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Population structure and grouping tendency of Asiatic ibex Capra sibirica in the Central Karakoram National Park, Pakistan

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  • World Wide Fund for nature (Pakistan)

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Studies of Asiatic ibex Capra sibirica were conducted in Hushey valley (ca. 832 km 2), the south-eastern part of CKNP, Pakistan during spring and winter of 2011-2013. Ibex were observed at elevations of 3342-4973 m, and based on winter assessment the average density was 1.2 animals km -2 and biomass 84 kg km -2 . Minimum count, based on winter observations was 368 animals (±146) of which 29% were adult males, 28% adult females, 15% yearlings, 23% kids while 5% could not be aged or sexed. In spring (pre-parturition) male to female sex ratio was 1:1.14 with 31 yearlings and 46 kids to per 100 females while in winter it was 1:0.9 with 54 yearlings and 80 kids per 100 females. Adult sex ratio in the population was almost at unity. Groups (typical size=18, mean size=13, range 1-40 in winter and 1-49 in spring) were mostly comprised of mixed herds (90%) while female-young, female and male groups were rarely encountered. The mean group size and group type did not varied significantly across different seasons and habitat types. However large males were relatively more frequent in snow-covered areas while kids and female-young groups in grassland. Despite a decade-long community-based conservation programme and having a good reproductive potential, the limited growth of Asiatic ibex population may be due to various factors such as severe winters, predation pressure and dietary competition with domestic stock, which need to be explored and dealt with appropriate conservation measures.
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J. Bio. & Env. Sci.
2014
542 | Khan et al.
RESEARCH PAPER OPEN ACCESS
Population structure and grouping tendency of Asiatic ibex
Capra sibirica
in the Central Karakoram National Park,
Pakistan
Muhammad Zafar Khan1,2 *, Muhammad Saeed Awan1, Anna Bocci3, Babar Khan2, Syed
Yasir Abbas4, Garee Khan2 , Saeed Abbas2
1Integrated Mountain Areas Research Centre (IMARC), Karakoram International University,
Gilgit-15100, Pakistan
2 WWF-Pakistan, GCIC Complex, Shahra-e-Quaid Azam, Jutial Gilgit-15100, Pakistan
3 Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Siena, Italy
4 Directorate of the Central Karakoram National Park (CKNP), Sadpara Road, Skardu, Pakistan
Article published on August 24, 2014
Key words: Karakoram, CKNP, Ibex, Gilgit-Baltistan, conservation.
Abstract
Studies of Asiatic ibex Capra sibirica were conducted in Hushey valley (ca. 832 km2), the south-eastern part of
CKNP, Pakistan during spring and winter of 2011-2013. Ibex were observed at elevations of 3342-4973 m, and
based on winter assessment the average density was 1.2 animals km-2 and biomass 84 kg km-2. Minimum count,
based on winter observations was 368 animals (±146) of which 29% were adult males, 28% adult females, 15%
yearlings, 23% kids while 5% could not be aged or sexed. In spring (pre-parturition) male to female sex ratio was
1:1.14 with 31 yearlings and 46 kids to per 100 females while in winter it was 1:0.9 with 54 yearlings and 80 kids
per 100 females. Adult sex ratio in the population was almost at unity. Groups (typical size=18, mean size=13,
range 1-40 in winter and 1-49 in spring) were mostly comprised of mixed herds (90%) while female-young,
female and male groups were rarely encountered. The mean group size and group type did not varied significantly
across different seasons and habitat types. However large males were relatively more frequent in snow-covered
areas while kids and female-young groups in grassland. Despite a decade-long community-based conservation
programme and having a good reproductive potential, the limited growth of Asiatic ibex population may be due to
various factors such as severe winters, predation pressure and dietary competition with domestic stock, which
need to be explored and dealt with appropriate conservation measures.
*Corresponding Author: Muhammad Zafar Khan zafar.hilbi@gmail.com
Journal of Biodiversity and Environmental Sciences (JBES)
ISSN: 2220-6663 (Print) 2222-3045 (Online)
Vol. 5, No. 2, p. 542-554, 2014
http://www.innspub.net
J. Bio. & Env. Sci.
2014
543 | Khan et al.
Introduction
Pakistan is one of the most important countries for
conservation of wild Caprinae, providing home to
seven species with 11 sub-species of which 10 are
believed to be threatened (Hess et al., 1997). Asiatic
ibex Capra sibirica Pallas, 1776, also known as
Siberian or Asiatic ibex is believed to be the most
abundant Caprinae in Pakistan (Schaller, 1977;
Anonymous, 1997; Hess et al., 1997) and found in the
relatively arid mountain ranges, well above the
treeline in higher precipitous regions in Himalaya,
Karakoram and Hindukush (Roberts, 1997; Anwar,
2011). Globally Asiatic ibex is distributed in
Afghanistan, Kashmir to Mongolia and China
(Mcdonald, 1984), also found in the mountains of
Central Asia, Tien Shan and Koh Altai (Habibi, 2003).
In Pakistan Asiatic ibex inhabit the most rugged
mountainous habitats at elevation of 3,660 to 5,000
m a.s.l. in Gilgit Baltistan, Chitral, Swat Kohistan,
around Machiara National Park and Neelum valley in
Azad Jammu & Kashmir (Roberts, 1997; Ali et al.,
2007; Anwar, 2011). Total population size in
Northern Pakistan, including Khyber Pakhtun Khwa
and Gilgit-Baltistan, is believed to range between
10,000 and 12,000 animals (Anonymous, 1997). In
Gilgit-Baltistan the Asiatic ibex population is
distributed in Baltistan, Haramosh,upper Hunza,
Ishkoman and Yasin valleys (Roberts, 1997).
The Asiatic ibex has been listed as “Least Concern” in
the Red List of Pakistan‟s Mammals (Sheikh and
Molur, 2005) however; they face risk of severe
shortage of forage in arid alpine ranges and dietary
competition from yak, domestic goats and sheep
(Anwar, 2011). Other factors such as seasonal
severity, hunting and natural predation pressure (Fox
et al., 1992) and death from avalanches on snow
bound slopes also affect population and group
dynamics (IUCN, 2009a). Sometimes the excessive
number of livestock grazing in the area may compel
the animals to move to undesired locations (Ali, et al.,
2007).
Scant information is available about distribution of
wild ungulates in the Central Karakoram National
Park (CKNP), Pakistan. Asiatic ibex are reportedly
found in all valleys around the Park with noticeable
populations in Hushey, Thalley, Shigar, Stak,
Tormik, Haramosh, Bagrot, Rakaposhi, Hoper and
Hisper (Hagler Bailly, 2005). Local estimates for ibex
in Hushey valley are in the thousands (Hagler Bailly,
2005) but the exact number is not known. Most of the
literature is still silent on the exact number,
distribution and social organization of Asiatic ibex in
specific locations or zones of CKNP, which is one of
the key challenges for conservation of these species in
and around the Park. Non-availability of reliable
quantitative data on species status and distribution is
the key challenge for conservation and management
of biological diversity of the Park (IUCN, 2009a). For
effective conservation, long-term monitoring of key
species in protected areas has been widely
emphasized (Spellberg, 1992; Danielsen et al., 2000;
Boddicker et al., 2002; Danielsen et al., 2005; Lovari
et al., 2009). The CKNP, established two decades ago,
still requires comprehensive assessments to explore
the unique ecological features. The draft management
plan for CKNP (IUCN, 2009a; Ev-K2-CNR, 2013) also
prescribes to fill the gaps in information on ecology
and living requirements of indicator species, through
collecting quantitative data. In addition, the
Government of Gilgit-Baltistan has declared some
important habitat of wild ungulates around CKNP
such as Hushey valley as community-managed
conservation area (CMCA) to facilitate trophy hunting
of Asiatic ibex. Scientific monitoring of species has
also been emphasized for initiating a trophy-hunting
programme. Shackleton (2001) while reviewing the
trophy hunting programme of wild Caprinae in
Pakistan has recommended allocating hunting
permits primarily based on biological considerations
such as advocate population data.
Therefore, this study was designed to determine
current density, biomass, population structure and
grouping tendency of Asiatic ibex in Hushey valley of
CKNP. Based on this information, appropriate
J. Bio. & Env. Sci.
2014
544 | Khan et al.
conservation measures are recommended for
government and private stakeholders to maintain
ecologically viable populations of Asiatic ibex in the
valley.
Methods
Study Area
Situated at 45 km north of Khaplu, the administrative
centre of the Ghanche District in Baltistan, Hushey
valley (76° 20′ E, 35° 27′ N) forms the south-eastern
part of the Central Karakoram National Park (CKNP)
(Fig. 1), which is the largest protected areas in
Pakistan. The famous tourist and expedition
destinations such as Aling, Masherbrum,
Ghondogoro, Chogolisa, K7, and Tsarak Tsa valleys,
which lead to glaciers of the same name, occupy the
northern part of the valley. The K6 and Nangma
valleys occupy the central eastern parts. Aling Nalla,
Mashabrum and Saicho are the main pastures and lie
in between the valley settlement and the Park (Hagler
Bailly Pakistan, 2005). Spread over 832 km2 (WWF-
Pakistan, 2008), the bottom of the main valley
ascends from 2,500 m in the south to about 3,100 m
in the north. Next to the valley bottom, steep slopes
rise to an altitude between 3,700 m and 5,000 m.
Fig. 1. Map of Hushey valley in CKNP, Pakistan.
Hushey valley falls under the cold desert mountain
ecosystem, where it receives most of its precipitation
in the form of heavy snow fall from November to
March and the average rainfall rarely exceeds
200mm.The average temperature drops below -10 to
-15 °C from December to February while in June and
July the maximum temperature rises up to 20 °C
(WWF-Pakistan, 2008).
The valley is inhabited by 1,365 people (Government
of Pakistan, 1998 with projected 2.5% annual
increase), living in 150 households. Major sources of
livelihoods in Hushey are agriculture and livestock
J. Bio. & Env. Sci.
2014
545 | Khan et al.
herding, supplemented with cash incomes earned
from tourism and services in the army and the public
sector in some of the households (Hushey Valley
Conservation Committee, 2011). In Hushey village the
local community owns 2, 412 heads of livestock
(WWF-Pakistan, 2011) including sheep, goats, cattle,
yak and crossbreeds of yak and cow known as zo and
zomo.
The valley is a refuge area not only for threatened
species, such as the snow leopard, but also for not
threatened but important “flag” species, such as
Asiatic ibex, lynx and grey wolf (Roberts, 2005;
Lovari and Bocci, 2009). The vegetation of the area is
dominant with plant species such as Artemisia
maritima, Ephedra gerardiana, wild rose Rosa
webbiana, scurbu Berberis spp, sea buckthorn
Hippophae rhamnoides, and Myricaria germanica,
whereas tree species include Junipers, Salix, Poplars
and Betula utilis. (WWF-Pakistan, 2008; Anwar et
al., 2011).
Since 1997 a community-based conservation
programme is operational in the valley with support
of national and international organizations such as
IUCN Pakistan, WWF-Pakistan, Ev-K2-CNR, CESVI,
BWCDO, in collaboration with the Directorate of
CKNP and Gilgit-Baltistan Forests, Parks and Wildlife
Department. The valley is a Community Controlled
Hunting Area, allowing trophy hunting of Asiatic ibex
in limited numbers. The number of Asiatic ibex in the
valley is said to have increased and, starting from
1997, each year national and international hunters
hunt 2-4 animals for trophies and 42 trophy animals
have been taken till January 2012 (Aslam, personal
communication, 01 March 2012).
Survey
Surveys were conducted in spring and winter during
2011 to 2013 by fixed-point direct count method using
specified vantage points. This method has been
effectively used to determine population structure
and animal densities under similar mountainous
conditions (Fox et al., 1992; Feng et al., 2007; Ali et
al., 2007; Khan, 2012). The points were selected
across all the nullahs or sub-catchments where
sightings of animals could easily be made and the
same points were used in the subsequent surveys. The
timing of observation at each site, from each vantage
point, was adjusted in a way to avoid the chance of
double counting. Following standards survey
protocols developed by experts of the University of
Siena, the spring surveys were conducted in April-
May while the winter surveys in December, with the
help of survey teams comprising of one member each
representing Gilgit-Baltistan Wildlife Department,
CKNP Directorate, WWF, local community (an
experienced ex-hunter) and Village Wildlife Guards
(VWGs). The winter surveys carried out from 15 to 31
December during the rut were considered to be the
best time to evaluate population structure when
different age classes group together (Dzieciolowski, et
al., 1980; Habibi, 1997) and concentrated population
at wintering sites lead to efficient observations (Fox et
al., 1992).
Most of the observations were made during early
morning and late afternoon when the animals were
comparatively more active for feeding and drinking
(Khan, 2012). We used binoculars (Nikon 12 x 50)
and spotting scope (Swarovski ATM 80 HD) to count
animals; a hand-help GPS (Garmin 78) was used to
record locations and elevation of vantage points and a
compass to note down bearings (angle), while
distance from vantage points to location of herds was
estimated approximately. A digital camera (SONEY
DSLR A 200) was used to take photographs wherever
possible. The data were noted down in a prescribed
format including additional information such as
weather, habitat conditions and other observations.
Each herd was classified into age and sex groups,
based on the criteria defined by Schaller (1977) and
Lovari and Bocci (personal communication), i.e. kids
(< 1 year old), yearling (>1 - <2 years old), females
and males, also recording those individuals of which
age/sex could not be determined. Trophy size males
(>7 years old) were also noted apart. To minimize
repeated counts, distinguishing features (e.g. broken
J. Bio. & Env. Sci.
2014
546 | Khan et al.
or bent horn) of one or more individuals in a herd
were noted down whenever possible. Age and sex
composition of a herd were sometimes used to
distinguish between herds observed in adjacent areas
(Oli, 1994; Khan 2012).
Data Analysis
IBM SPSS v. 20 was used to analyze data, tabulated
as adult males, adult female, yearlings, kids,
undetermined individuals, trophy size males, group
sizes, group types, density and ratios of age and sex
classes. In addition to mean group size, typical group
size was also calculated based on animal-centred
measurements (Jarman, 1974), by squaring the sizes
of groups, summing up across all groups and dividing
the sum by the total number of individuals observed.
The typical group size was calculated because the
former is an observer-centred measurement that
gives equal weight to groups of all sizes, and it may
not reflect the experience of the average individual
species in the same manner as done by the latter
(Raman, 1997). Corrected densities were calculated
by measuring the area between 3,200 to 5,000 m
above sea level (year-round potential habitat of
Asiatic ibex Roberts, 2005; Ali et al., 2007),
excluding glaciers using land-cover data (WWF-
Pakistan, 2008). The calculated density was then
multiplied with average live weights (kg) to obtain
estimated total biomass for the study area. (Anwar,
2011; Khan, 2012). Mann-Whitney U test and
Kruskal-Wallis test were applied to evaluate
occurrence of various ages, sex classes and group
sizes across various group types, habitat conditions
and seasons.
Results
Density, distribution and population structure
Asiatic ibex are widespread in Hushey valley of
CKNP, with greater numbers in several sub-
catchments i.e. Alingnullah, K6nullah, Ghondogoro,
Humbroq and Charry. Results of counts are given in
table 1. On average, 368 animals (SE±146) were
counted in winter and 102 animals (SE±12) in spring,
during 2011-2013. Keeping in view winter
observations, the average population density of
Asiatic ibex in Hushey valley was 1.2 animals km- 2and
biomass density 84 kg km-2, calculated on 317 km2of
the year-round habitat, ranging between 3200 m to
5000 m, excluding glaciers and permanent snow
areas in the valley. Ibexes in Hushey valley, during
winter and spring, were found at elevations of 3442 to
4973 m. In summer they probably used higher
elevations.
Table 1. Sex-age structure of the Asiatic ibex population in Hushey Valley of the CKNP, Pakistan (F=adult
female, M=adult male, Y=Yearling, K=kids, ND=not-determined).
Period
Numbers Seen
Ratios
Adult
Male
Adult
Female
Yearling
Kids
ND
Total
Trophy
size male
M-F
Y-F
K-F
Spring 2011
33
33
17
23
4
110
0
1:1
0.52:1
0.7:1
Winter 2011
26
25
12
21
3
87
0
1.04:1
0.48:1
0.84:1
Spring 2012
35
34
8
13
29
119
0
1.03:1
0.24:1
0.38:1
Winter 2012
155
178
104
137
6
580
64
0.87:1
0.58:1
0.77:1
Spring 2013
22
36
7
11
2
79
7
0.61:1
0.19:1
0.31:1
Winter 2013
141
109
51
92
43
436
31
1.29:1
0.47:1
0.84:1
Average Winter
107.3
104.0
55.7
83.3
17.3
367.7
31.7
1.03:1
0.54:1
0.8:1
Average Spring
30.0
34.3
10.7
15.7
11.7
102.3
2.3
0.87:1
0.31:1
0.46:1
Analysis of age and sex structure of the population
was possible for 95% of the animals encountered
during winter and 89% during spring. This indicates
much suitable conditions for observations in winter
when compared to spring.
J. Bio. & Env. Sci.
2014
547 | Khan et al.
The results (table 1) showed following population
structure in winter: 29% adult males, 28% adult
females, 15% yearlings, 23% kids; and in spring: 29%
adult males, 34% females, 10% yearlings, 15% kids.
During winter, trophy size males were 8.6% of the
total population or 30% of the male population of the
valley, while during spring it was 2.3% of the total
population or 7.8% of the male population of the
valley.
Sex ratio (male to female) was 1:1.14 with 31 yearling
and 46 kids per 100 female in spring (pre-parturition)
and 1:0.9 with 54 yearlings and 80 kids per 100
female in winter. Thus the sex ratio in spring ibex
population was in favour of females, while in winter it
skewed towards males but not significantly (χ2=6,
df=5, P=0.306). Realized increment estimated based
on kids encountered in winter was 0.8 which declined
by almost 50% in spring, as indicated by 54 yearlings
per 100 females.
Group tendencies
Four group types were distinguished in the
population, viz mixed herds, female-young (female,
yearlings and kids), male and female. Mixed herds,
composed of males, females and young were the most
common groups encountered, accounting for 90.7%
of the herds seen (n=108). Only 4.6% of the animals
were observed in male groups, of which the largest
herd comprised of 7 animals. Female-mixed groups
were accounted for 3.7% of the herds. The female
groups were rarely encountered (1% only). The
number of males and females was highest in mixed
groups (x =4 for both), followed by kids (x =3) and
yearlings (x=2) (Table 2). Except kids (Kruskal
Wallis test H=6.8, df=3, P=>0.076), the distribution
of various age-sex categories significantly differed
across various group types (Kruskal Wallis test male:
H=14.6, df=3, P=>0.002; female: H=17.1, df=3,
P=>0.001; yearlings: H=9.9, df=3, P=>0.019)
Table 2. Mean number of each age-sex class of the
Asiatic ibex in different social group types in Hushey
valley of CKNP, Pakistan (n=108 groups).
Sex-age
classes
Group types
All
groups
Mixed
Female-
young
Male
Female
Male
4
4
-
4
-
Female
4
4
2
-
1
Yearling
2
2
2
-
-
Kids
3
3
2
-
-
Not
determined
1
1
-
-
-
Trophy size
males
1
1
-
-
-
The typical average group size was 18. Mixed groups
were the largest ones with an average group size of 20
animals (Table 3). The largest group observed during
spring comprised of 49 animals (12 adult male, 13
adult female, 3 yearlings, 5 kids and 16 not-
determined individuals), while the one observed
during winter comprised of 40 animals (10 male, 15
female, 10 yearlings and 5 kids). In Hushey valley the
mean group size of all age-sex categories was 13
animals, which did not change significantly from
spring to winter (Table 4, χ2=26, df=29, P=0.588).
In spring, the majority of the animals were seen in
groups numbering 4-10 animals, while in winter 4-20
animals (Fig. 2).
Table 3. Typical and mean group size of the Asiatic
ibex in the different social group types observed from
2011-2013 in Hushey valley of CKNP.
Group type
All
Mixed
Female-
young
Male
Female
Typical
group size
18
20
6
6
1
Mean
group size
13
14
5
4
1
S.D
9
9
2
3
Range
1-49
2-49
3-7
1-7
0-1
J. Bio. & Env. Sci.
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548 | Khan et al.
Fig. 2. Distribution of group sizes of Asiatic ibex
(spring n=30, range=1-49 and winter n=78 range 1-
40) in Hushey valley of CKNP.
Distribution of group types and group size across
different habitat conditions (snow covered, grassland
and barren land) remained at unity (Kruskal-Wallis
test, n.s.). Among age-sex classes, distribution of
adult male, adult female and yearlings also remained
the same across different habitat conditions (Kruskal-
Wallis test, n.s), whereas the distribution of kids and
trophy size males differed significantly across
different habitat conditions (Kruskal-Wallis test,
H=8.06, df=2, P=0.018 and H=13.8, df=2, P=0.001,
respectively). Trophy size males were more
numerous in snow-covered habitat than barren land
(Man-Whitney U test, α=0.001).
Table 4. Typical and mean group sizes of Asiatic ibex during 2011-2013 in Hushey valley of CKNP, Pakistan.
Season
Typical group
size
Mean group
size
Standard
Deviation
Minimum
Maximum
Spring
17.8
10
10
1
49
Winter
18.3
14
9
1
40
Both seasons
18.05
13
9
1
49
Table 5. Estimated density of Asiatic ibex from different areas in south Asia.
Location
Density (Animals km-2 )
N
Reference
Khuhsyrh Reserve, Mongolian
Altai
0.4-4.8
539-748
Dzieciolowski, et al., 1980
South-western Ladakh, Himalayas
0.5-0.6
250-350
Fox et al., 1992
Central Ladakh, Himalayas
0.8-1.2
-
Fox et al., 1991
Hoper Valley, Central Karakoram,
Pakistan
1.2-1.6
194-270
Hess, 1986
Neelum valley, Azad Kashmir
1.3
122
Ali et al., 2007
Khunjerab and Taxkorgan,
Pakistan-China border area
0.04-0.7
491
Khan, 2012
Hushey valley, CKNP, Pakistan
1.2
367
Present study
Table 6. A comparison of population structure of Asiatic ibex in Asia.
Location
Adult
female (%)
Adult male
(%)
Yearlings
(%)
Young
(%)
n=
Reference
Himalayas
33.1
30.1
10.9
25.8
312
Fox et al. 1992
Tien Shan (Zailiiskiy
Alatau)
52.5
21.9
25.6
1,067
Fedosenko and
Savinov, 1983
Altai
48.0
32.1
19.9
unknown
Sobanskiy, 1988
West Sayan
48.1
27.4
24.5
9600
Zavatskiy, 1989
Mongolian Altai
(winter)
46
21
33
1000
Dzieciolowski et al.
1980
Karakoram, Pakistan,
China
33
39
16
11
889
Khan, 2012
Karakoram, Pakistan
(winter)
28
29
15
23
368
Current study*
*6% of the animals could not be aged and sexed due to distant observations
Discussion
Density, distribution and population structure
Density of Asiatic ibex estimated in the current study,
when compared with those from other areas in South
and Central Asia (Table 5), revealed that Hushey
valley of the CKNP shows a relatively higher density
than the neighbouring Khunjerab area in Pakistan,
while it was almost at unity with the estimates in
Neelum valley, Azad Kashmir and Central Ladakh
and fairly less than those estimated in Mongolian
J. Bio. & Env. Sci.
2014
549 | Khan et al.
Altai. The density estimates were comparable to those
reported as the highest ones in Gilgit-Baltistan by
Hess (1986) in Hoper valley, Central Karakoram,
Pakistan. Comparing with Khunjerab, Hushey valley
is drier and less vegetated, thus a higher density of
ibexes may be related to lack of deep snow in
shrubland along the valley bottoms, which leaves
more areas for winter feeding (Fox et al., 1992).
Population density increases from periphery towards
interior part of mountain because of reduction in
snow level in interior (Sokolov, 1959 cited in
Fedosenko and Blank, 2001). Another factor for a
relatively higher abundance of ibex in Hushey valley
could be the result of ban on illegal hunting through a
community-based conservation programme initiated
in the valley since 1997 (Nawaz et al., 2009). Contrary
to a previous assessment (e.g. Hagler Bailly, 2005) of
ibex in Hushey valley to be in the thousands, the
number of Asiatic ibex in the valley is several
hundreds.
The population structure was also comparable to
those from other areas in Himalaya and Karakoram
(Table 6). The sex ratio differs in different types of
habitats and range conditions, e.g., the male to female
ratio after birth in Tien Shan, Dzhungarskiy Alatau
and Himalayas was recorded to be 1:1.09, 1:1.21 and
1:1.11 respectively (Fedosenko and Savinov, 1983; Fox
et al., 1992), while in Mongolia and west Sanjay the
female bias was greater, 1:2.13 and 1:1.87, respectively
(Dzieciolowski et al., 1980; Zavatskiy, 1989).
Nutrition and range conditions affect ratio of male to
female after birth, e.g., a female tends to produce
more male offspring in unfavourable range conditions
(Hoef and Nowlan, 1994). In a population, a minor
number of males than that of females may also be due
to various reasons such as a higher mortality rate of
young males, death of old males due to weakness after
the rut and trophy hunting; furthermore, an apparent
more killing of males than females by predators such
as snow leopard and wolf (Fedosenko and Savinov,
1983; Heptner et al., 1961; Savinov, 1962). Applying
these factors to CKNP, we can assert that in valleys
where illegal hunting is strictly banned like Hushey,
male to female ratio was almost at unity, showing a
relatively larger number of males in the population.
The kids to females ratio in winter accounting for 80
kids to 100 female in Hushey valley was fairly
consistent from year to year indicating a good
reproduction, possibly due to vast alpine pastures
with good quality forage in summer. A significant
mortality, especially of young animals can be
observed while looking at the ratio of kids to female
(46 kids/100females) and yearlings to females
(31yearling/100females) during spring. Harsh winter
and predation pressure can be the factors limiting
population growth as also observed by (Fox et al.,
(1992) in Himalayan Mountains of India.
Ibexes in Hushey valley during winter and spring
were found at elevations of 3342 to 4973 m. In
summer they probably use higher elevations. The
migration begins in late October until heavy snowfalls
in winter and animals descend to as low as 3300 m
near cultivated areas, overlapping their locations with
those of domestic stock. Initially females with kids
and young individuals migrate to their winter ranges
followed by adult males. Village people quite often
observe movement of animals above and in front of
the village, enjoying watching them from their
rooftops. Trophy hunting of adult‟s males occurs in
wintering areas during January to early March. The
upward migration starts in April to June, old males
are the first to start climbing, after the gradual
melting of snow, and they reach the glaciers by mid-
June.
In addition to snowfall, the factors influencing
seasonal migration include livestock movement,
poaching, midges and gadflies. In winter they move
down from north- to south-facing slopes, e.g. in
Pamir, Central Tien Shan and Altai, 20-30 km in
distance, with 700-800 m change in elevation and
40-50 km, with an elevation drop 1500 to 2000 m in
Gissar Range, Talasskiy and Zailiiskiy Alatau
(Fedosenko and Blank, 2001).
J. Bio. & Env. Sci.
2014
550 | Khan et al.
Group dynamics
Asiatic ibex like other members of Caprinae, are
highly gregarious, living in different types and sizes of
groups depending on various factors, e.g., overall
population size (Sokolov, 1959), type of habitats
(Alados, 1985) and seasons (Raman, 1997). The mean
group size of Asiatic ibex in Hushey valley was 13
(range 1-40 in winter and 1-46 in spring), which is
comparable with similar mountainous conditions
such as those in Ladakh (Fox et al., 1992) but less
than ibex numbers in Mongolia (e.g. Dzieciolowski et
al., 1980). In Altai most of the groups of Asiatic ibex
comprised <30 individuals, while up to 70 individuals
occurred in regions of Pamirs and as many as 150
individuals in west Sanjay, south Siberia, during the
rut in November (Sokolov, 1959; Zavatskiy, 1989).
The size of mixed herds was greater than that of other
groups, as it happens in case of other ungulates such
as Ladakh urial (Schaller, 1977) and Spanish ibex
(Alados, 1985).
The majority of the herds were in mixed groups. Less
segregation of sexes in our study area, during winter
and spring, corresponded to previous assessments
carried out in similar mountainous conditions such as
southwestern Ladakh (Fox et al., 1992) and other
Himalayan sites (Schaller, 1977). The number of
trophy size males was very low in spring population
than that in winter, which is common during the rut.
The group types and sizes did not change with
changes in habitat conditions, viz. snow covered,
grassland and barren land. However trophy size
males were more frequently seen in snow covered
areas and female-young groups were more abundant
in grassland, during spring. Less segregation of adult
males and females has been attributed to low
population density (Couturier, 1962). Female-young
groups rarely occurred in Hushey valley of CKNP.
This phenomenon has been attributed to sparsely
vegetated habitats, as in our study area, probably in
relation to the need of protection by female-young
groups against predators and human. On the contrary
mixed group are more frequent in areas of less
vegetation density (Alados, 1985).
Conclusion and implications for conservation
Hushey valley is one the most important areas of the
CKNP, in terms of distribution and abundance of
Himalayan ibex (ibex population in Hushey valley is
highest among all other 20 sub-catchments or valleys
of the Park, Khan et al., unpublished data). Despite a
strict ban on illegal hunting and a good reproductive
potential (100 females/80 kids) the low density of
Asiatic ibex (1.2 animals km-2) is due to mass
mortality of overwintering ibex kids, presumably due
to seasonal severity and killing of young cohort by
mammalian predators. These factors need to be
evaluated and addressed through appropriate
conservation measures.
In winter, during heavy snowfall, Asiatic ibex descend
to valley bottoms in search of food and overlap their
movements with domestic stock, which may lead to a
dietary competition and shortage of forage primarily
for young segment of the population. With a view to
allow a larger overwintering population of ibex, the
local community should manage grazing of their
livestock, primarily aimed to reduce extensive grazing
in winter pastures. For this purpose one of the
options could be raising fodder on cultivable lands to
supplement dietary requirement of domestic animals.
Habitat improvement is urgently needed at lower
elevations (especially in spring and winter grazing
areas) along the Hushey riverbanks including areas of
heavy influence by agro-pastoral activities. These
areas contain patches of salix and sea buckthorn
Hippophae rhamnoides providing food to
overwintering population of ibex and other
herbivores. These patches can be improved by
reducing extensive grazing and extraction of
firewood. If possible, constructing some irrigation
channels or repairing the already developed channels
can bring more areas under perennial vegetation.
J. Bio. & Env. Sci.
2014
551 | Khan et al.
To evaluate impact of the on-going trophy hunting of
Asiatic ibex in the valley, Hushey VCC should
maintain proper record by noting vital information
such as s date and location of hunt, age and horn size
of trophy animals. Granting hunting permits need to
be conditional with reliable population assessment
carried out following standard monitoring protocols.
Some amount earned from trophy hunting of Asiatic
ibex in the valley should be spent on habitat
improvement measures such as growing fodder to
offset pressure from pastures; fencing some winter
feeding areas of ibex to protect against livestock
grazing; hiring skilled herder for systematic grazing
improved guarding of domestic livestock throughout
all seasons.
Acknowledgements
We recognize that this research would not have been
possible without financial support of WWF-Pakistan,
Ev-K2-CNR and SEED Project for CKNP. We express
our gratitude to Prof. Sandro Lovari, Department of
Life Sciences, Research Unit of Behavioural Ecology,
Ethology and Wildlife Management, University of
Siena, Italy for reviewing the draft of this manuscript
and providing valuable suggestions for improvement.
We thank staffs of WWF-Pakistan Gilgit and Skardu,
Directorate of the Central Karakoram National Park
and the local communities of Hushey for their
assistance, support and hospitality during the
fieldwork.
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