Summer on the Deosai Plateau and Wildlife We Encountered While Camping

This is a summary of our visit of the Deosai Plateau during the summer; the wildlife and scenery we experienced while camping and exploring the area.

The summer of 2022 was unusually dry on the Plateau. The Deosai summer, which is normally full of water with the carpet of alpine flowers in full bloom, this time was super dry and the plants were all the like their autumn colors. There was a lack of snowfall in the winter, earlier in the year, so it caused the high plains to be dry early on. In another blog, I will write about the impact of this big change on the Himalayan Brown Bears.

Past articles about the Deosai

The Deosai Plateau on a sunny day is remarkable, with crystal clear rivers, wetlands and mountains inviting you to stay.

The Long-tailed Marmot(or Golden Marmot). These are the same species as the marmots we see near the Khunjerab Pass, but will have a more muted coloration. (The Khunjerab Pass marmots really live up to their names as the “Golden” marmot!)

A male Citrine Wagtail. So striking in the breeding season! Breeding in the thickets along the river, we saw them carrying beaks full of insects to their chicks in the mornings and evenings.

The male Horned Lark who was busy feeding their chicks as well. I was there in mid-July, which seemed to be the season for fledging. It was nerve-wracking to see the baby birds that could not fly so well, as they were so close to the roadway.

Robin Accentor

The Robin Accentor. I didn’t really see it near the campsite, but we saw it while observing the livestock grazing in the Shatung area. In Pakistan, this bird can only usually be seen in a limited area from the Deosai Plateau to the northern area.

We walked every day in search of the Himalayan Brown Bear. Due to the exceptionally dry weather this summer, the brown bears were not in the areas where they are usually seen. There were days when we couldn’t find them, even though we looked all day, into the evening.

After days of walking, there was a big bear cub. It may have had a mother bear nearby, or maybe it was recently independent.

There was another huge Himalayan Brown Bear engrossed in eating grass. Thanks to the wind direction, I was able to get even closer to observe it.

When I returned to the campsite, we had large trout waiting for us (note: it was caught by the staff with a proper permit from the national park). The Deosai Plateau contains both native and exotic trout released for fishing by the British during the colonial period. I don’t know which one this is, but it seems the native trout is a very rare species called an “Indus Snow Trout.”

Seeing trout makes me a little thirsty for Beer. We had a toast with Pakistani beer, Murree Beer (Caution: the altitude is 4,000m, so don’t try it). This can is the Murree Brewery’s Millennium Beer, which I personally think is the most delicious beer. It is the British Colonial legacy that I appreciate the most.

The starry sky of the Deosai Plateau. I really recommend taking photos of the dark skies of the Deosai Plateau.

Himalayan Brown Bear

A brown bear came to our campsite…it was attracted to the garbage, looking for food and is seems it comes often. It was clearly visible in the camera traps.Due to the abnormally dry weather this year, it was difficult to see the brown bears and so few flowers were blooming on the plateau. I just pray that the abnormal weather will not upset the ecology of this special place.

 

Images & text: Mariko SAWADA

Observation: JUL 2022, Deosai National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

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YouTube : Himalayan Brown Bear in Autumn

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Himalayan Brown Bear > - Deosai National Park > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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Searching for Himalayan Brown Bears in the Deosai Plateau in the Summertime

In the summer of 2022, finding Himalayan brown bears to observe was quite a struggle. The National Park Staff and I, searched, and wondered why they weren’t in the places we usually see them.

The first reason that came to my mind was the “increasing number of tourists.” but it’s not something that has happened just in this one year. Second, the nomadic people came to the Deosai Plateau brought their livestock into the brown bear area. Definitely, their presence has a certain impact. However, we could not even find the bears in the core zones…so I suppose the main reason for the lack of bears might be the ‘dryness’ due to the exceptionally low amount of snowfall this winter. The grasses, which are the favorite food of the bears, has not grown in the usual areas, so the National Park staff are guessing that the bears have moved to different areas in search of better food sources.

Unfortunately, there is very little research that has been done on the Himalayan brown bears. To be honest, even the published population estimates are not very accurate.

The easiest place to see bears is the “Watching Point” which is just behind the Barapani National Park Station. If you have any luck, you will get to see a mother and cubs feeding on the hill nearby. However due to the distance, make sure to bring good binoculars or have a scope with you.

This time, during our visit, we could walk to 4 different areas in search of the bears. While walking, we could see Nanga Parbat (8,126m), the 9th tallest peak in the world, from various places around the Deosai Plateau.

 

This is a temporary hollow used by the brown bears to sleep. There are two indentions, one big one and one small one. Looks like it was used by a mother and her cub.

We also found lots of feces, large piles (mother bear) and smaller ones (cub). However, according to the national park staff, the newest one was already 3-4 days old and we didn’t find any fresh droppings. So most likely, the mother and cub has moved on to a new place already.

We scanned the core zone. Finally, we happened upon a Himalayan brown bear.

It was a very young bear!

It must have smelled us, so it stood up and started looking around for us.

It has become aware of our presence. As soon as it confirmed our presence, it put as much distance as it could from us.

It ran across the meadow until it disappeared. It is quite a young bear, so perhaps the mother was still nearby, or maybe it had just become newly independent. I pray that this little one can grow up safely.

A different, bear, this one a large one and totally engaged in eating the grass.

It was so absorbed in eating, that it hardly looked up at all. While eating, we moved closer and we gradually closed the distance. The wind direction was right, taking our smell away from the bear, and it was our chance.

We got lots of photographs.

The bear never realized we were there, and just kept eating. Surrounded by the alpine plants, I was able to enjoy the sights of a bear preying on insects in the grass, observing the natural behavior.

I have tried observing the brown bears several times before, but this time compared to in the past, we had a hard time finding them and had to walk long distances. The impact of the extreme weather on the Deosai Plateau and the effect it has on the brown bear was quite terrifying.

The Deosai Plateau, which is usually covered in lush greenery and alpine flowers, but this summer was so dry. The scene of so many tourist cars driving through the Plateau and the clouds of dust behind the vehicles made me fearful that one day, Deosai could turn into a desert.

 

Image & Text : Mariko SAWADA

Observation : JUL 2022, Deosai National park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Visit our web site “Wildlife of Pakistan

YouTube : Himalayan Brown Bear in Autumn

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Himalayan Brown Bear > - Deosai National Park
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Snow Leopard After The Hunt

Abul was scanning the mountains for the snow leopard that he had just heard. He quickly came back and told us “Congratulations!” Through his binoculars, he could find the snow leopard, sitting with a freshly caught ibex (with its head cracked, at that!) and the snow leopard had a hurt eye. It was such an exciting moment!

Youtube “Snow Leopard after the hunt”

Article related “Snow Leopard”      Feature “Widlife of Pakistan”

The two were just under a steep cliff dropoff, suggesting that they had both had a fall from a considerable height, which had been enough force to crack the head of the ibex open. There were signs of the ibex then being dragged to the hollow of this rock, were the snow leopard was now sitting.

Sadly, one of the eyes of the snow leopard was quite swollen and seemed to be impaired now, showing that the ibex was not the only one who suffered terribly from this incident. Abul began to voice his concerns that perhaps it was a serious injury that might prevent the leopard from being able to hunt in the future, spelling out its death. Not only thinking about the pain it must be in, but also it was quite heartbreaking to think that it might not survive for very long after this…

This is the moment I realized we were witnessing just how harsh the reality is for a wild carnivore.

Having said that, the sleeping snow leopard, then just showed off their cat-like expressions.

Tired from hunting + having a full tummy = a great sleep!

It seemed to have zero concerns that we were there watching it.

We were watching it through the spotting scope and getting photos/videos. I attached my iPhone to the Kowa scope (TSN-663) that I recently purchased this spring.

Those toe beans…

It was quite a large cat.

The snow leopard’s grey eyes that opened with a start.

After this, the snow leopard got up and went towards the back of the rock hollow. It really broke my heart to see its appearance, apparently quite injured, as it could hardly walk.

 

Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA

Observation :Apr 2022, KVO conservation area, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan

*Contact us, Indus Caravan for more information or to make arrangements for observing wildlife of Pakistan.

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - the Karakoram Highway > - Snow Leopard > - Gojar
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(Movie) Himalayan Ibex Fighting For Dominance

Normally the peak of the Ibex rutting season is in December to January, and that is when you would expect to see them battling it out for dominance with the sounds of antlers clashing. However, this time, we found a group of them challenging each other, on a snowy spring April day, using the rocky outcrop as their stage.

Himalayn Ibex fighting for the dominance

From Dec 2021 to Feb 2022, there was some unfortunate illegal hunting that took place in Khunjerab National Park, resulting in the loss of a significant number of Ibex. Up to now, trophy hunting had been tightly controlled by national parks managed and the KVO community management system. But now the carefully managed Ibex population, which had been recovering, due to the heartless actions of people who are willing to cheat the system, has started to dwindle again. This in turn, affects the snow leopards, which forces them to start hunting among the villagers’ livestock for food. This causes the human-wildlife conflict issues to escalate in the harsh winter.

By the time we arrived, the case had already been resolved by the person in charge, but the lasting impact on the wildlife populations and people who live with them, will not be restored so quickly. Now we need to worry about the situation for next winter, as well.

 

Image & text : Mariko SAWADA

Observation : Apr 2022, Khunjerab National Park

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Ibex > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan > - Khunjerab National Park
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The Himalayan Brown Bear Before Hibernating: The Deosai Plateau in October

I photographed this Himalayan brown bear in mid-October on the Deosai Plateau. Once October rolls around, the snowy season comes to the grasslands. With the first snowfall, the wild animals are signaled that winter has arrived and their preparations hasten. For example, the long-tailed marmots will surprisingly, all start hibernating at the same time! Just until yesterday, they were out, basking in the sun, but I didn’t see any of them today at all!

This is the wintery scene of the Deosai, near the Barapani camp. According to the National Park staff, the Himalayan brown bears will prey on the long-tailed marmots especially in month of September because they are plump with their winter fat by this time. All the animals are preparing for the long hibernation. Once the marmots stop emerging and enter their hibernation period, the bears will also move from the highlands of about 4,200m (about 13,780ft) to a slightly lower altitude valleys for their own hibernation.

We could see the Himalayan brown bears near the road around Barapani camp!

↓↓↓ A video of the Himalayan brown bears!

Himalayan Brown Bear in Autumn|デオサイ高原のヒマラヤヒグマ

The bears get so large and plump just before hibernating. Just looking at them, fills me with happiness.

This bear has found a comfy spot to sit in the grassland.

The surrounding mountains are already covered in snow. According to our Park staff, it will probably be the last time we will see the brown bears on the Plateau, until next summer.

After the second snow, the Park staff also packed up their base camps and headed back to Skardu. The sheep and goat herders have already descended into the Valley, and winter on the Deosai plateau is setting in.

The long-tailed marmots will hibernate, but the red fox stays active in order to survive the long winter. Even long after the people have gone, I have still seen foxes along the road during our visits.

The number of domestic Pakistani tourists that come to Deosai National Park is increasing and the management of garbage disposal at the campsites is becoming problematic. In 2018 there was a very shocking report that 80% of the content in the bear droppings was plastic. After that, it was reported that the staff of the Park started to make efforts to do cleanups once a week. In addition, it is common to see brown bears in the campsite’s trash areas, so taking more proactive countermeasures is needed.

This awareness sign about the problem has a photo of the bear taken in the summer time. Even in the summer, it is looking so fluffy!

 

Image  & Text : Mariko SAWADA

Observation : Oct 2021, Deosai National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

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(Tour Vlog) Snow Leopard Spring Expedition 2021

This is the Vlog for the Snow Leopard Spring Expedition, April, when we had a great sighting of a snow leopard. We were on the recently melted snowy slopes near the Khunjerab Pass there the animals waking up from their long hibernation appeared. There were long-tailed marmots, along with predators like red foxes and the birds of prey from above, as well as herds of yak moving north, making their way to the highlands…and of course, the snow leopards. It is such an irresistible season for wildlife lovers.

 

Tour Vlog SNOW LEOPARD EXPEDITION SPRING2021

 

Considering all the hardships we have faced so far, I was filled with gratitude for this tour.

 

Videography: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: April 2021, Khunjerab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Snow Leopard > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan > - Khunjerab National Park
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Long-Tailed Marmot in the Summer (Deosai National Park)

The Long-tailed Marmot observed on the Deosai National Plateau in the summertime. The Plateau, designated a National Park in 1993, has an average altitude of 4,100 m (about 14,450 ft high) near the boarder of India and northern Pakistan.

In the last few years, the number of Pakistani domestic tourists visiting the Park increased drastically, and despite being a National Park, the tourists having bad manners, became difficult to manage. There is a great concern about the impacts the tourism has on the natural environment.
At the campsite, there are parties and lots of tourists making noise, so for those who came to seek nature, its well known that the camping areas are a tough place to be. Besides that, there are the native wild animals who are trying to make the most of the short season of “Summer on the Deosai Plateau” as well.

When you camp at the Deosai Plateau, you will get to see this marmot around. These are the same marmots that can be found on the Pamir Mountains of Central Asia, called the Long-tailed Marmot or Golden Marmot.

The marmots often check for danger, as they stand up on their back legs near their burrows and carefully monitor the situation; when needed they sound an alarm call “Kii-Kii!” Of course, they will make calls for people who venture too close, but they are mainly on the lookout for the foxes and birds of prey above who often target the marmots.
Ranging from altitudes of 3,200m to up to 5,000m, the marmots live in very large colonies, digging burrows into the alpine plain grasses and among the rocks. Being monogamous, it is said that the marmots are highly social animals with a complex society.

They often stand next to the opening, always ready to duck into their protective cavity. This burrow is used for hibernation.

I stood watching the colony near the road for a very long time. Eventually, the marmot families relaxed a little and the babies began to come out.

A mother and her pup came out of the burrow. The pups will spend the first 6 weeks of their life in the burrow and then start to venture out.

They are so, so cute.

The pup plays with the momma.

One more pup came out. Long-tailed Marmots will give birth to about 4 pups at a time, but only about half of them can survive the first summer, and many are lost during the first hibernation. While observing them, I could see the little heads of many pups in this colony.

The snows begin in October on the Deosai Plateau. In previous visits to Deosai, I saw the marmots were still active in the first week of October. They will probably enter hibernation around November, and I hope these little guys make it through the winter!

 

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA

Observation : Jul 2017, Deosai National Park, Gilgit -Baltistan

Special Thanks  : The late Mr.Zahoor Salmi,  Deosai National Park

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Deosai National Park > - Marmot > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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SNOW LEOPARD EXPEDITION VOL.04 (Khunjerab National Park)

This is a continuation of our morning sighting of the snow leopard mother and cubs, as we followed them for the day.

When we first saw the leopard family, they had been feeding on the ibex that the mom probably killed for breakfast until we disturbed them. Then we could find them again on the nearby mountain slope, not far from their prey. At first, they were laying on the slope, but then as the day got hotter, they moved around into different spots of grass and then, into the shade of the rocks. They did not spend the entire day sleeping, but instead I could sense that they were struggling to find a cool spot to rest.

The video below, of the leopards below was taken during the day, very far away from them.

Snow leopards during the daytime

Then, finally, came the long-awaited for sunset. At first, the family of three were staying in the same place, but by the time evening fell, they went their separate ways. The mother snow leopard began walking towards the leftover ibex that was killed that morning!

Snow leopard at dusk

It looked like the mother snow leopard was telling us “Hurry up and go!” as she was just out of reach from her precious kill. The cubs looked on at the scene, from the rocks above. As darkness fell, their time begins again.

It was an amazing opportunity to be able to spend the whole day watching snow leopards.

 

Videography & text :Mariko SAWADA

Observation : April 2021, Khunejrab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Snow Leopard > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan > - Khunjerab National Park
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SNOW LEOPARD EXPEDITION VOL.03 (Khunjerab National Park)

This is a report from the Spring Snow Leopard Expedition. The event happened when we only had two more days left in the trip. While driving through Khunjerab National Park, we saw snow leopards at a very close proximity. It was a mother with 2 cubs as they were feeding on an ibex carcass.

Of course, the snow leopard mother and cubs were surprised by our appearance, and scampered to the edges of the cliff. The encounter lasted for about 3 minutes, and we were all silent, with just the sounds of the clicks of our cameras making noise.

 

Snow leopards sighted from the Karakoram highway

After they disappeared over the ridge, we decided to continue to look for them for the rest of the day, adjusting our location to see if we could see them from a different angle.

 

Videography & text :Mariko SAWADA

Observation : April 2021, Khunejrab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Snow Leopard > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan > - Khunjerab National Park
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SNOW LEOPARD EXPEDITION VOL.02 (Khunjerab National Park)

We had an encounter with a sweet pair of snow leopards at an altitude of 4,500m near the Kunjerab Pass. I am certain for this time of year, it probably isn’t a mating pair but maybe a a two-year old child and its mother.

We were observing and shooting photos from a distance of about 1 km away, so thanks to the long-distance sighting, we were able to see them in their full natural behavior.

 

Snow leopards Khunjerab national park top area 1

 

Snow leopards Khunjerab national park top area 2

 

Photo & text :Mariko SAWADA

Observation : April 2021, Khunejrab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Snow Leopard > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan > - Khunjerab National Park
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