Saturday, July 15, 2023

Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary

Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary UPSC

Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary (Changthang Cold Desert Wildlife Sanctuary) is a high altitude wildlife sanctuary located in the union territory of Ladakh, India. It spans across an expansive high-altitude plateau in the eastern Ladakh region, covering an area of approximately 4,000 square kilometers.

The sanctuary is known for its unique and diverse ecosystem, which includes high-altitude desert, grasslands, and several lakes. It is situated at an average altitude of around 4,500 meters above sea level, making it one of the highest wildlife sanctuaries in the world.

Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary is home to various species of wildlife that have adapted to the harsh conditions of the region. Some of the notable wildlife species found in the sanctuary include Tibetan antelope (chiru), Tibetan wild ass (kiang), Tibetan gazelle, Tibetan wolf, snow leopard, and several species of migratory birds.

The sanctuary is an important habitat for the endangered Tibetan antelope, which is prized for its fine wool known as shahtoosh. Efforts have been made to protect the Tibetan antelope and combat illegal wildlife trade in the area.

The Changthang region is also culturally significant, with many nomadic communities like the Changpa herders living in the area. These herders rely on traditional practices such as animal husbandry and yak rearing for their livelihood. The Korzok Monastery located in this sanctuary is a major tourist attraction.

Table of Contents

  • Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary Location
  • Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary History
  • Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary Area
  • Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary Plateau
    • Changthang Plateau
  • Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary Lake
    • Pangong Tso
    • Tso Moriri
    • Tso Kar
  • Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary Tribe
    • Changpa
  • Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary Flora
  • Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary Fauna
    • Mammals
    • Birds
    • Reptile
  • Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary Dark Sky Reserve
  • Korzok Monastery
  • Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary UPSC Questions

Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary Location

Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary is located on the Changthang plateau in Leh district of Ladakh, India. It is situated in the eastern part of Ladakh and extends to Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri and Tso Kar Lake.

Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary Nearest Airport:

The nearest airport to Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary is the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport in Leh, Ladakh. It is located approximately 200 kilometers away from the sanctuary. The airport is well-connected to major cities in India, including Delhi, Srinagar, and Jammu, with regular flights operating to and from Leh.

Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary Nearest Railway Station:

Regarding the nearest railway station, the region of Ladakh does not have a railway network. The closest major railway station is the Jammu Tawi Railway Station, located in Jammu city, Jammu and Kashmir. From Jammu, one can travel to Leh by road or choose to fly to Leh from Jammu. The distance from Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary to Jammu Tawi Railway Station is approximately 480 kilometers by road. 

Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary History

The Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary has a rich history that is closely intertwined with the cultural and ecological heritage of the region. Here are some key aspects of its history:

Traditional Land of the Changpa Nomads: The Changthang plateau has been inhabited by the Changpa nomadic communities for centuries. The Changpas are traditional herders who rely on animal husbandry, primarily rearing yaks, sheep, and goats, for their livelihood. They have a deep connection with the land and have practiced sustainable herding practices for generations.

Cultural Significance: The Changthang region, including the wildlife sanctuary, holds immense cultural significance. It is home to several monasteries, including the Korzok Monastery, which is an important spiritual center for the local communities. The traditional lifestyle and cultural practices of the Changpa nomads contribute to the cultural heritage of the area.

Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary Established: The Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary was officially designated as a protected area in 1987. This step was taken to conserve the unique flora, fauna, and the ecological balance of the region.

Recognition as a Ramsar Site: Tso Kar, one of the lakes within the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary, was designated as a Ramsar site in 2020. Ramsar sites are wetlands of international importance recognized for their ecological significance. Tso Kar is an important breeding ground for several bird species and supports a unique wetland ecosystem.

Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary Area

The Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary is spread over a vast area, covering approximately 4,000 square kilometers. It encompasses the Changthang plateau, which is situated in the eastern part of Ladakh.

This expansive sanctuary extends across the Rupshu and Chushul valleys, and it includes several lakes such as Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri, and Tso Kar within its boundaries. The sanctuary is characterized by its high-altitude desert, grasslands, and diverse wildlife habitats.

The large area of the sanctuary allows for the preservation and conservation of the unique ecosystems and biodiversity found in the region. It offers visitors an opportunity to witness the stunning landscapes and experience the rich wildlife and cultural heritage of the Changthang plateau.

Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary Plateau

The Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary is situated on the Changthang plateau, which is a high-altitude plateau located in the eastern part of Ladakh. The plateau is a vast and expansive region characterized by its unique geographical features and extreme climatic conditions.

The Changthang plateau is situated at an average altitude of around 4,500 meters (14,800 feet) above sea level, making it one of the highest plateaus in the world. It is a part of the larger Tibetan Plateau and is often referred to as the "Northern Changthang."

The plateau is known for its barren and arid landscapes, with vast stretches of open grasslands, sparse vegetation, and scattered lakes. The terrain is predominantly flat, with occasional gentle undulations and small hills.

The Changthang plateau is renowned for its harsh climate, with extremely cold winters and short summers. The region experiences low annual precipitation, and the sparse vegetation is adapted to survive in these challenging conditions.

The Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary encompasses a significant portion of the Changthang plateau, providing protection to its unique flora, fauna, and ecosystems. The sanctuary includes lakes like Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri, and Tso Kar, which are integral parts of the plateau's landscape.

The plateau's vastness and high-altitude environment contribute to the sanctuary's distinct character and the ability to support a variety of wildlife species that have adapted to survive in this challenging habitat. 

Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary Lake

The Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary is renowned for its stunning lakes, which are an integral part of its ecosystem and add to its natural beauty. Some of the prominent lakes within or in close proximity to the sanctuary include:

(1) Pangong Tso:

Pangong Tso, also known as Pangong Lake, is one of the most famous and breathtaking lakes in the region. It spans across the borders of India and Tibet (China). A significant portion of the lake falls within the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary, offering visitors mesmerizing views of its crystal-clear blue waters surrounded by towering mountains.

(2) Tso Moriri:

Tso Moriri is another stunning lake located in the Changthang region. It is situated entirely within the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary and is known for its serene beauty. The lake is surrounded by barren mountains, and its azure waters reflect the sky, creating a picturesque sight. Tso Moriri is also a vital breeding ground for several bird species.

(3) Tso Kar:

Tso Kar, also referred to as White Lake, is another notable lake within the sanctuary. It is a saltwater lake situated in the Rupshu Valley. Tso Kar is known for its unique landscape, with salt flats and wetlands surrounding the lake. It is a designated Ramsar site, recognized for its ecological significance.

Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary Tribe

The Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary is home to several tribal communities, with the Changpa nomads being one of the prominent tribes in the region. The Changpas are traditionally pastoralists who have inhabited the Changthang plateau for centuries.

The Changpa community primarily relies on animal husbandry for their livelihood, rearing livestock such as yaks, sheep, and goats. They practice a semi-nomadic lifestyle, moving with their herds across the vast grasslands of the Changthang region to ensure their animals have access to grazing lands and water sources.

The Changpas are known for their resilience and adaptability in the harsh and high-altitude environment. They have developed unique cultural traditions, including their traditional clothing, crafts, and social customs.

The Changpa nomads play an important role in maintaining the ecological balance of the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary. Their sustainable herding practices contribute to the preservation of the grasslands and the well-being of the wildlife in the region.

Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary Flora

The Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary supports a unique and diverse flora that has adapted to the harsh environmental conditions of the region. While the vegetation in the sanctuary is sparse compared to lower-altitude areas, there are several plant species that thrive in this challenging landscape. Some notable flora found in the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary include:

(1) Alpine Grasses:

The Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary is characterized by vast stretches of alpine grasslands that cover the plateau. These grasses are hardy and have adapted to survive in the cold, arid climate. They form an essential part of the ecosystem, providing grazing resources for wildlife and the nomadic communities.

(2) Dwarf Willow:

Dwarf willows, including species like Salix lanata and Salix sericea, are commonly found in the Changthang region. These low-growing shrubs have small, woolly leaves and are able to withstand the extreme temperatures and high winds of the plateau.

(3) Rhubarb:

Various species of rhubarb (Rheum spp.) are present in the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary. They have large leaves and fleshy stems that store water, enabling them to survive in the dry conditions of the Changthang plateau.

(4) Sedum:

Sedum species, such as Sedum ewersii and Sedum rosea, are well-adapted to the rocky and sandy soils of the region. They are succulent plants that store water in their leaves, allowing them to thrive in the arid conditions.

(5) Alpine Cushion Plants:

Cushion plants like Arenaria species and Saxifraga species are commonly found in the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary. These plants grow in compact, low-lying forms, helping them conserve heat and resist strong winds.

Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary Fauna (Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary Animals)

The Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary is renowned for its diverse and unique fauna, including several endangered and rare species. The sanctuary provides a crucial habitat for various wildlife that have adapted to the challenging high-altitude environment. 

Here are some notable fauna found in the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary:


  • Tibetan Antelope (Chiru)
  • Tibetan Wild Ass (Kiang)
  • Tibetan Gazelle (Goa)
  • Snow Leopard
  • Brown Bear
  • Tibetan Wolf
  • Eurasian Lynx
  • Himalayan Blue Sheep (Bharal)
  • Himalayan Marmot
  • Himalayan Mouse Hare
  • Himalayan Pika


  • Black-necked Stork
  • Himalayan Snowcock
  • Tibetan Sandgrouse
  • Himalayan Griffon Vulture
  • Himalayan Monal


  • Ladakh Agama
  • Ladakh Ratsnake
  • Himalayan Pit Viper
  • Common Wall Lizard
  • Greenish Brown Skink

Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary Dark Sky Reserve

The proposed Dark Sky Reserve in Hanle, Ladakh, within the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary, is set to become a remarkable destination for astro tourism and scientific observation. The reserve aims to create one of the highest-located sites globally, accommodating optical, infra-red, and gamma-ray telescopes.

India's First Dark Sky Reserve Initiative

The Department of Science & Technology (DST) has taken the lead in establishing India's first Dark Sky Reserve in Hanle. This pioneering initiative highlights the commitment to preserving natural darkness and fostering scientific research in the field of astronomy.

Factors Influencing the Selection of Ladakh

Ladakh's suitability for the Dark Sky Reserve is influenced by multiple factors:

(i) Cold Desert with Sparse Population: The region's cold desert landscape and low population density make it an ideal choice. The Indian Astronomical Observatory, situated at an altitude of 4,500 meters above mean sea level in the Hanle Valley, benefits from the lack of human interference and the serene surroundings of the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary.

(ii) Clear Skies and Optimal Conditions: Hanle boasts cloudless skies and low atmospheric water vapor, providing exceptional conditions for optical, infrared, sub-millimeter, and millimeter wave observations. These favorable factors contribute to making Hanle one of the best sites globally for conducting advanced astronomical research.

Korzok Monastery

Korzok Monastery, also known as Korzok Gompa, is a significant cultural and religious site located within the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary in Ladakh, India. Situated at an altitude of approximately 4,600 meters above sea level, it is one of the highest located monasteries in India.

(1) Spiritual Center in Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary

Korzok Monastery holds great importance as a spiritual center for the local communities residing in the Changthang region. It serves as a place of worship, meditation, and learning for Buddhist practitioners. The monastery belongs to the Drukpa Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.

(2) Historical Significance

The exact founding date of Korzok Monastery is uncertain, but it is believed to have been established several centuries ago. The monastery has stood as a testament to the rich cultural heritage of the region and has played a significant role in preserving Buddhist traditions.

(3) Architectural Features

Korzok Monastery showcases traditional Tibetan architecture and features. The monastery's main building is adorned with colorful frescoes, intricate murals, and vibrant Buddhist artwork, depicting deities, religious symbols, and scenes from Buddhist mythology.

The monastery complex also includes assembly halls, meditation rooms, and living quarters for the resident monks. It offers a serene and peaceful atmosphere for spiritual practice and reflection.

(4) Religious Festivals and Events

Korzok Monastery is particularly known for its annual festival called "Korzok Gustor." This festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm and attracts a large number of locals and visitors. During the festival, monks perform masked dances, cham dances, and religious rituals, accompanied by traditional music and vibrant costumes.

(5) Scenic Location

Korzok Monastery is situated on the banks of the stunning Tso Moriri Lake, which adds to its picturesque setting. The pristine lake, surrounded by majestic mountains, creates a breathtaking backdrop for the monastery and offers visitors a tranquil and awe-inspiring environment.

Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary UPSC Questions

Q. In which state Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary lies?

A. Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary is located on the Changthang plateau in Leh district of Ladakh, India.

Q. Which river passes through Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary?

A. The Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary does not have a major river passing through its boundaries. 

Q. Is Changthang a cold desert?

A. Yes, the Changthang region is commonly referred to as a cold desert. The term "cold desert" is used to describe arid regions characterized by low precipitation, extreme temperatures, and limited vegetation cover. The Changthang plateau, which encompasses the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary, falls under this classification due to its unique climatic conditions.

Q. What are the 3 lakes in Changthang?

A. The Changthang region is known for its stunning lakes, and there are three prominent lakes located within or in close proximity to the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary. These lakes are:

  • Pangong Tso
  • Tso Moriri
  • Tso Kar

Q. What is Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary famous for?

A. The Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary is famous for several notable features and attractions. Here are some of the key aspects that make it renowned:

(i) High-Altitude Wildlife: The sanctuary is known for its diverse and unique wildlife adapted to the challenging high-altitude environment. It provides a crucial habitat for species such as the Tibetan antelope (chiru), Tibetan wild ass (kiang), Tibetan gazelle, snow leopard and various migratory birds. The sanctuary's conservation efforts aim to protect these endangered and rare species.

(ii) Pristine Lakes: The Changthang region is home to stunning lakes, including Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri, and Tso Kar. These lakes offer breathtaking views with their crystal-clear blue waters surrounded by majestic mountains. They attract visitors from around the world who come to witness the serene beauty and unique ecosystems associated with these lakes.

(iii) Cultural Heritage: The Changthang region holds immense cultural significance, with its Tibetan Buddhist heritage and the presence of monasteries like Korzok Monastery. The nomadic communities, particularly the Changpa nomads, who practice traditional herding in the area, contribute to the cultural richness and authenticity of the sanctuary.

(iv) Adventure Tourism: The rugged and pristine landscapes of the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary make it an attractive destination for adventure enthusiasts. Activities such as trekking, wildlife spotting, birdwatching, and camping are popular among visitors seeking outdoor adventures and an immersive experience in the wilderness.

(v) Remote and Tranquil Setting: The sanctuary's remote location and vast open spaces offer a sense of tranquility and a chance to connect with nature. Away from the hustle and bustle of urban life, visitors can experience a peaceful and undisturbed environment, allowing for a closer connection with the natural world.

Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary

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