Tso Kar Lake Kashmir

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Tso Kar Lake basin

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Location: 100 km SSE of Leh, Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir
Area: c.20,000 ha
Altitude: 4,530 m
Biogeographical province: 2.38.12
Wetland type: 12,16

Description of site: In a very remote and sparsely populated area, the Tso Kar Basin, a land locked basin of a former large freshwater lake (now in a state of dessication) has contracted into two principal water bodies: Startsapuk Tso, a brackish lake of about 300 ha in the south, and Tso Kar itself, a hypersaline lake of 2200 ha. Startsapuk Tso, frozen over from October to March, is fed by perennial springs and snow-melt and becomes almost fresh during the mid-summer period of maximum run-off; it reaches its maximum depth of 2-3 m in July and August and overflows northwards into Tso Kar. The marshes around the larger lake contain areas with extensive deposits of natron, borax, and other salts, and there are sulphurous hot-water geysers nearby. The basin is surrounded on all sides by peaks rising to over 7000 m

Climatic conditions: Arid Tibetan climate, characterised by marked differences between sun and shade, and night and day temperatures. There is very little precipitation in the form of min or snow within the basin. Summer temperatures range from 0°C to 32°C, winter temperatures from -5°C to as low as -40°C

Principal vegetation: In the fresher parts of the basin, the pools have an aquatic vegetation composed of Potamogeton sp., and Hydrilla sp. These plants die back in winter to form floating mats of weed in spring. The adjacent freshwater marshes and damp meadows support a mixture of Carex sp. and Ranunculus sp. The arid steppe vegetation of surrounding areas is dominated by species of Astragalus and Caragana

Land tenure: The wetlands and surrounding areas are state-owned, under the control of the Revenue Department (Jammu & Kashmir)

Conservation measures taken: The wetlands have been afforded some protection as a wildlife reserve, and the shooting of wildlife is strictly prohibited

Conservation measures proposed: It has been proposed that the status of the reserve be upgraded to that of Sanctuary with a proper management plan incorporating habitat improvement measures for breeding waterfowl. The basin lies within the boundaries of the proposed High Altitude National Park (400,000 ha) in eastern Ladakh

Land use: Seasonal grazing by domestic livestock, mainly yaks and horses, and cutting of aquatic vegetation. The commercial exploitation of salt deposits was found to be unfeasible, though Rupshu-Kharnak nomads still use them at a subsistence level Possible changes in land use and proposed development projects: The construction of a road through the two Tso Kar wetlands has been proposed

Disturbances and threats: Intensification of grazing, particularly by yaks, is a direct threat. The construction of a road through the two wetlands may increase human activity, disturbing the fauna

Economic and social values: A small Buddhist monastery near the lake attracts pilgrims. The basin’s potential for tourism would be realised if it were opened up, and this is a distinct possibility

Fauna: The basin is a major breeding area for Podiceps cristatus (over 30 pairs on the southern lake), barheaded goose, brahminy duck, brown-headed gull (a large breeding colony), and common tern. One pair of black-necked cranes (Grus nigricollis) breeds in the area. As many as 100 Tibetan Sandgrouse (Syrrhaptes tibetanus) come to drink each morning at the shallow pool in the meadows to the west of Tso Kar. Wild ass (Equus hemionus) and Tibetan gazelles (Gazella sp) forage in the marshes and meadows, and Canis lupus and Vulpes sp occur in the surrounding - hills. Marmot (Marmots bobak) are commonly found around the lakes

Special floral values: None known

Research and facilities: Some studies have been made on the breeding birds, particularly barheaded goose and black-necked crane

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