Introducing the Animals of the Annapurna Circuit
Most people haven’t heard of pikas, but these small critters are commonly spotted on the Annapurna Circuit. A pika is similar in appearance to a chinchilla, albeit slightly smaller. They are native to the colder climates of Asia, Eastern Europe and North America and are sometimes called rock rabbits or coneys. Pikas are most active during the winter season as they don’t hibernate; instead they rely on collected hay for warm bedding and food.
Most species live on rocky mountain sides, where numerous crevices in which to shelter occur, although some pika also construct crude burrows. A few burrowing species are native to open steppe land. In the mountains of Eurasia, pikas often share their burrows with snowfinches, which build their nests there.
Each rock-dwelling pika stores its own “haypile” of dried vegetation, while burrowing species often share food stores with their burrow mates. Haying behavior is more prominent at higher elevations. Many of the vocalizations and social behaviors that pikas exhibit are related to haypile defense. Pikas commonly live in family groups and share duties of gathering food and keeping watch. Some species are territorial.
Yes, you really can spot blue sheep on an Annapurna circuit trek, although slate grey would probably be a more apt description. These sheep are also known by their Nepalese name, bharal, and can often be spotted clambering over rocky crevices on the Annapurna Circuit. Both male and female bharal have horns, although the males curve sideways in the manner of a Victorian moustache, whilst the females grow upwards and straight. They are hard to spot as they tend to camouflage well against the slate grey of the mountain drop and tend to freeze once they feel they are in danger of being approached.
The stunning snow leopard is one of the most elusive creatures in Nepal with only between 300 and 500 left. The northern region of the Annapurnas is their main hunting ground, where pika and bharal are plentiful. The snow leopard hunts during dawn and dusk and spotting one of these beautiful creatures is an incredibly rare privilege whilst on an Annapurna circuit trek. Snow leopards are able to kill up to three times their size and when they’ve made their kill they will stay with their prey for several days protecting it from scavengers and eating it very slowly.
The red panda is native to Nepal and can often be spotted whilst walking the Annapurna circuit, as they make their homes on the slopes of the southern Himalayans. The red panda is very heat sensitive and can not tolerate temperatures of over 25C. As a result, red pandas sleep during noontime when the sun is at its hottest, with their bushy tales sheltering their faces.
The Himalayan tahr is another animal that you perhaps haven’t heard anything about. This black, long-haired, goat like creature is native to the Himalayan Mountains and most active during the early morning and late afternoon. They can often be seen resting on a rocky outcrop during the day and will bolt for the hills once approached. However, when you learn that tahr hunting is a native sport among many of the tribes on the Annapurna circuit, its no wonder that they may shy away from human company.
The Yeti or Abominable Snowman is said to frequent the Annapurna circuit and many locals are convinced that they’ve caught a glimpse of him. The animal has been described as ape-like, with shaggy brown hair, sharp teeth and no tail. Stories have been told of the yeti killing yaks and attacking locals, so whether you believe them or not, you better watch out as who knows what may lurk on the slopes of the Annapurna circuit.
Author: Jude Limburn Turner – is the Marketing Manager for Mountain Kingdoms, an adventure tour company who have provided Annapurna Circuit treks for over 20 years. They now offer treks and tours worldwide, including destinations in North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Central and South East Asia.
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