Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary

Site description (2004 baseline):

Site location and context
The Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary in the Trans-Himalayan district of Lahaul and Spiti, is situated in the cold desert area of the Himalayas, and has the unique flora and fauna characteristic of this area. The site falls in the rain-shadow area of the Himalayas, so the rainfall is very low. Most of the moisture is provided by snow. Summer is extremely dry, while winter is extremely cold, with the mercury dropping to -32 °C. Kaza is the headquarters of Spiti subdivision, and of the Pin Valley NP (an IBA) and Kibber WLS. Kibber is also administered by the Director of Pin Valley NP. The Sanctuary is named after Kibber village, on its northern boundary. The vegetation cover consists of two zones: Dry Temperate Zone (3,100-4,000 m), with woody species only in small patches, their value being leafy fodder, firewood and secondary timber. The main species are Juniperus macropoda, Salix and Betula sp. The herbaceous growth is remarkable for its variety. In the Alpine Zone (4,000-5,000 m) most of the plants such as Junipers and Rhododendrons are in the form of small shrubs, growing amid large patches of bare ground. Shrub species are Ephedra, Rheum, Rosularia, Rhodiola, Caragana and Lindelofia. The grasses frequently met with are Chara and Agropyron, which have high nutritive value.

Key biodiversity

AVIFAUNA: Practically no work has been done on the avifauna of this Sanctuary, except for stray observations by Sanjeeva Pandey. He sighted most of the high altitude birds such as the Himalayan Snowcock Gyps himalayensis, Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos, Lammergeier Gypaetus barbatus, Himalayan Griffon Gyps himalayensis, Snow Pigeon Columba leuconota, Yellow-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax graculus and others. Chukar Alectoris chukar is common at lower elevations. This site is selected as an IBA on the basis of criteria A3 (Biome species) as it has most of the representative avifauna of the Indian part of the Eurasian High Montane (Biome-5), except perhaps the spectacular Blacknecked Crane Grus nigricollis. According to Sanjeeva Pandey (pers. comm. 2003), migratory waterfowl have been seen on passage through the passes and the valleys. According to BirdLife International (undated) classification of biomes, this site should come under Biome-5 (Eurasian High Montane (Alpine and Tibetan) as it occurs in the Trans- Himalayas. Biome-5 is found above 3,600 m, which is also the altitudinal range of this IBA. Forty-eight bird species have been listed in Biome, out of which six have been seen here on preliminary observations. Probably, many more species occur in this IBA.

OTHER KEY FAUNA: The highly endangered Snow Leopard Uncia uncia, locally known as ‘Shin’, is found in this Sanctuary. Due to it, every year, a few cases of livestock damage inside cowsheds are reported. The Snow Leopard’s main wild prey are Ibex Capra sibirica and Blue Sheep or Bharal Pseudois nayaur. The Tibetan Wolf Canis lupus chanco, a subspecies found in the Tibetan highlands, is reported from this Sanctuary. Locally, it is known as ‘shanko’, hence its subspecific name. The Red fox Vulpes vulpes is also present, in alpine and subalpine pastures, and around villages. It generally feeds on Tibetan Woolly Hare Lepus oiostolus, Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana, Mouse Hare Ochotona roylei and avifauna.

The area is reputed for its lone sighting of Nayan Ovis ammon hodgsoni, a subspecies or race of Argali Ovis ammon, from the state of Himachal Pradesh (Sanjeeva Pandey pers. comm. 2002).

Wild Yak Bos grunniens, called ‘Dong Yak’ are sometimes seen when they cross through the Parachhu River and stray into the Sutlej Valley and catchment of the Lingti River.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
MAIN THREATS: Grazing; Lopping of vegetation; Military exercise; Tourism; Non-degradable waste.

The preservation of vegetation is a major problem in the Kibber WLS due to intensive grazing by goats, sheep and domestic yaks. In the prevailing geographical and climatic conditions, these animals are indispensable. The winter being extremely severe, the local people need fuelwood to keep their houses warm, hence the scanty vegetation becomes the major victim. The local people are aware of the fact that the root system in the plants growing in this harsh climate is more developed than the shoot system. Hence, in many instances, the entire plant is dug out and the roots are used as fuelwood. During summer, the local people, with the help of their yaks, collect any available plant in the area. The flat rooftops in their habitation are well stacked with bushes during summer when the daytime sun quickly dries up this fuelwood material. Charaching is not a major issue, as most of the people are Buddhists and do not kill animals. As the area lies on the international border, military and para-military forces regularly patrol the area and conduct exercises.

Key contributor: Sanjeeva Pandey.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary. Downloaded from on 28/11/2023.