Pangong Tso

Year of compilation: 2004

Site description
Pangong Tso is a long, narrow, brackish lake spanning the Indian/ Chinese border, in a valley in the upper drainage basin of the Indus river, at the east end of the Karakoram Range. Only the westernmost one-third of the lake lies in Indian territory. It is a chain of four interconnecting lakes, formed by natural damming of the valley. Five rivers fed by perennial springs and snowmelt flow into the Indian portion of the lake. The runoff from the west end of the lake flows northwest into the Shyok river, a tributary of the Indus. There are some brackish to saline marshes near the western end, with adjacent wet meadows. The lake has been suggested as a Ramsar site due to its biological, cultural and geological values (Chatterjee et al. 2002). It is the largest and most brackish wetland in the cold desert ecosystem of the Trans-Himalaya. A fossil freshwater mollusc Lymnea auricularia was discovered in ancient lacustrine clay deposits above the present level of lake, providing evidence that earlier it was a freshwater lake (Sharma 2000). Due to its extreme salinity, Pangong Tso does not have any vegetation in the deeper parts, but at the margins and marshy areas, typical, steppe vegetation is seen. Sedges and grasses are found towards the northern and eastern sides. The surrounding plateau and hills support low thorn scrub and perennial herbs.

Key biodiversity

AVIFAUNA: Pangong Tso is an important breeding area for a variety of waterfowl, including Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea. The Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus occurs in significant numbers on migration and could be breeding there. It is also a significant staging ground during the autumn migration. Although, the globally endangered Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis does not breed here (Pfister 1998), nearby Chushul is a very well-known breeding and staging area, with 3-4 breeding pairs. Pangong Tso could be their staging and foraging ground, especially on the marshes on the fringe of this lake (O. Pfister pers. comm. 2003).

OTHER KEY FAUNA: The surrounding hills and plateau support a rich assemblage of Himalayan and Tibetan wildlife, including the Wild Ass Equus kiang, Snow Leopard Uncia uncia, Great Tibetan Sheep Ovis ammon hodgsoni, Ladakh Urial Ovis orientalis (now considered a subspecies of Ovis ammon), Blue Sheep Pseudois nayaur, Tibetan Gazelle Procapra picticaudata, Tibetan Wolf Canis lupus chanku, and Red Fox Vulpes vulpes. Himalayan Mouse Hare Ochotona roylei and Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana are very common, and form the main prey for smaller carnivores and raptors.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
MAIN THREATS: Over-grazing; Unrestricted tourism.

The State Government intends to declare an area of 400,000 ha in eastern Ladakh as a High Altitude Cold Desert National Park. The existing Pangong Reserve would be incorporated within this Park. Local people graze their yaks and horses on the marshes and meadows, and harvest the grasses for fodder. The current level of grazing already exceeds the carrying capacity of the land, and is resulting in soil erosion. Domestic livestock causes some disturbance to nesting birds. The local people, being Buddhist, do not kill cranes or any wildlife, but their livestock graze very close to the nesting birds. This could be regulated through their cooperation.

Key contributors: Otto Pfister, Rashid Raza, S. A. Hussain and Bivash Pandav.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Pangong Tso. Downloaded from on 01/08/2021.