Pseudois nayaur

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
ANIMALIA CHORDATA MAMMALIA CETARTIODACTYLA BOVIDAE

Scientific Name: Pseudois nayaur
Species Authority: (Hodgson, 1833)
Common Name/s:
English Bharal, Blue Sheep
Taxonomic Notes: The assessment includes both P. n. nayaur and P. n. szechuanensis which are treated together, but does not include the Dwarf Blue Sheep, for which taxonomy is not completely resolved, and which is variously considered P. schaeferi (Wang 1998) or P. [nayaur] schaeferi (Shackleton 1997).

Some authorities recognize two subspecies, P. n. nayaur and P. n. szechuanensis, but the validity and geographic characteristics of these subspecies remains unclear.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor/s: Harris, R.B.
Reviewer/s: Harris, R. & Festa-Bianchet, M. (Caprinae Red List Authority)
Justification:
This species is listed as Least Concern in view of its wide distribution, presumed large population, and because any decline is probably much less than the rate required to qualify for listing in a more threatened category.
History:
2003 Least Concern (IUCN 2003)
2003 Least Concern

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:This species is found in Bhutan, China (Gansu, Ningxia-Inner Mongolia border, Qinghai, Sichuan, Tibet, southeastern Xinjiang, and northern Yunnan), northern India, northern Myanmar (Rabinowitz 1996), Nepal, and northern Pakistan. Some sources have stated the species exists in Tajikistan (Grubb 2005), but recent evidence for this is lacking.

This taxon remains fairly abundant in most of its principle range among the ranges of the Tibetan Plateau in China (Schaller 1998; Harris 2007). In China, its distribution runs from western Tibet south-western Xinjiang (Schaller 1987) where there are small populations in the mountains bordering the western edge of Aru Co, extending eastwards with in scattered populations throughout the autonomous region. It also occurs in southern Xinjiang, along the Kunlun Mountains and in the Arjin Mountains. It is present in most mountain ranges of western and southern Qinghai into eastern Sichuan and northwester Yunnan, as well as in the Qilian and associated ranges of Gansu. The eastern extent of its current distribution appears to be in the Helan Shan which form the western border of Ningxia Province (with Inner Mongolia).

It is found throughout northern Bhutan above 4,000 to 4,500 m asl. Blue sheep is fairly continuously distributed in the northern Himalayan and Trans-Himalayan regions of India, although the extent of its eastern distribution along the northern border of Arunachal Pradesh is still unknown. It is relatively common in many areas of eastern Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir), and in parts of Spiti and the upper Parbati valley in northern Himachal Pradesh (Fox et al. 1986; S. Pandey pers. comm.). Blue sheep are known to occur in the Govind Pashu Vihar Wildlife Sanctuary and Nanda Devi National Park, and near Badrinath (Uttar Pradesh), on the slopes of the Khangchendzonga massif (Sikkim), and in eastern Arunachal Pradesh. Very recently, blue sheep presence has been confirmed in the northwestern corner of Arunachal Pradesh near its border with Bhutan and China. In Nepal, it is fairly continuously distributed to the north of the Greater Himalaya from the border with India and Tibet in the extreme northwest, eastwards through Dolpo and Mustang to Gorkha district in north-central Nepal. It then re-occurs in Nepal in at least two isolated areas: in Lamobogar, and on the southwestern slopes of Kanchenjunga near the border with Sikkim (India) (Schaller 1977; Wegge 1991). These two are probably connected with more extensive populations across the border in Tibet.

Its main distribution range in Pakistan includes the upper Gujerab valley, the upper Shimshal valley, and the area eastward from Shimshal pass (District Gilgit), including part of Khunjerab NP (Schaller 1976; Roberts 1977; Rasool 1986; Wegge 1988, 1989; G. Tallone, in litt., 1993). Outside these areas there is a single, recent observation of one animal from Khunjerab pass (R. Hess, pers. obs., 1985). Earlier, Roberts (1977) mentioned its occurrence (with proof) around Shigar and the Baltoro glacier (District Baltistan), however, we have no actual information from this area. Roberts’ (1977) source for its occurrence in the Passu valley was a quote from Lydekker (1907) who mentioned “Hunza valley, near Passu”, but possibly meaning the Shimshal valley. David Mallon (pers. obs., in litt.) was unable to confirm the presence of the species in the Passu valley.

Grubb (2005) indicates that blue sheep can be found in Tajikistan, but documentation for this is not provided, and recent surveys of the Pamir area have failed to mention find evidence of occurrence in Tajikistan (Magomed et al. 2003, Schaller 2005, or neighboring regions of Taxkorgan County in Xinjiang, China (Schaller 2005) or Afghanistan (Schaller 2003). Maps of the species' distribution can be found in Shackleton (1997) and Schaller (1998).
Countries:
Native:
Bhutan; China; India; Myanmar; Nepal; Pakistan
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Range-wide population estimates are unavailable. Although not difficult to “count” once encountered, P. nayaur lives almost entirely in steep, mountainous terrain; it is also a relatively small-sized artiodactyl, with coloration that can make it very difficult to see unless observation conditions are excellent. It is probably absent from broad areas devoid of steep topography (e.g., basins). However, this does not necessarily mean populations are fragmented, because it appears to be present in virtually all appropriate mountainous terrain from the Qilian Mountains in the north to the Himalaya in the south.

In western China, P. nayaur was said to be “relatively abundant” (Shackleton 1997, Wang 1998), with various (questionable) local density estimates, and a total population greater than 10,000. The bulk of these 10,000 were an extrapolation for the Arjin Shan Nature Reserve, which is probably an overestimate. However, numerous areas within the current range were not included in this estimate, so the amount of 10,000 within the western portion of the Chinese range is not necessarily out of the question (Schaller 1998 guessed that at least 10,000 inhabited the Chang Tang Nature Reserve in western Tibet). Schaller (1998) cited an estimate by Pu (1993; not seen) of 34,500-49,600 in “western Tibet”, which includes but is larger than the Chang Tang Nature Reserve.

Further east within the Tibetan plateau, Wang (1998) cited a Chinese extrapolation of over 1,200,000 in Qinghai province (of which 267,000 were in “eastern” Qinghai), which is probably a considerable overestimate. Schaller (1998), in discussing the estimate by Pu (1993, see above), noted that it is likely that greater than 20-30% of the entire Chinese population lives east of “western Tibet”. If there are 30,000 – 50,000 in “western Tibet”, there may thus be roughly from 43,000 – 62,500 (using the derivation from Pu 1993), to 200,000 – 400,000 (using extrapolations from Wang 1998) within the entire Chinese portion of the Tibetan Plateau.

In the Helan Shan, Ren et al. (1999) and Lü et al. (2000) estimated roughly 5,000 to 9,000 blue sheep, but their extrapolations were based on non-randomly placed transects. Liu et al. (2005) have continued to monitor this population, which, regardless of methodological problems in estimating its size, is clearly dense and in no danger.

Most extrapolations of population size in China are based on insufficient justification, and should be viewed with caution. However, in marked contrast to other species, field investigations of subjective and anecdotal reports of P. nayaur invariably confirm the presence and general abundance of this species. Thus, although specific figures in Chinese literature may be inaccurate, all evidence suggests that P. nayaur is widespread and relatively abundant within appropriate habitats within Chinese portions of the Tibetan plateau.

Within India, Shackleton (1997) cites an estimate produced by Fox et al. (1991) of “a minimum of 11,000” within Ladakh. In Nepal, Shackleton (1997) reports a “conservative estimate of 10,000 animals”, although Schaller (1998) included a table suggesting 1,947-2,561 in areas counted within Nepal. In Pakistan, Shackleton writes that, “according to written reports [Wegge 1988, Rasool 1990], the species is not as rare as previously thought…the most recent estimates indicated between 2,000 and 2,500 animals in 1992.” No estimate is available for Bhutan.

Taken together, these estimates suggest total population sizes of from roughly 47,000 (almost certainly a very conservative estimate) to 414,000 (probably an overestimate).
Population Trend: Unknown

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Blue Sheep occupy a variety of habitats across the region. Blue Sheep inhabit open grassy slopes in high mountains from 2,500-5,500 m. They are usually found near cliffs and similar escape cover, but generally avoid entering forested areas (Schaller, 1977; the Helan Shan is a partial exception). This species is often able to maintain locally high densities in habitats otherwise inhospitable to other wild species. Often, these areas are close to (although generally at higher elevations, or in less productive habitats than) domestic livestock. They are very tolerant of environmental extremes from desert mountains in searing heat to windy and cold slopes (Schaller 1998). They feed on grass and alpine herbs and lichens and live in small to rather large herds, alternately resting and feeding on steep grassy slopes of alpine meadows. Sentinels watch out for snow leopards, their primary predator. Breeding season is during December-January, followed by a 160 day gestation. Single lambs (rarely twins) are born in early summer (mid-June in most of the Tibetan Plateau); weaning occurs in six months and young reach maturity 1.5 years.

Blue sheep are active throughout the day, feeding on lichens, herbaceous plants, and mosses. Females gestate for 160 days and give birth to one offspring per pregnancy. The animals are sexually mature at 1.5 years, though males are not fully sexually active until age 7. They can live 12-15 years, although animals of > 10 are rarely encountered. Blue sheep generally live in large groups. Males sometimes form all male herds, and sometimes mix with family aggregations. Small groups (e.g., < 5) are sometimes encountered, particularly where topography or vegetation is complex, but more often, blue sheep form larger groups. In Qinghai, groups of 80-100 are common, and occasionally groups of > 300 individuals have been observed.
Systems: Terrestrial

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Competition with livestock has been suggested and probably occurs (Shrestha et al. 2005), but in general, habitat loss due to livestock threat is minor, and P. nayaur can sustain a reasonably large population under current and likely future scenarios with regard to the livestock industry. This is because reasonably large populations of the species can be supported entirely within high elevation, steep, or excessively rough/rocky terrain that is used sparingly if at all by domestic livestock. Livestock does exist near P. nayaur subpopulations, and in specific situations there may be conflicts. However, in general, it appears that even relatively intensive livestock grazing does not prohibit healthy populations of P. nayaur. This is in marked contrast to livestock’s effect on some other wild species.

Because access to Pseudois nayaur habitat is usually difficult and individual body-size is relatively small, market-based poaching for meat appears to be rare, at least in the northern portions of the Tibetan plateau. Locally-based, subsistence poaching has occurred frequently in recent years, and no doubt continues. However, China has recently begun implementing a new policy of confiscating all guns from nomadic pastoralists, and observations during 1998-2002 in Gansu and Qinghai provinces corroborate this (R. Harris pers. obs.). Thus, local herders now have little technology with which to poach P. nayaur for meat. International (“trophy”) hunting for P. nayaur occurs, but only in 4-5 designated areas in China and Nepal (and possibly in Pakistan), and in numbers too small to have substantial population impacts. It seems most likely, therefore, that human use of P. nayaur has been decreasing in recent years.

Recently, an outbreak of sarcoptic mange was reported among P. nayaur in extreme northern Pakistan, and has markedly reduced abundance locally. This may yet be a cause for concern range-wide, but similar reports from elsewhere within the species’ range have not surfaced (Woodford 2003, 2005).

In Bhutan, the species is not in immediate danger and numbers seem to be increasing due to the expansion of grazing areas for domestic yaks. However, heavy grazing by both species is damaging the fragile, high alpine vegetation, so blue sheep population trends may be reversed in the near future.

In India the major threat is localized over-hunting, including that by the army in remote outposts. Within Nepal, although in some areas religious beliefs protect blue sheep from poaching, excessive competition from livestock grazing may cause habitat degradation in much of its natural range.

In Pakistan, limited range and low numbers make blue sheep vulnerable to poaching and habitat loss. When access to the Shimshal valley is opened by construction of a jeep road, the species will most probably come under increased hunting pressure.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: In China, Pseudois nayaur are present within a number of large protected areas the Chang Tang Nature Reserve (Schaller and Gu, 1994), Medoq, Qomolangma and Zayu Reserves (Tibet); the Arjin Mountain Reserve (Achuff and Petocz, 1988; Butler et al. 1986; Gu 1990) and Taxkorgan Reserve (Schaller, 1977; Xinjiang); Kekexili and Sanjiangyuan Nature Reserves in Qinghai; and Yanchiwan and Qilian Nature Reserves (western Gansu). Some of these protected areas truly limit human disturbance, some have been demarcated where human disturbance was already quite low (generally because inhospitable climate makes production for human purposes marginal at best); other protected area exist on paper only. Of note, however, is that, at least in China, P. nayaur appears able to persist at reasonable densities in the absence of protected areas. P. nayaur is categorized as a Class II protected species under China’s National Wildlife Law of 1988. Hunting of P. nayaur is legal only via permit obtained by provincial wildlife offices; in practice, such permits are provided only for foreign trophy hunters. Thus, hunting of P. nayaur is essentially illegal in China.

In Bhutan, blue sheep are known to occur in Jigme Dorji National Park. Conservation measures proposed by Wollenhaupt et al. (1989a) included, using input from local inhabitants, establishing integrated alpine forest and grassland reserves in high elevation areas where demand for domestic yak grazing is considerable and deforestation and degradation of alpine areas occur (Wollenhaupt, 1989a).

In India, blue sheep occur in several national parks and many other protected areas in northern India (Fox, 1987; Fox et al., 1986, 1991a; Gaston et al., 1981, 1983; Green, 1987b; Pandey, in prep.; Singh et al., 1990) including: Jammu and Kashmir - Hemis National Park and Sabu Chukor Wildlife Reserve; Himachal Pradesh - Great Himalayan and Pin Valley National Parks and Chital, Daranghati, Kais, Kanawar, Lippa Asrang, Rakshum, Rupi Bhaba, Sangla Valley (includes previous Rakcha-Chitkul WS), Sechu Tuan Nala, and Tirthan (locally threatened) Wildlife Sanctuaries; Uttar Pradesh - Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks, and Govind Pashu Vihar and Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuaries; Sikkim - Khangchendzonga National Park; and their unlikely presence in Namdapha National Park of northeastern Arunachal Pradesh needs to be checked. Conservation measures proposed for India: 1) Establish the proposed Changtang, Gya-Miru, Karakoram, and Lung Nag Wildlife Sanctuaries (Jammu and Kashmir), and the extensions to the Great Himalayan National Park and the proposed Srikhand National Park (Himachal Pradesh). 2) Determine if blue sheep occur along the northern border of Arunachal Pradesh. 3) Make the control of illegal hunting of this species the primary management priority to maintain viable populations under current land use regimes. 4) Monitor changes in livestock grazing practices that could affect competition with blue sheep.

In Nepal, blue sheep are found in Shey-Phoksundo National Park and in the Annapurna Conservation Area. It is the main big game species in the Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve. Conservation measures proposed for Nepal: 1) Maintain the current, closely controlled legal hunting program, and 2) consider a regulated program of sustainable, low-level subsistence hunting by local villagers in some areas. At the same time, 3) steps should be taken to halt or reverse the habitat destruction caused by livestock grazing in the blue sheep’s natural habitat.

Khunjerab National Park contains a large portion of Pakistan’s total population of blue sheep. It occurs in no other protected area. Conservation measures proposed for Pakistan: 1) Extend the boundaries of Khunjerab NP eastwards. 2) Address problems faced by local people whose livelihoods would be affected by this extension. The management plan originally proposed for Khunjerab NP did not do this, but this is necessary before its conservation recommendations can be implemented. The measures taken in the Bar valley project initiated by WWF-Pakistan and similar projects could serve as useful models. 3) Determine what detrimental influences the new road to Shimshal will have in the Park’s modified management plan.

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Citation: Harris, R.B. 2008. Pseudois nayaur. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 20 April 2014.
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