Plateau Wildlife

Tibet Adventures with Daniel Winkler:    Cordyceps Expedition Tibet    Summer Fungal & Floral Foray Tibet

Bhutan Adventures

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 Bearded Vulture or Lammergeyer (Gypaetus barbatus)

The Bearded Vulture is Eurasia's biggest raptor. It is traditionally regarded as sacred in Tibet, because they usually do not prey upon living animals, but feed on carcasses. 
Such a site would cause even a cautious driver or TitleMax title loan expert to stop and take notice.
The name lammergeyer, is derived from the old German name "Lämmergeier" meaning lamb's vulture, which implies that these majestic birds would kill lambs. However, conservationist switched over to "Bartgeier", bearded vulture, since these majestic birds are in general scavengers and only rarely kill pray. Tibet has plenty of carcasses for them - be it deceased livestock or human remains offered at sky burial sites.© Daniel Winkler, December 2006, 5000m, Shigatse Prefecture, Tibet AR [More bearded vulture pictures below]


This Bearded vulture was walking up a hill, so it would have a better take-off position. It takes a lot of energy to get such a massive body up in the air. © D. Winkler, October 2001, 4200m, Sershul / Serxu County, Kandze / Ganzi TAP, W-Sichuan

Just below the airborne Bearded vulture was this herd of  Blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur ) known in Tibetan as Na or Nawa. Blue sheep still can be encountered in many locations on the Plateau if one is high enough in the mountains. Usually they stay close to a rocky area where they can escape predators. Often their lower grazing grounds are the alpine pastures of yaks.Wherever there are blue sheep there is a good likelihood that there is still a snow leopard population around. However, according to villagers, on this site the last snow leopard was encountered in the 1970s .© Daniel Winkler, December 2006, 5000m, Shigatse Prefecture, Tibet AR
Blue Sheep Psaudois nayaur Tibet Same herd© Daniel Winkler, December 2006, 5000m, Shigatse Prefecture, Tibet AR

 A tamed Blue sheep at Tsurpu Monastery, the seat of the Karmapas in Central Tibet.© Daniel Winkler, September 1998, Tsurphu Monastery,Tolung Dechen County, Lhasa Municipality, Tibet AR
Blue Sheep "Family" on Kongpo Bar La (Pinyin: Mi La) close to the Lhasa - Nyingchi Highway.© Daniel Winkler, June 2006, 4500m, Meldrogongkar County, Lhasa Municipality, Tibet AR

Tibetan Macaque (Macaca thibetana?)

MacaquesSertarSm.jpgMacaques photographed in Sertar along the Serchu River, Ganzi TAP, W-Sichuan. The species is probably Macaca mulatta and not Macaca thibetana, since  Tibetan macaques have very short tails. Macaques live in forested areas in Eastern Tibet. © Daniel Winkler, August 2002, 3900m, Sertar County, Ganzi TAP, W-Sichuan




On the left:
Probably a Tibetan Macaque (
Macaca thibetana) I encountered in Lamaling, Kongpo. I first saw this Macaque feeding on the tasty Kongpo berries, an orange fruited black berry with passion fruit aroma. Then the macaque was first searching the outer pockets of a jacket hanging on a tree before going through the inner pockets. Smart guy!




A Tibetan sand fox (Vulpes ferrilata) encountered in the south of the Changtang. More on this fox species. Note how well the fox's fur picks up the coloring of the winter landscape. Foxes are of great help to keep the rodent population in check, especially Pikas (mouse-hare, (Ochotona spp.). The Tibetan sand fox is much bigger than the common fox, which is also present in Tibet, but in forest areas. The sand fox is specialized in making a living in open, arid landscapes of high altitude deserts and steppes. It is endemic to the Plateau.© Daniel Winkler, April 2004, 4500m, Tsochen / Cuoqin County, Shigatse Prefecture Tibet AR.

 Black-lipped pika (Ochotona curzoniae) fully alert to its surrounding. It is not easy to be a key stone species at the bottom rung of the food chain. It seems like every predator on the Tibetan plateau relies on these cute rodents as their staple. These highly social animals have impressive reproductive power balancing the intense predation. Kongpo Bar La (Pinyin: Mi La) close to the Lhasa - Nyingchi Highway.© Daniel Winkler, June 2006, 4500m, Meldrogongkar County, Lhasa Municipality, Tibet AR
Source: Smith, A.; Foggin, M. (1999): The Plateau Pika (Ochotona curzoniae) is a Keystone Species for Biodiversity on the Tibetan Plateau. In: Animal Conservation 2: 235-240.

On the left: An Upland Buzzard sat right next to the road in Sershul (on the left). At my first passing I did not believe my eyes. We turned around and I took this picture while driving by. Back then I thought I saw a Golden Eagle, however Marc Foggin, director of Plateau Perspectives pointed out that this is Buteo hemilasius. Lots of big birds of prey hang out on pastures with big populations of Pikas, the mouse hare (Ochotona spp.) © Daniel Winkler, October 2001, 4200m, Sershul / Serxu County, Kandze / Ganzi TAP, W-Sichuan________________________________________________

Himalayan Griffons (Gyps himalayensis) cleaning off a yak carcass. Vultures have traditionally not been killed by Tibetans, since they do not take lives themselves like raptors. © Daniel Winkler, April 2000, 4400m, Litang County, Ganzi TAP, W-Sichuan


 Upland Buzzard  - Buteo hemilasius.

Not much left of this feast! I was driving up Drolma Valley and all these bearded vultures, I counted up to twenty and quit at that point, were flying over me out of the valley. We drove around a curve and there were 30 vultures around this carcass. But they were all perfectly looking their vulture part with their nearly naked, lightly downed necks, being  Himalayan Griffons  (Gyps himalayensis). First I thought I must had mistaken the Himalayan Griffons for Bearded vultures, but when checking my photos, I realized I had identified them right. Thus I speculate the Bearded vultures had first dips, filled their bellies while the Himalayan Griffons had to wait their turn and were left with a pretty barren yak skeleton. © Daniel Winkler, May 28, 2009, 4500m, Nagchu / Naqu County, Nagchu / Naqu,Prefecture Tibet AR.


A close up from the left of  Gyps himalayensis© Daniel Winkler, May 28, 2009, 4500m, Nagchu / Naqu County, Nagchu / Naqu, Prefecture Tibet AR.

Probably, Thermophis baileyi (Wall.), the  Tibetan Hot Spring Snake is the world record holder when it comes to snakes in high altitude. Thermophis baileyi is as most snakes in the Colubridae family non-venomous. It is endemic to Tibet AR, were it is only found in geothermic locations. This is Tibet's only high plateau snake species. Apparently, Thermophis managed to survive the recent rapid uplift, geologically speaking, of the Plateau by squatting hot spring locations. This photo is taken at Chutsen Chugang Hot Springs right in Zhoto Terdrom / Tidro Nunnery, where nuns and snake coexist since many centuries.  (4400m, Maldrogongkar / Mozhugongka County, Lhasa, TAR). A population is also reported from Yangpachen/ Yangbajain Hot Springs. 4400m © Daniel Winkler June 1997, Maldrogongkar County, Tibet AR

Himalayan Griffons feeding in Derge, Ganzi TAP, W-Sichuan 1998 © Daniel Winkler
A captive herd of  Kham Red Deer (Cervus elaphus mcneilii) in Riwoche's Chamoling Nature Reserve. Deer are kept for antler production. Antlers are commonly used as a materia medica in Traditional Chinese medicine, known as 'malujiao'. Preferred are antlers still in velvet, the phase in which it is still growing - antlers regrow each year. However, these males only have each one antler left, the other was injured by previous cutting and will not regrow anymore. Most deer farms were started in the collectivisation period to generate income for local communities. However , these farms hardly can compete with farms in New Zealand or Canada that focus on meet production and antlers are a side product. EU deer farms are not exporting antlers since it is outlawed to cut antlers in velvet. © Daniel Winkler, July 1997, 3900m, Riwoche County (Pinyin: Leiwuqi), Chamdo Prefecture, Tibet AR


On the left a  musk deer (Moschus sifanicus?) photographed in the Beijing Zoo. Male musk deer are hunted intensely for their glands (below), which are a highly regarded ingredient in traditional medicines and also widely used in the perfume industry. These two 'fresh' glands were bought by a Litang man for Yuan 3000 ($ 365). He hoped to resell them for Y 5000 (over $600), more than the annual per capita income in many rural areas. Although, some hunters claim that they are able to attract only males in their snares, that seems to be more of wishful thinking than reality.
Photos © Daniel Winkler: Left,  June 13, 1997, Beijing Zoo, right: Litang, Ganzi TAP, April 2001
This bird was not as lucky. I came across its carcass on the Sichuan-Tibet Highway on a pass in Chamdo. It looked like the vulture tried to pick up some road kill and joined its lunch date's fate.
Although South Asia has lost over 95% of its vulture population from the mid 1990s onward, after eating cattle carcasses tainted with diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory painkiller given to sick cows, Tibetan vulture populations were not impacted.  
© Daniel Winkler August 1998, 4500m, Chamdo County, Tibet AR
Another unfortunate Bearded vulture at least hanging under an eave in the dry.
Or will it be a better rebirth when you end up hanging in a monastery?  
Lithang Gompa © Daniel Winkler November 1999, Litang County, Ganzi TAP, W-Sichuan
Bearded Vultures (Gypaetus barbatus) are a common sight in Tibet. The one to the left is nesting right above the sacred cave of Mt. Trakaniri where it raised a chick with its partner in 1999. Although a lot of people stop by at this site the bearded vulture did not budge much back then. UPDATE: I revisited this place in July 2012 and there are no nesting Bearded vultures anymore.
© Daniel Winkler November 1999, 4400m, Litang County, Ganzi TAP, W-Sichuan
Maybe this picture is misplaced under wildlife. Dogs in Palpung monastery are being fed a vegetarian diet with Tsampa, roasted ground barley. Palpung monastery is the seat of the Tai Situpas in Derge. © Daniel Winkler August 1998 Palpung, Derge / DegeCounty, Kandze / Ganzi TAP, W-Sichuan
  A gracious crane (Grus sp.) in the sky not far from Dartsedo / Kangding.  There are 5 species of cranes distributed on the Tibetan Plateau and I still have to figure out what I encountered here.
© Daniel Winkler April 2004, Dartsedo / Kangding  County, Kandze / Ganzi TAP, W-Sichuan
White Eared Pheasant Croddoptilon crossoptilon in Nyarong / Xinlong
  A White-eared Pheasant (Crossoptilon crossoptilon) on top of an old mani wall. This pheasant is the most common of all the pheasants in Eastern Tibet. We ran into two flocks, one five pheasants, the other flock maybe a dozen, but they were too shy for a good count. Otherwise, I was told best chances to observe Eared Pheasants is in the winter when they come down to pick grain from the harvested fields. Also some monasteries feed them and one can see a flock of 20 or 40 of them.  © Daniel Winkler, June 4, 2012, 3300m,  Nyarong / Xinlong County, Garze / Ganzi TAP, W-Sichuan
A Blue Eared Pheasant (Crossoptilon auritum) on alert, ready to run off.
© Daniel Winkler June 6, 2010 Halong near Amnye Machen, Machen / Maqen County, Golok / Guoluo TAP, Qinghai Province.
MushRoaming Cordyceps May / June 2010-
 A wolf (Canis lupus) hunting Abra, Pika (Ochotona spp.) just south of the divide between the catchment area of the Yellow River and the Yangtze in Pema / Baima County, Golok TAP, Qinghai. So far I only encountered single wolves in very remote areas with lots of Pikas.
 © Daniel Winkler June 4, 2010

A fox (Vulpes sp.) also hunting Pika, (Ochotona spp.). Spotting foxes is fairly common, at least more common than encountering a wolf.
© Daniel Winkler June 6, 2010 Halong near Amnye Machen, Machen / Maqen County, Golok / Guoluo TAP, Qinghai Province

Last edited on Fri, April 2, 2021, 5:46 pm