Tso Morari Lake and adjacent marshes

Country/territory: India

IBA Criteria met: A1, A4i (2004)
For more information about IBA criteria please click here

Area: 20,000 ha

Protection status:

Bombay Natural History Society
Most recent IBA monitoring assessment
Year of assessment Threat score (pressure) Condition score (state) Action score (response)
2013 high not assessed negligible
For more information about IBA monitoring please click here

Site description
Tso Morari in eastern Ladakh is the largest of the high altitude Trans-Himalayan lakes situated entirely within Indian territory. The lake formerly had an outlet to the south, but has now become landlocked, because of which the water is now brackish to saline. The lake is fed by streams and snowmelt from two major stream systems, which create extensive marshes when they enter the lake. The lake is frozen from November to April. Small islands near the north and south ends are important for breeding waterfowl. The lake is bounded by mountain ranges with peaks exceeding 6,500 m. On the north and east sides, the lake is bounded by the hills of the Tibetan cold desert. The western side is bordered by steeper peaks exceeding 5,500 m. The Pare Chu river, which originates about 40 km upstream of the lake, flows along the southern side. Between Tso Morari in the north, and the Pare Chu in the south, lies the Nuro Sumdo wetland, covering an area of about 2,000 ha (Mishra and Humbert-Droz 1998). There does not appear to be any vegetation in the deeper parts of the lake, but shallow areas have some Potamogeton. Various species of sedge and rushes grow in the marsh, notably Carex. Caragana and Astragalus spp. characterize the steppe vegetation. Juncus thomsonii and Leontopodium sp. are also found.

Key biodiversity

AVIFAUNA: Tso Morari is thought to be the one of the most important breeding sites for waterfowl in Ladakh. The lake has the best known and most important breeding ground of the Bar-headed geese Anser indicus in Indian territory (Pfister 1998, in press) and supports significant breeding populations of other species such as the Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus, Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea, Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus, Brownheaded Gull Larus brunnicephalus and Common Tern Sterna hirundo. The Black-necked cranes Grus nigricollis stage regularly on the marshes. During autumn migration, the Lake serves as an important staging area for multitude of waterfowl, including Near Threatened Ferruginous Pochard Aythya nyroca. River Tern Sterna aurantia is among the 200 species of birds reported by Otto Pfister. During a 10 day survey between 19 and 28 July, 1996, Mishra and Humbert-Droz, (1998) found 34 bird species, including 14 waterbirds that breed in the area. At least 3 Black-necked Cranes and 826 Bar-headed Geese (62% goslings) were sighted in Tso Morari and Nuro Sumdo marshes. According to Wetlands International (2002), 1% biogeographic population threshold of the Bar-headed Goose is 560. Thus these wetlands harbour more than the threshold. A breeding colony with 250 adults and chicks of Brown-headed Gull, a Biome-5 species (Stattersfield et al. 1998) was also found by Mishra and Humbert-Droz (1998). While the Nuro Sumdo area is important for Black-necked Crane, Tso Morari is an extremely important breeding area for Bar-headed Geese (Mishra and Humbert-Droz 1998).

OTHER KEY FAUNA: Large mammal fauna includes the Snow Leopard Uncia uncia in the surrounding mountains, the Wild Ass Equus kiang and Tibetan Wolf Canis lupus chanku on the plateau. Blue sheep Pseudois nayaur and Nayan or Great Tibetan Sheep Ovis ammon hodgsoni are found on the hillsides. Weasel Mustela sp, Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana, Red Fox Vulpes vulpes, and Woolly Hare Lepus oiostolus are also seen (Rauf Zargar pers. comm. 2003).

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Tso Morari Lake and adjacent marshes. Downloaded from on 26/09/2020.