An emerging conflict with Trans-Himalayan pastoral communities in Ladakh’s Changthang Plateau threatens the conservation prospects of the kiang (Equus kiang) in India. It is locally believed that Changthang’s rangelands are overstocked with kiang, resulting in forage competition with livestock. Here, we provide a review and preliminary data on the causes of this conflict. Erosion of people’s tolerance of the kiang can be attributed to factors such as the loss of traditional pastures during an Indo-Chinese war fought in 1962, immigration of refugees from Tibet, doubling of the livestock population in about 20 years, and increasing commercialization of cashmere (pashmina) production. The perception of kiang overstocking appears misplaced, because our range-wide density estimate of 0.24 kiang km)2 (± 0.44, 95% CL) is comparable to kiang densities reported from Tibet. A catastrophic decline during the war and subsequent recovery of the kiang population apparently led to the overstocking perception in Ladakh. In the Hanle Valley, an important area for the kiang, its density was higher (0.56 km)2) although even here, we estimated the total forage consumed by kiang to be only 3–4% compared to 96–97% consumed by the large livestock population (78 km)2). Our analysis nevertheless suggests that at a localized scale, some herders do face serious forage competition from kiang in key areas such as moist sedge meadows, and thus management strategies also need to be devised at this scale. In-depth socioeconomic surveys are needed to understand the full extent of the conflicts, and herder-centered participatory resolution needs to be facilitated to ensure that a sustainable solution for livelihoods and kiang conservation is achieved.
Keywords: Equus kiang - Conflicts - Pastoralism - Nomads - Livestock - Ladakh