Khangchendzonga National Park and Biosphere Reserve

Year of compilation: 2004

Site description (baseline)
The Khangchendzonga National Park (KNP) is a part of Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve (KBR). The KNP/KBR complex situated in North and West Sikkim districts is the biggest IBA in Sikkim, occupying nearly 40% of the State. It lies entirely along the Sikkim-Nepal border and includes the Khangchendzonga Range from the South Lhonak Glacier in trans-Himalayan Sikkim down to Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary in the South Sikkim. This IBA stretches eastwards up to Tsungthang in North Sikkim with the Tista river flowing south from the Tso Lhamo cold desert forming its eastern boundary for most part. The Rathong-Rangit valleys in the southern part of this IBA are a trekkers paradise with flora from lowland subtropical forests to alpine meadows and snowcapped peaks and glaciers. This IBA has the world’s third highest (and India’s highest) peak Mt. Khangchendzonga (8,598 m) and is hence the highest altitude wildlife protected area in India. Most of the core area of this IBA is permanently snowbound with a large number of peaks which are climbers’ delights, while the peripheral areas including buffer zones and habitation are more important wildlife habitats. The area is a spectacular wilderness, with snowy peaks towering above some fine forests that remain virtually undisturbed (Khacher 1980). The Park must rank as one of the most important protected areas in the entire Himalayas (Rodgers and Panwar 1988). Khangchendzonga is considered to be the finest example of an independent mountain having its own glacial system radiating from its several summits. It also boasts some of the most magnificent snow and ice scenery in the world (Smythe 1930).

Key biodiversity

AVIFAUNA: Some important birding habitats here are Dentam-Uttarey-Chitrey- Chewabhanjyang, the Rathong Chu Valley along the Yoksum- Dzongri-Goecha La trekking trail, Tashiding, Rabdentse, Dubdi, Khecheopalri all in West Sikkim; Tholung Valley in Dzongu, Tsungthang-Menshithang-Lachen- Thangu, the Muguthang-Green Lake route including the Zemu Glacier-Zemu Chu Valley, all in North Sikkim. Due to the size and altitude elevations in this IBA, birds recorded are from at least four biomes. Thus this IBA has at least 127 bird species of conservation concern including seven globally threatened and restricted range species, 24 species of Biome-5, 67 of Biome-7, 26 of Biome-8 and three listed in Biome-9. Birds like Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni have been recorded from northern Trans-Himalayan part of the IBA while Baer’s Pochard Aythya baeri has been sighted in Lake Khecheopalri along with wintering Mergansers Mergus merganser and Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis (Ganguli-Lachungpa 1991), Mallard Anas platyrhynchos, Common Teal Anas crecca and Tufted Pochard Aythya fuligula. The Osprey Pandion haliaetus, protected under Schedule-I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, was killed at Yoksum while fishing in the State Forest Department’s fishpond (Ganguli-Lachungpa 1990). Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis has been recorded from the Muguthang area of Lhonak Valley IBA contiguous to the north (Ganguli- Lachungpa 1998). A large loose flock of dark eagles (unidentified) was videographed, during a trek to Dzongri in December 1999, flying southwards along with Himalayan Griffon Gyps himalayensis and Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus (U. Lachungpa pers. comm. 2003). Local Lepcha people at Tholung report a unique phenomenon of congregations of either Ashy Wood-Pigeon Columba pulchricollis or Common Wood-Pigeon Columba palumbus near the Tholung hot-springs (a day’s trek from jeepable road) in summer (Chumden Nangpa pers. comm. 2000), an annual event that has got disrupted due to development of the area for tourism (U. Lachungpa pers. comm. 2003). High altitude lakes at Kishong La are important stopover sites not only for migratory waterfowl but also for resident breeding birds like Brahminy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea {ducklings collected from here in 1986 survived for around five years at Gangtok’s Deer Park enclosure at Tashiling Secretariat (C. B. Bhujel pers comm. 2000)}.

OTHER KEY FAUNA: Given the size and altitudinal range of this IBA, most of the representative species of wildlife in Sikkim, barring those found on the Tibetan plateau such as Tibetan Wild Ass Equus hemionus kiang and some found east of the Tista river such as Takin Budorcas taxicolor, could be found here.Around 19 mammals protected under Schedule-I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 including Bharal Pseudois nayaur, Himalayan Tahr Hemitragus jemlahicus, Tibetan Wolf Canis lupus, Python Python molurus, beetles and butterflies, also protected species, are reported; but there have been no systematic surveys other than sporadic collection trips of the Zoological Survey of India in the past two decades.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
MAIN THREATS: Accumulation of non-biodegradeable garbage along trekking/ mountaineering trails; Stray dogs around tourism and army camps; Road construction and maintenance; Collection of wild medicinal plants; Spread of disease to wildlife; Cattle grazing, poaching/snaring of wildlife; Military deployment, ammunitions depot; Hydroelectric power projects by NHPC.

Threats to this IBA are similar to those in Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary to the south, namely, shepherds’ activities, firewood and fodder collection, cattle incursions from Nepal and landslides with resultant habitat degradation. In addition, there is tremendous pressure of tourism in the form of trekkers and hikers especially along the trekking trails. The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling has been holding regular courses in the core area of the IBA at the Khangchendzonga Base Camp since its inception over four decades ago. Just this activity has been responsible for large-scale removal of Rhododendron and Junipers for fuel wood, especially for the porters. Recently, this activity is being monitored with the help of a local NGO, the Khangchendzonga Conservation Committee (KCC) based at Yoksum (Sonam Uden pers. comm. 2003). The KCC has also been successful in projecting the entire Rathong Chu Valley as a sacred landscape for biodiversity conservation. A hydroelectric project here was scrapped keeping these sentiments in mind. Under the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) exercise, a separate action plan was devised for this area (Sandeep Tambe pers. comm. 2003). Park infrastructure and staffing is insufficient. This was amply demonstrated when the KCC apprehended two Russian poachers in August 2001 on an illegal insect collection expedition inside the National Park (Sonam Uden pers. comm. 2003). Lack of coordination between the Tourism Department and the State Forest Department and uncontrolled flow of tourists into the western part of the IBA, garbage management, wild harvesting of medicinal plants and plants used for burning as incense, stray dogs around army and tourist campsites, damage due to graziers’ camps in forests including incursions of yak herders from Nepal into the IBA were some of the important issues addressed in the Sikkim State BSAP exercise (Anon. 2003). The State Forest Department has also facilitated Joint Forest Management and Ecodevelopment Committees in the villages fringing the IBA. In the northern part of the IBA, the impact of road construction and maintenance labour force of the Border Roads Organization, construction of an alternative road through the National Park for military exigencies and resultant damage to the hitherto pristine habitat, excessive use of dynamite in these fragile Himalayan zones and resultant permanent landslide zones, encroachment by the labourers, poaching of birds and other wildlife and habitat degradation, and part of the National Park being occupied by the military for use as an ammunitions depot are some of the issues of concern. New hydroelectric power projects are planned or underway in an effort to harness the entire potential of the Tista River Valley. Mountaineering expeditions to Green Lake in the northern part of the IBA have left large amounts of non-biodegradable litter along the trail (Gut Lepcha pers. comm. 2001). This, coupled with wild harvesting of Junipers and Rhododendron, medicinal plants including the capless mushroom Cordyceps sinensis (‘Caterpillarfungus’), has opened up good forest areas. Veterinary staff at the Angora Rabbit breeding centre at Rabom, North Sikkim have reported occasional instances of Goral with skin disease coming out of the forest to die in the area (Passang Bhutia pers. comm. 2002). It is evident that much research input is required in this IBA which is the most famous wildlife protected area in Sikkim about which perhaps the least is known as far as its recent biodiversity status is concerned.

Key contributors: Sandeep Tambe and Usha Lachungpa.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Khangchendzonga National Park and Biosphere Reserve. Downloaded from on 09/06/2023.