Zemithang - Nelya

Site description (2004 baseline):

Site location and context
This is another remote mountainous area at the trijunction of India, Bhutan and China (Tibet). Much of its border is under the control of the Army. Owing to altitudinal variation from 2,000 to >5,000 m, the forest cover varies from Temperate Conifer and Broadleaf to Subalpine and Alpine Scrub. It also has high altitudes lakes, good sites for breeding waterfowl of which Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea has been confirmed (A. U. Choudhury pers. comm. 2003).

Key biodiversity

AVIFAUNA: Detailed information on the bird life is not available. Singh (1999) and his team have seen 118 species during six days of bird watching in the Towang-Zeminthang area between 1,770 and 4,900 m above msl. They added the following species for Arunachal Pradesh from this site: Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus, Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius, White-browed Tit-Warbler Leptopoecile sophiae and Streaked Rosefinch Carpodacus rubicilloides.

This is the second site in Arunachal Pradesh where Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis, a Vulnerable species (BirdLife International, 2001) is found (Choudhury 2000). The exact location where these cranes are found in winter is Zemithang Valley on the banks of Nyamjang Chu (Chu = river). Zeminthang is 95 km from Tawang and 250 km from the Sangti Valley by road, and only 20 km and 65 km respectively as the crow flies. Sangti Valley (an IBA) is another site where the Black-necked Crane is regularly found (Choudhury 2001). The Zemithang Valley is about 1.5 km long and 0.5 km wide, and at 2,000 m, compared to 1,500 m of the Sangti Valley. The local Buddhists revere and do not harm this species, locally called Thung-thung karmo. Since time immemorial, two to four birds visit this valley. Up to 7 have been reported earlier.

This site is also important for biome-restricted species. For Biome-5 (Eurasian High Montane - Alpine and Tibetan), found above 3,600 m, BirdLife International (undated) has listed 48 species. Of these, some interesting species found in this IBA are the Himalayan Griffon Gyps himalayensis, Snow Partridge Lerwa lerwa, Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis, Ibisbill Ibidorhyncha struthersii, Snow Pigeon Columba leuconota, Grey-backed Shrike Lanius tephronotus, Blood Pheasant Ithaginis cruentus, and Satyr Tragopan Tragopan satyra.

The site is included in the Eastern Himalayas Endemic Bird Area (Stattersfield et al. 1998). BirdLife International (undated) has listed 21 species from this EBA. Seven species have been identified, but a thorough survey would reveal many more.

OTHER KEY FAUNA: High altitude mammals include Bharal Pseudois nayaur, Takin Budorcas taxicolor, Snow Leopard Uncia uncia, Goral Nemorhaedus goral, Musk Deer Moschus chrysogaster, Serow Naemorhedus sumatraensis, Asiatic Black Bear Ursus thibetanus and possibly Brown Bear Ursus arctos in the extreme north of this IBA. Red Panda Ailurus fulgens, Assamese Macaque Macaca assamensis and Capped Langur Trachypithecus pileatus also occur.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
MAIN THREATS: Yak grazing; Road construction; Felling of trees.

The most important conservation issue is the protection of the Black-necked Crane. The locals are all Buddhists, belonging to the Monpa tribe, and do not harm the birds. However, there have been two instances of shooting of Black-necked Cranes; in the late 1970s, by a government officer and then in the 1980s by the Circle Officer who was not a Monpa. The villagers were very upset with these incidents and still remember them with sorrow. Thanks to good publicity, poaching of cranes has not been reported in recent years. However, as the army units change regularly and new soldiers are posted, they have to be educated not only about the Black-necked Crane but also about other wildlife. This is a great opportunity to organize environmental education training workshops regularly. Perhaps, the Valley where these cranes winter should be declared a Community Conservation Area, under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, amended in 2003. The other conservation issues are more mundane and not site specific: timber operation for firewood, occasional grassland burning (land development for army), and forest clearings for horticulture by the local people.

Key contributors: Bharat Bhushan Bhatt, Anwaruddin Choudhury and Bablu Dey.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Zemithang - Nelya. Downloaded from on 03/10/2023.