GREAT HIMALAYAN NATIONAL PARK CONSERVATION AREA
The Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area is located in a mountainous region in the far northwest of India. The dramatic valleys and peaks create a highly topographically diverse site which hosts a wide array of habitat types and species. Many of these species are of particular note, especially the snow leopard and the western tragopan. The site is located at the junction between the Oriental and Palearctic faunal realms, and consequently is considered an area of special biological importance. Lastly, the site is comparatively very isolated and has experienced significantly lower levels of human influence than some other World Heritage Sites.
Himachal Pradesh, India.
Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area.
NATURAL WORLD HERITAGE SITE
2014: Inscribed on the World Heritage List under Natural Criterion x.
STATEMENT OF OUTSTANDING UNIVERSAL VALUE
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee adopted the following Statement of Outstanding Universal Value at the time of inscription:
The Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area is located in the western part of the Himalayan Mountains in the northern Indian State of Himachal Pradesh. The 90,540 ha property includes the upper mountain glacial and snow melt water source origins of the westerly flowing Jiwa Nal, Sainj and Tirthan Rivers and the north-westerly flowing Parvati River which are all headwater tributaries to the River Beas and subsequently, the Indus River. The property includes an elevational range from high alpine peaks of over 6,000m a.s.l. to riverine forest at altitudes below 2,000m a.s.l. The Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area encompasses the catchments of water supplies which are vital to millions of downstream users.
The property lies within the ecologically distinct Western Himalayas at the junction between two of the world’s major biogeographic realms, the Palearctic and Indomalayan Realms. Displaying biotic elements from both these realms, the Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area protects the monsoon affected forests and alpine meadows of the Himalayan front ranges which sustain a unique biota comprised of many distinct altitude-sensitive ecosystems. The property is home to many plants and animals endemic to the region. The Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area displays distinct broadleaf and conifer forest types forming mosaics of habitat across steep valley side landscapes. It is a compact, natural and biodiverse protected area system that includes 25 forest types and an associated rich assemblage of fauna species.
The Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area is at the core of a larger area of surrounding protected areas which form an island of undisturbed environments in the greater Western Himalayan landscape. The diversity of species present is rich; however it is the abundance and health of individual species’ populations supported by healthy ecosystem processes where the Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area demonstrates its outstanding significance for biodiversity conservation.
Criterion (x): The Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area is located within the globally significant “Western Himalayan Temperate Forests” ecoregion. The property also protects part of Conservation International’s Himalaya “biodiversity hot spot” and is part of the BirdLife International’s Western Himalaya Endemic Bird Area. The Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area is home to 805 vascular plant species, 192 species of lichen, 12 species of liverworts and 25 species of mosses. Some 58% of its angiosperms are endemic to the Western Himalayas. The property also protects some 31 species of mammals, 209 birds, 9 amphibians, 12 reptiles and 125 insects. The Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area provides habitat for 4 globally threatened mammals, 3 globally threatened birds and a large number of medicinal plants. The protection of lower altitude valleys provides for more complete protection and management of important habitats and endangered species such as the Western Tragopan and the Musk Deer.
The property is of a sufficient size to ensure the natural functioning of ecological processes. Its rugged topography and inaccessibility together with its location within a much larger ecological complex of protected areas ensures its integrity. The altitudinal range within the property together with its diversity of habitat types provide a buffer to climate change impacts and the needs of altitude sensitive plants and animals to find refuge from climate variability. A 26,560 ha buffer zone known as an Ecozone is defined along the south-western side of the property. This buffer zone coincides with the areas of greatest human pressure and is managed in sympathy with the core values of the Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area. The property is further buffered by high mountain systems to the north-west which include several national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. These areas also offer scope to progressively increase the size of the World Heritage property. Human settlement related threats pose the greatest concern and include agriculture, localised poaching, traditional grazing, human-wildlife conflicts and hydropower development. Tourism impact is minimal and trekking routes are closely regulated.
Protection and management requirements
The property is subject to sound legal protection, however, this needs to be strengthened to ensure consistent high level protection across all areas. This pertains to the transition of some areas from wildlife sanctuary to national park status. Tirthan and Sainj Wildlife Sanctuaries are designated in recognition of their ecological and zoological significance and are subject to wildlife management objectives, and a higher level of strict protection is provided to Great Himalayan National Park which is a national park. National parks under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 provide for strict protection without human disturbance.
The property’s boundaries are considered appropriate and an effective management regime is in place including an overall management plan and adequate resourcing. The property has a buffer zone along its south-western side which corresponds to the 26,560 ha Ecozone, the area of greatest human population pressure. Continued attention is required to manage sensitive community development issues in this buffer zone and in some parts of the property itself.
The sensitive resolution of access and use rights by communities is needed to bolster protection as is fostering alternative livelihoods which are sympathetic to the conservation of the area. Local communities are engaged in management decisions; however more work is needed to fully empower communities and continue to build a strong sense of support and stewardship for the Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area.
Included within the property are the Sainj Wildlife Sanctuary with 120 inhabitants and the Tirthan Wildlife Sanctuary, which is uninhabited but currently subject to traditional grazing. The inclusion of these two Wildlife Sanctuaries supports the integrity of the nomination; however, it opens up concerns regarding the impacts of grazing and human settlements. Both these aspects are being actively managed, a process that will need to be maintained. The extent and impacts of high pasture grazing in the Tirthan area of the property needs to be assessed and grazing phased out as soon as practicable. Other impacts arising from small human settlements within the Sainj area of the property also need to be addressed as soon as practicable.
2014: Inscribed on the World Heritage List as a Natural Site under criterion x.
IUCN MANAGEMENT CATEGORY
II National Park
Himalayan Highlands (2.38.12)
The Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) is in the Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh in North-West India. This is approximately 500km from Delhi and is therefore significantly closer to Tibet, Nepal and Pakistan. At approximately 175 km away, the mountain city of Shimla, the regional capital of Himachal Pradesh is the GHNP’s nearest large town. Geographical coordinates to the nearest second are: 31o 38' 28” to 31o 54' 58” N and 77o 20' 11” to 77o 45' 00” E.
DATES AND HISTORY OF ESTABLISHMENT
1978 – 1980: A team of national and international scientists survey the region to gauge the possibility of creating a National Park in the western Himalayas.
1984: Notification of intent to create the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) to local residents.
1987: The Park’s first working plan is completed.
1992: Tirthan Wildlife Sanctuary is created.
1994: Sainj Wildlife Sanctuary is created.
1994 – 1995: The GHNP ecozone is created.
1999: GHNP is formally considered a National Park due to completion of the ‘Final notification’ (GHNP is considered free of biotic pressures).
2010: The Sainj and Tirthan Wildlife Sanctuaries are added to the GHNP.
2014: The Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area is inscribed as a World Heritage Site.
The State government of Himachal Pradesh is the owner of the property.
The property covers 90,540 ha with a 26,560 ha buffer zone which, in accordance with Indian terminology, will hereafter be referred to as the ecozone.
Due to the mountainous nature of the property, there is a large altitudinal range from 2,000m to over 6,000m a.s.l.
The terrain in the landscape is characterised by numerous high ridges above 4,000 m, snow capped peaks, large glaciers, deep gorges and precipitous cliffs. The northern and north-eastern parts of the landscape cover several prominent glaciers, whilst much of the remaining area is criss-crossed by streams (Uniyal, 2007). The highest peak in the property is unnamed and is located in the Parbati sub-watershed while the lowest altitude is closer to the property’s southern boundary, near the Satluj River.
The rocks of the Great Himalayan range are principally metamorphic, having been formed under extremely high temperatures and pressures approximately 540 million years ago and emplaced in their current location between 19 and 21 million years ago. These rocks were lifted by the collision of the Indian tectonic plate with the Eurasian plate, thereby forming the Himalayas, a mountain range which spans almost 2,500 km and hosts many of the world’s highest peaks. The high altitude of the region means that the landscape is an exceptional location to study previous and current glaciation events, which can inform research on the future impacts of climate change. In the lower slopes, sedimentary rock structures are exhibited, such as cross-bedding and ripple marks, which are tectonically overlain by the metamorphic rocks described above. Alluvial soils are also common in the lower altitudes due to the erosion of substrates and soils in the valleys at higher altitudes which are then transported by fluvial networks down the valleys. Podsolic soils are common in the property, especially in the areas supporting large communities of coniferous species. Brown forest soils are not uncommon; however, soil depth does become thinner with altitude.
Water originating in the major rivers of the GHNP is a vital resource and one of the most important primary hydrological sources for the region. The four subwatersheds (the Tirthan, Sainj, Jiwa Nal and Parvati) get their water from glaciers as well as runoff from the forests within the GHNP. The glaciers at the headwaters are the main origin of rivers of the GHNP and are therefore of high importance to people living outside the GHNP on the plains below.
The regional climate is temperate and alpine in nature, though four distinct seasons can be witnessed. Mean annual rainfall recorded at Niharni and Sainj in the Sainj valley for the years 1992 – 1994 was 1155 mm and 1158 mm respectively. Precipitation in the region is highly seasonal due to the monsoon which is present between the months of June to September. Ambient temperature varies from -10oC in January to 40oC in June. About 16% of the property is snow bound in winter, which can be several metres deep and be the source of avalanches.
The vast array of habitats and climates found within the Himalayan range means that there is a significant number of rare, endemic and threatened species of plant found in the region. The Great Himalayan National Park alone hosts 832 plant species representing 427 genera. This assemblage of species covers around 26% of the floristic diversity of the significantly larger Himachal Pradesh region.
Vegetation within the GHNP occurs in well-defined altitudinal zones, starting with the open subtropical forests of the lowest valleys, gradually changing to mixed forests of horse chestnut Aesculus indica and evergreen oak Quercus levcotricophora and then to the upper temperate zone dominated by kharsu oak Quercus semecarpifolia and coniferous species. Above this the vegetation forms subalpine zone of birches and Rhododendron arboreum before becoming a fully alpine area where the vegetation is limited to grasses, herbs and low shrubs such as juniper. Approximately one third of the GHNP’s area is covered by closed canopy forest, which can extend from the valley floor to 3,600 m above sea level. These forested areas are good representatives of the region’s ecosystems, including kharsu oak, Himalayan blue pine, west Himalayan silver fir and Himalayan cedar. Much of the GHNP’s area is above 4,000 m, which forms the upper boundary of the subalpine and scrub vegetation in the property. The floral communities reflect this fact with the majority of communities being alpine and pastoral in nature. Despite some areas having been modified by grazing pressures (Saberwal & Chatre, 2001), the GHNP remains one of the few areas in the Western Himalayas that contains forest and alpine meadows that could be considered approaching their original state.
There are many medicinal plant species found within the GHNP, such as Fritillaria roylei and Dactylorhiza hatageria. These species have historically been collected for local use, but in recent years they have become threatened by over collection and as such five species are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List and a further 17 species as Endangered (IUCN, 2015). There are approximately 61 species that are considered to have value as either aromatic or medicinal plants (Pandey, 2008). As well as angiosperms and gymnosperms the property supports 192 species of lichen, which equals more than 50% of the lichen species found in the central Himalaya. The Tirthan and Sainj valleys represent two of the best areas for lichen diversity, especially in saxicolous (rock inhabiting) species. There is also a notable bryophyte community in the GHNP, with 12 recorded species of liverwort and 23 species of moss.
The Great Himalayan National Park is known to host a wide variety of vertebrate species, including charismatic threatened species. There are over 31 mammalian species belonging to six different orders. Of these, the Himalayan musk deer Moschus leucogaster (EN) and the snow leopard Panthera unciaI (EN) are the most threatened, being classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, whilst the Himalayan tahr is endemic to the Western Himalaya. The mammalian faunal diversity in the property is believed to be higher than in other nearby areas, perhaps in response to the ban on hunting in Himachal Pradesh and the protection awarded to many of the prominent species in the property. Among the large mammals present are several herbivorous species which are characteristic of the region, namely the blue sheep Pseudois nayaur and the Himalayan goral Naemorhedus goral. Both of these species function as prey to the snow leopard Panthera uncia, which can only be found at the highest innermost portions of the property.
Until recently there were 183 recorded species of bird in the area, but this has been expanded by 26 species thereby creating a total of 209 recorded avian species in the property. Within the GHNP birds such as long-tailed minivets Pericrocotus ethologus and yellow-bellied fantails Chelidorhynx hypoxantha become common at the lowest altitudes during the winter months, with even more species being present if snow is particularly heavy. There can also be migrant species that spend the winter in the property, notably the blue-capped redstart Phoenicurus caeruleocephala whereas in the summer months there can be over 50 species of migratory bird species, In the higher altitudinal zones bird species may be less frequent but high profile species such as golden eagles Aquila chrysaetos and lammergeyers Gypaetus barbatus can be sighted in the air as well as snow partridge Lerwa lerwa on the ground. Of particular note are the pheasants of GHNP, with the largest known number of western tragopan Tragopan melanocephalus (VU) in the world inhabiting the property.
With regard to invertebrate species only six insect orders have been studied in the property, with 125 species identified. Many of the identified species are butterflies, worms and molluscs, which span several different habitat types around the property. A total of 75 species of butterflies, belonging to 48 genera were documented in the Great Himalayan National Park, with a clear spatial preference for lower altitudinal zones (Uniyal, 2007). The herpetofauna of the GHNP is even less studied than the insects, though it is thought that there are very high levels of endemism found in the resident reptile and amphibian species.
The Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area is exceptionally diverse for its compact size, and home to a number of globally threatened species of high profile. The occurrence of both temperate and alpine ecosystems in a geographically compact area makes the GHNP one of the most important conservation units at the junction between the Oriental and Palearctic faunal realms (Pandey, 2008). The Western Himalayas is also considered an Endemic Bird Area by Birdlife International, as well as a biodiversity hotspot by Conservation International. Furthermore, the property experiences very low levels of human influence due to its isolation and therefore functions as an effective refuge for multiple species.
Because of its remoteness and relatively inaccessible mountain terrain, the human settlements in the Seraj area of the Kullu region are not as well known as other areas of northeast India. Human settlements in the Upper Beas Basin began over 2 millennia ago, in a steady drift northward from the lowlands. The dominant caste of farmers and shepherds on the land were a people called Kanets, by the 1800s they owned over 80% of the agricultural land in the Kullu subdivision. The area’s resources have supported and enabled millennia of co-evolution between the pastoralists, their livestock and the surrounding landscape. The practices of seasonal transhumant pastoralists have remained largely unaffected since colonization despite several changes brought about by technology (Mehra & Mathur, 2001). The indigenous communities of the Jiwa, Sainj and Tirthan valleys within the GHNP have each developed distinct traditions and customs. Neither local history of natural resource use nor conservation practices has been well documented.
The caste system plays a significant role in the area not just in terms of cultural heritage but also with regard to work distribution and resource use. The majority of the population is comprised of two different caste groups: Thankurs/Rajputs and Brahmins (who could be considered to have a higher status) and the Scheduled Castes (less powerful). Rajputs are the primary land owners, whilst Scheduled Caste members receive seasonal agricultural employment in the upper castes’ fields (Mehra & Mathur, 2001). People belonging to the Schedule Classes were not allowed to hold land, and so therefore worked as tenant farmers and labourers to specific Kanet families. Additional roles amongst the Schedule Caste residents included Chamars: leatherworkers, Barehis: axemen and woodcutters, Thanis: masons and carpenters and Balras: basket makers using ringal bamboo (Tucker, 1997). The caste system evidently had a significant impact on how the community functioned and as well as how the regional culture itself developed.
As the Brahmins gradually moved into the region from the north Indian lowlands they brought with them Hinduism, and subsequently built temples and served as hereditary temple priests. The upper Beas region, perhaps as much as any other region in the Indian subcontinent, maintained a geography of sacred places. Most villages in Kullu and Seraj had temples to ancient local gods and goddesses (devtas and devis). These devtas were responsible for the care of the sacred temple groves which were dominated by the sacred deodar tree. Some temples were within villages whereas others could be situated on prominent locations in the forest, the temples, which would be made from stone and deodar timber would hold rent-free land and also granaries (Tucker, 1997).
Village life was a relatively self-sufficient local system of subsistence which integrated croplands, forests and grazing lands. Faith systems were clearly a strong aspect of cultural life in the region, and remain so today.
LOCAL HUMAN POPULATION
The State Party emphasises its ongoing commitment to work with the local people who have been and will be affected by the changes to protection status of the GHNP. Programmes are in place to formally compensate affected people, and to provide alternative livelihoods as well as methods to allow their input into park management decision-making. The ecozone is the property’s buffer zone, located to the southwest of the World Heritage Site, and encompasses 14,000 to 15,000 villagers. The most populous parts of the ecozone are the Tirthan valley, which reportedly supports over 7,500 inhabitants and the Jiwanal valley which supports approximately 4,000 residents. The local human population has always been largely settled in mountain villages in the tributaries of the Beas River, but is expanding in response to the increasing numbers of inhabitants at a regional scale. Only 26.07 km2 (9.81%) of the ecozone is covered by habitation, agriculture or orchards, whilst the remaining area is under natural vegetation (Pandey, 2008).
VISITORS AND VISITOR FACILITIES
The annual number of visitors to the GHNP is low, with only 700 to 1000 tourists entering each year. Tourist levels to the ecozone on the other hand are significantly higher with between 6,000 to 8,000 visitors, suggesting that many are only visiting the periphery of the World Heritage Site area. The calibre of the natural quality of the site has meant that management decisions are not particularly in favour of developing significant amounts of roads or paved trails. In terms of available accommodation at the property there are seven rooms and one dormitory spread between three residencies. The Community Training and Tourist Center, Sairopa, is by far the largest visitor facility with a conference hall and recreation room. An alternative to the guesthouses is to camp, which would seem a common practice, especially when undertaking trekking around the property. The management plan states that the extension of eco-treks is an objective for the coming years.
Outside of the property the Larji information centre, located near the confluence of the Sainj and Tirthan rivers, caters to tourists coming to the GHNP from the direction of either Kullu or Mandi. It has a hall with a training and projection facility for tourists, school children and the village community. The headquarters of Jiwanal Range Officer is also located here.
SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND FACILITIES
The Community Training and Tourist Center, Sairopa contains a library, a biodiversity trail and an arboretum. The management plan sets out to increase the research facilities of the site for the purpose of informal education, research, study and long-term ecological monitoring. Research activities within the GHNP include long term ecological monitoring, which occurs at 35 sites spread around the property and focuses on 57 particular species. Notably, mammal monitoring has been carried out at the site since the early 1990s, and long term ecological monitoring. The species monitored include flora and fauna and were chosen for being of special economic or conservation importance. There are numerous published research articles on the GHNP, as it is an area of high biological and cultural interest.
Management of the property is focussed on improving awareness, and the socio-economic aspects of the neighbouring community, notably through the empowerment of the poor and women. The management emphasis within the two wildlife sanctuaries (Tirthan wildlife sanctuary and Sainj wildlife sanctuary) is predominantly focussed on mitigating the negative impacts of the small villages, namely caused by grazing habits. This emphasis is represented by the training of frontline staff, the prevention of poaching and group patrolling and reporting. Poaching control is a key objective of the property’s management plan and implemented via spot checks of vehicles and a reward system for anti-poaching assistance by villagers.
Because the property has a series of other contiguous protected areas to the east, it is buffered from potential negative externalities from outside the boundary of the property. Furthermore, there are no inhabitants found within the GHNP itself minimising human impact to that arising from the villages in the ecozone. As tourism levels are low, and regulations are in place to ameliorate tourist influence and behaviour, tourism is not seen as a significant management challenge.
Because of the relatively low human influence, negative pressures such as water pollution, agriculture and mining are considered low threats. Similarly, natural disasters and risks are also considered low level threats, as there have been few fires in the property and there are substantial management procedures in place to mitigate any threats that may arise. Of the natural disasters, flooding is considered the highest threat.
Until 1998, there were between 20,000 and 30,000 sheep and goats entering the GHNP for the purpose of grazing. It is believe that this figure is now below 20,000 and is focussed in the ecozone, however, it is also recognised that it is not entirely contained within the ecozone and illicit grazing does take place within the property and grazing practices should be phased out over coming years in order to ensure the protection of the site. It is recognised that this, along with medicinal plant collection is a contentious issue with residents in the ecozone who have historically relied on these activities as sources of income (Saberwal & Chhatre, 2001). The current management plan accepts that medicinal herb collection is still commonplace amongst the residents in the ecozone and an important source of income. It is estimated that tens of thousands of kilograms of certain species are collected annually, with the most commonly collected species being dhoop (34,378 kg) and mehandi (10,038 kg).
There are three senior members of the workforce, including the conservator of forests, the divisional forest officer and the deputy director. There are 41 staff listed as being part of the administration, technical and protection division. Of these, the vast majority (27) are forest guards, or deputy rangers (8). There are 15 staff listed under the maintenance division, 11 of which are forest workers and four of which are watchmen.
The annual government budget for the GHNP management is approximately Rs. 30,000,000 (US\$ 48,564). Each year the Indian government, under a centrally sponsored scheme, provides funds to implement the various aspects of the GHNP management plan. In addition to this, the Himachal Pradesh State government also provides funding for management implementation. The Biodiversity Conservation Society has set up fund raising programmes through park entry fees and revenue from the use of park facilities which total around Rs, 1,000,000 (US\$ 16,188). This community based income source is used to maintain community related assets and run training programmes for the local residents.
Director, Great Himalayan National Park, Shamshi, District Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, India.
The principal sources for the above information were the original nomination for World Heritage status, the IUCN evaluation reports and the site’s management plan.
IUCN 2014. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. <http://www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 02 February 2015.
Mehra, B. S., & Mathur, P. K. (2001). Livestock Grazing in the Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area--A Landscape Level Assessment. Himalaya, the Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies, 21 (2), 14.
Pandey, S. (2008). Linking ecodevelopment and biodiversity conservation at the Great Himalayan National Park, India: lessons learned. Biodiversity and Conservation, 17 (7), 1543–1571. doi:10.1007/s10531-008-9365-9
Saberwal, V. K., & Chhatre, A. (2001). The Parvati and the Tragopan : Conservation and Development in the Great Himalayan National Park : Himalaya, the journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies, 21 (2).
Tucker, R. (1997). The Historical Development of Human Impacts on Great Himalayan National Park, 1–56. Retrieved from http://www.greathimalayannationalpark.com/
Uniyal, V. (2007). Butterflies in the Great Himalayan Conservation Landscape in Himachal Pradesh, Western Himalaya. ENTOMON-TRIVANDRUM-. Retrieved from http://www.vpuniyal.com/images/butterflies_ghcl.pdf