Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary
Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary is a nature park in the Indian state of Sikkim. It has forty species of rhododendron trees. It is located in the Yumthang Valley of Flowers north of Lachung in North Sikkim district. Bird species found in the park include Wood snipe and Hoary-throated barwing. The sanctuary is part of the Sacred Himalayan Landscape.
Located in Yumthang Valley, The Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary is surrounded on the east by chuba-sagochen mountain ranges and on the west by Chomzomei Tso (Lake) that extends till the Lava pass, the sanctuary covers an area of around 43 sq.km, which comprises several species of rhododendrons and lies at an altitude of 3500 to 4500 m, the Yumthang Chhu ( river ) meandering through the sanctuary giving it a picturesque settings.
Straddling the Yumthang river, the Sanctuary which lies beyond the frontier village of Lachung in North Sikkim, is characterized by Temperate Silver Fir – Rhododendron forest at the head of the narrow Lachung Valley surrounded by towering snowy mountains.
Rhododendron trees laden with trailing lichens provide good habitat for avifauna and flora. Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary is home to the endemic Rhododendron niveum, the State Tree. Yumthang meadows adjacent to Yumthang-Lachung river provide shingle beds for Ibisbill Ibidorhyncha struthersii, meadows for Yak and feeding areas for wagtails, pipits, larks, Grandala Grandala coelicolor and other species.
Abies densa, Picea, Rhododendron, Juniperus, Acer spp. and ground flora such as Primula, Potentilla, Aconitum spp. and other alpine herbs are seen. The earlier dense stands of firs and rhododendron were worked for timber and removed for firewood. After the area was declared protected, much of the fallen material was left as such providing good habitat for wildlife. Today young firs inside the protected area show good natural regeneration.
The Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary is a Must visit for all age groups when we are in Lachung, when I was there I saw many central government new recruits where trekking from Lachung to Yumthang valley and stay in the tents along the river as a part of their training program.
The globally threatened Wood Snipe Gallinago nemoricola is occasionally seen in the Rhododendron-Fir forest of Shingba, and Ibisbill breeds on the shingle beds of the Yumthang Chu in small numbers, usually not more than two pairs. Grandala, a local altitudinal migrant, is seen sometimes in apparently all-female flocks. Blood Pheasant Ithaginis cruentus and Himalayan Monal Lophophorus impejanus breed in the higher reaches of the Sanctuary while the Himalayan Griffon Gyps himalayensisis a resident of the cold desert. Gould’s Shortwing Brachypteryx stellata, Rufous-bellied Crested Tit Parus rubidiventris and the restricted range Hoary-throated Barwing Actinodura nipalensis are common in forest patches. The Firetailed Sunbird Aethopyga ignicauda is conspicuous when Rhododendrons are in bloom. Rufous-bellied Eagle Hieraaetus kienerii was sighted in Yumthang in June 1984. Jungle Crows are now resident at this altitude of c. 4,000 m with increasing tourist pressure (U. Lachungpa pers. comm. 2003).
This IBA lies at the interface of Biome-5 (Eurasian High Montane: Alpine and Tibetan) and Biome-7 (Sino-Himalayan Temperate Forest). Therefore, species of both biomes are represented. It has alpine meadows and scrubs, so we get Tibetan Partridge Perdix
hodgsoniae, Tibetan Snowcock Tetraogallus tibetanus and Hume’s Short-toed Lark Calandrella acutirostris, while at slightly lower altitude where Montane Broadleaf Evergreen and Mixed Broadleaf–Coniferous Forest are found, species representing Biome-7 predominate.
BirdLife International (undated) has listed 48 species in Biome-5 for Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary, out of which 19 have been seen in this IBA. The Biome-7 has a long list of 112 species, of which 19 are found here. Looking at the intact habitat and the fact that no one has conducted detailed study on the avifauna of The Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary, more species of this biome are likely to be found here. Interestingly, two species of Biome-8 (SinoHimalayan Subtropical Forest) have also been reported from Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary: Short-billed Minivet Pericrocotus brevirostris and Rufouschinned Laughingthrush Garrulax rufogularis (U. GanguliLachungpa, pers. comm. 2002). This is not unusual as there is a very diffuse borderline between biomes, and secondly, birds of the Himalayas, like any mountain region in the world, show seasonal altitudinal movements.
OTHER KEY FAUNA
Notable mammals include Red Panda Ailurus fulgens, Musk Deer Moschus chrysogaster, Yellow-throated Marten Martes flavigula, Himalayan Weasel Mustela sibirica, Himalayan Mouse-Hare Ochotona roylei, Long-eared Bat Plecotus auritus, Himalayan (Nepal) Langur Semnopithecus schistaceus and other typical temperate species. The enigmatic Caterpillar-Fungus Cordyceps sinensis which is a highly prized species found in very restricted patches at the upper limits of the Sanctuary, but yet to be recognized as a forest produce by the State Forest Department. In the river, the exotic fish Brown Trout Salmo trutta was introduced by the State Forest Department in the 1980s, while suitable sheltered waterbodies harbour the Sikkim Snow Toad Scutiger sp. (Anon. 2003).
q Nature conservation and research
THREATS AND CONSERVATION ISSUES
q Military and Police use
q Forest grazing
q Tourism/Recreation/mountaineering expeditions
q Collection of Junipers and dwarf Rhododendron for incense
The Lachung-Yumthang Valley lies along the western flanks of the Chumbi Valley of Tibet. Hence this IBA has considerable military presence and a small but significant State Police presence.
The North Sikkim Highway bifurcates at the low altitude township of Tsungthang, 25 km away and continues right up to Zadong at Yumesamdong for c. 50 km. This was also the old trade route to Tibet across the Dongkia La. There is a need for constant maintenance of this road due to considerable traffic and in fact the Yumthang ‘meadows’ were created as a result of past timber barter across the border and the more recent removal of the Fir forest to make the road. The State Forest Department had also attempted timber extraction from this region in the 1980s.
Presence of stray dogs around army camps is noticeable. As more Lachungpa tribals look forward to alternative livelihoods like tourism, livestock, mostly cows and horses are often let loose and some virtually abandoned. Yaks however are herded as they still fetch good returns (Anon. 2003). These graze in the ShingbaYumthang-Yumesamdong region during summer, migrating to ‘tree forests’ in lower altitudes in winter. This is in sharp contrast to the Dokpa yak herders in the Tso Lhamo IBA who migrate to higher wind-blown apparently barren pastures in winter (GanguliLachungpa and Rahmani 2003).
The military and the local mountaineering institute use the area for their exercises which often take them to areas not normally accessible to casual visitors. During a recent tourist expedition, Musk Deer traps in the form of live Rhododendron bushes worked into hedges were found in the higher reaches of the Yumthang valley (U. Lachungpa pers. comm. 2002) and during a recent Japanese botanical expedition, porters found and collectedCordyceps sinensis (Til Bahadur Subba pers. comm. 2003 to U. Ganguli-Lachungpa).
Tourism is a booming industry in the state and the YumthangLachung package sees up to 200 vehicles per day plying in this small IBA during summer when the rhododendrons are in bloom or during winter when there is snowfall. The fallout of this enterprise in the form of garbage and vandalism, noise pollution, deforestation due to increased demand for firewood, disturbance by picnickers to breeding birds like Ibisbill, wagtails and pipits is already apparent and needs to be addressed. Collection of wild edible and medicinal plants and plants with religious significance had always been a traditional activity but commercial harvesting of the same has been banned for five years by the State Forest Department (Anon. 2003). The Forest Department has also established Eco-Development Committees (EDCs) in Lachung village, ‘Smriti Van’ a ‘Memorial Forest’ fenced plot for tree plantation at Yumthang, and further seeks to establish medicinal plant conservation and development areas in this IBA.
Biome-5: Eurasian High Montane (Alpine and Tibetan)
Snow Partridge Lerwa lerwa
Tibetan Snowcock Tetraogallus tibetanus
Tibetan Partridge Perdix hodgsoniae
Ibisbill Ibidorhyncha struthersii
Snow Pigeon Columba leuconota
Long-billed Calandra-Lark Melanocorypha maxima
Hume’s Short-toed Lark Calandrella acutirostris
Rosy Pipit Anthus roseatus
Grey-backed Shrike Lanius tephronotus
Altai Accentor Prunella himalayana
Robin Accentor Prunella rubeculoides
Guldenstadt’s Redstart Phoenicurus erythrogaster
Grandala Grandala coelicolor
Smoky Warbler Phylloscopus fuligiventer
Hodgson’s Mountain-Finch Leucosticte nemoricola
Black-headed Mountain-Finch Leucosticte brandti
Common Great Rosefinch Carpodacus rubicilla
Hume’s Groundpecker Pseudopodoces humilis
Yellow-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax graculus
Biome-7: Sino-Himalayan Temperate Forest
Blood Pheasant Ithaginis cruentus
Himalayan Monal Lophophorus impejanus
Speckled Wood-Pigeon Columba hodgsonii
Nepal House-Martin Delichon nipalensis
White-collared Blackbird Turdus albocinctus
Gould’s Shortwing Brachypteryx stellata
White-throated Redstart Phoenicurus schisticeps
Black-faced Laughingthrush Garrulax affinis
Orange-barred Leaf-Warbler Phylloscopus pulcher
Large-billed Leaf-Warbler Phylloscopus magnirostris
Orange-gorgeted Flycatcher Ficedula strophiata
Rufous-bellied Crested Tit Parus rubidiventris
Brown Crested Tit Parus dichrous
Yellow-browed Tit Sylviparus modestus
Fire-tailed Sunbird Aethopyga ignicauda
Yellow-breasted Greenfinch Carduelis spinoides
Red-headed Bullfinch Pyrrhula erythrocephala
Spotted-winged Grosbeak Mycerobas melanozanthos
Gold-naped Black Finch Pyrrhoplectes epauletta
Biome-8: Sino-Himalayan Sub-tropical Forest
Short-billed Minivet Pericrocotus brevirostris
Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush Garrulax rufogularis