As one might expect, due to habitat degeneration, opportunities for seeing wildlife are usually restricted to national parks, reserves and sparsely populated western Nepal. Wildlife numbers have also been thinned due to poaching for pelts or other parts that are considered to be delicacies or medicinally valuable. In addition, animals are hunted because of the damage they inflict on crops and domestic animals.
Tigers, rhinos and elephants prefer the hot, humid, and fertile Terai grasslands. A visit to one of the Terai’s National Park such as Chitwan National Park is a must for wildlife enthusiastics.
The larger animals of the Himalaya are usually rear, sparsely distributed and exceedingly timid, making them difficult to observe. However, a mountain trek will reward you with plenty of sightings of colourful and interesting smaller creatures.
The two species of monkey found in Nepal are the Rhesus Macaque and the common or Hanuman Langur. The rhesus is earth-coloured with pink face and a short tail and travels on the ground in large, structured troops, unafraid of humans. Occasionally, while on the fours in the shadow of the tree, this monkey can be mistaken for a leopard. The Langur is arboreal, with a black face, grey fur, and long limbs and tail. The Rhesus ranges from the Terai up to 2400m, while the Langur goes higher, up to 3700m.
Because of hanuman, the monkey god in the Hindu epic the Ramayana, both species are considered holy and are well protected. At the Swayambhunath and Pashupatinath temples in the Kathmandu valley, rhesus macaques take advantage of their holy status and relieve worshippers of their picnic lunches and consecrated food.
Bears and Dogs
The Himalayan Black Bear is omnivorous and a bane to corn crops. Although it rarely attacks humans, its poor eyesight may lead it to interpret a standing person as making a threatening gesture and cause it to attack. If so, the best defence is not to run, but to lie face down on the ground-particularly effective when one is wearing a backpack. Nepal’s bears are known to roam in winter instead of hibernating.
The Golden Jackal found from the Terai to alpine regions. It is both a hunter and scavenger, and will take chickens and raid crops.
The larger Dhole or Wild Dog has a reddish coat and a dark, bushy tail. It hunts in family groups or larger packs.
The Wolf, a larger canine than the dhole, has a thick coat and bushy tail and is known to roam to heights of around 6000m. Its movements generally follow those of wandering game and grazing herds, but it will also prey on domestic livestock.
Nepal boasts several species of deer, but most of them are confined to the lowlands. The Muntjak, or Barking Deer, which usually makes its presence known by its sharp, one-note alarm call, is found at elevation up to 2400m. The unusual Musk Deer with antelope-like feature and only 50cm high at the shoulder ranges higher, to over 4000m. The male is not only hornless but as oversized canine teeth that protrude from the mouth. The male’s musk gland is found in the abdomen; its value to humankind has accelerated its demise.
The Spotted or Common Leopard is found up to the tree line. Contrasting coat markings allow the leopard to stalk its prey without being noticed, before suddenly pouncing. Melanic or Black Forms, sometimes called Panthers, occur rarely. The leopard is an agile climber that will drag its prey high up a tree to avoid scavengers such as jackels. Deforestation has severely encroached on the habitat of the leaped and its prey species.
The Snow Leopard is found in the forest habitat above 3000m in the alpine pastures above the tree line, more often in the trans-Himalayan areas. Its territory depends upon the ranges of ungulate herds, its prey species. Its thick silver-grey coat blends superbly with the muted alpine colours of scree, rock and low vegetation, while the 1m-long tail helps keep the resting cat warm. Packs of wolves compete directly with the snow leopard and when territories overlap, the solitary snow leapord will be displaced.
There are several smaller carnivores found in the Himalaya, which include the Mustelids, or Weasels and Martens. They feed on various smaller mammals, birds, eggs and even insects. The Yellow Throated Marten is found in the subtropical and temperate forests and displays great agility when carvoting among treetops, where it is most visible.
Goats and Sheep
Two even-toed hoofed mammals are found in the alpine regions. They are the Himalayan Thar, a near-true goat, and the Blue Sheep, which is genetically stranded somewhere between goats and sheep. Both of these ungulates can be found in the same lpcale, generally high above the tree line.
The Thar prefers habitats in the vicinity of precipitous cliffs, while the blue sheep likes scree slopes and plateaus of high pasture.
The blue sheep, Bharal in Nepali has horn like a sheep, except they are not as long, curved or swept back. This beast is referreed to as ‘blue’ due to the slaty blue-grey colour of its winter coat. Look for these anmals in the rain-shadow areas of Dolpa, where they are common, and also Manang and Mustang.
The Thar, although known to be found in the Dolpo region, is more readily seen around khumbu and the annapurna Sanctuary.
The Pika or Mouse-hare, is the common guinea pig-like mammal seen in the inner valleys, often seen scurrying nervously between rocks.
The Himalayan Marmot of western Nepal is a large rodent that commonly dwells in the trans-Himalaya zone. The Marmot is also found in Sikkim and Bhutan, but not in eastern Nepal; such gaps in speciation are not uncommon across the Himalaya.