream.

James P. Leape, Director-General, WWF International

Habitat Loss

Conversion of forest to agriculture land and for development purposes, and the exploitation of forests for timber, fodder and fuel wood are some of the main threats to biodiversity in this region. Other threats include wood-charcoal production and intensive grazing. Many rural people depend on cattle for their livelihoods but do not have sufficient land holdings. It is not uncommon to see cows, water buffalo and goats grazing in forests, which can cause significant damage to natural ecosystems.

The use of wood collected from local forests for fuel poses a serious threat to the forests of the Himalayas.


Species Loss

Poaching is a major threat to wildlife in the region, especially endangered species like tigers, elephants and rhinos, which have a high commercial value on the black market. Killing wildlife also takes place as a result of human-wildlife conflict. Retaliation against tigers and snow leopards for killing livestock, and against elephants and rhinoceros for raiding crops, is prevalent and continues to intensify as humans and wildlife compete for land and other resources.

Confiscated rhinoceros horns, tiger skin and bones Chitwan National Park, Nepal.

© Jim Jabara / WWF

Infrastructure and Development
With development comes a greater demand for energy. The Eastern Himalayas relies on hyfdroelectric power, and the countires of the region are looking to take further advantage of this resource in the coming years. The creation of numerous dams without due environmental impact assessment could lead to the submergence of arable lands and biodiversity hotspots. Not only would valley habitats be inundated by the creation of reservoirs, but villagers would be displaced. The effect of dams on fisheries and fish ecology is also a matter of concern
Hydroelectric power stations, such as this one on the Danube River, generate energy that is renewable but not always sustainable.

© © Michel GUNTHER / WWF

Climate Summit for a Living Himalayas Bhutan 2011
© Climate Summit for a Living Himalayas Bhutan 2011 ©

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.