Tag Archives: IHCAP

Yak in Indian Himalayas facing threat of climate change

Dinesh C Sharma

Itanagar (Arunachal Pradesh): Yak – the lifeline of pastoral nomads in high altitudes of the Indian Himalayan region – is facing the threat of gradually rising temperatures in the region.

The increasing trend of environmental temperature at high altitudes is resulting in heat stress in yak during warmer months of the year. This, in turn, is affecting the rhythms of physiological responses of the animal. Studies have shown that the average environmental temperature in the region has increased 1.5 percent in the last 25 years, with yearly incremental increase of 0.06 degree.

Yak is accustomed to very cold temperatures and can survive up to minus 40 degrees but finds it difficult when the temperature crosses 13 degrees. “Yak can efficiently conserve its body heat during cold weather conditions and has minimal body mechanism to dissipate heat by way of sweating. This makes yak more susceptible to heat stress,” explained Dr Vijay Paul, principal scientist at the ICAR-National Research Centre on Yak (NRCY), Dirang, while addressing a media workshop on climate adaptation here.

The animal alters its respiration rate not only in response to a changing need for oxygen but for regulating body temperature. Therefore, increased respiration acts as a predictor of heat stress, along with other symptoms like panting, reduced feed intake and higher intake of water. Noticing these indicators of heat stress, nomads have started own adaptation measures for their animals.

Climatic variables such as rainfall, cold waves and temperature change has been studied for the two yak rearing districts of Arunachal Pradesh – Tawang and West Kameng. Since past meteorological data is lacking in this region, researchers from NRCY have collated information from Brokpa namads who are engaged in yak husbandry in Arunachal Pradesh. Two other prominent nomadic communities engaged in yak rearing are Changpas and Dokpas in Ladakh, Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh. The total yak population in six states in the Indian Himalayan region is estimated to be over 76,000. Globally, China – mainly Tibet region – has the highest numbers of yak.

“Yak rearing is an eco-friendly livelihood for nomads who migrate to higher altitudes during summer and return to lower altitudes at about 3000 meters above sea level during winters. This ensures that their animals remain in almost same ambient temperature all through the year. It helps minimize heat stress. This traditional migratory pattern is getting disturbed with changing weather patterns,” noted Dr Paul.

Besides heat stress in animals, fluctuating temperature also affects growth and availability of fodder in alpine pasturelands. This, in turn, lowers productivity of the animals. Yaks provide nomads milk, fibre and meat. Milk production depends directly on the quantity and quality of forage in pasturelands. The long hair of yak have water-resistant properties and can be a good packing material. Nomads use yak hair to weave material for making tents. In addition to climate-related factors, there is a reduction in grazing areas and degradation of pasturelands due to various developmental activities as well.

Dr Paul said nomadic communities were taking several adaptive steps as duration and timing of migration was changing. There is proliferation of yak-cattle hybridization as well as diversification of herds. Yak rearing needs to be preserved as this is the only source of livelihood for nomads. This can be done by rejuvenating degraded pastures, improving livestock healthcare practices and providing feed supplements for yaks. “We also need to develop stains that are less sensitive to heat stress,” he added.

Arunachal Pradesh had prepared the state action plan on climate change in 2013. The five year plan period has come to an end but no adaptation projects have been taken up in the state. The plan had components on adaptation measures for agriculture and animal husbandry sectors but there was no specific mention of protecting yak populations. “The plan was approved for Rs 6500 crore but no funds were received for its implementation,” said Omkar Singh, principal secretary, department of environment and forests, Arunachal Pradesh.

“We are in the process of reviewing the state plan based on new inputs such as high resolution vegetation maps which have since become available,” added D. Dohu Robin, deputy director (environment) and programme coordinator.

The three-day workshop has been jointly organised by the Indian Himalayas Climate Adaptation Programme (IHCAP), Department of Science and Technology (DST) and Centre for Media Studies (CMS), along with the state climate change cell. (India Science Wire)


Why is it sweating in Shillong?

Because temperatures in India’s biodiversity hotspot are on the rise

Dinesh C Sharma

Shillong: Sitting in the glass-and-concrete State Convention Centre in the capital of hilly state, Meghalaya, participants of a media workshop on climate change were feeling sweaty. The convention centre is not air-conditioned nor does it have ceiling fans. For the comfort of guests, some pedestal fans were plugged in.

Why are we sweating in Shillong? Asked state information technology minister Dr M Ampareen Lyngdoh. The question may sound strange for those who have read in tourist brochures and text books about the wettest places on the planet being in Meghalaya and about its round-the-year cool weather.

The answer to this question came in the form of a new study done by researchers from the Water and Climate Lab at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Gandhinagar. The study has shown that air temperature in the state is rising at the rate of 0.031 degree per year. The trend is consistent from 1981 to 2014, barring the years 1991 and 1992. This translates into 1 degree centigrade rise between 1981 and 2014, which is quite significant. Future projections indicate similar rise over next two decades.

The state has also been witnessing highly fluctuating frequencies of hot days, hot nights, cold days and cold nights. “The number of hot days and nights show an increasing trend while that of cold days and cold nights show a declining trend. These are indications of a consistently warming region,” pointed out lead author Dr Vimal Mishra while presenting results of the study commissioned by the state government. “The higher number of hot night frequencies is a matter of concern for the state.”

Based on historic and observed data as well as computer models, the study has projected changes over short-term (2013-2040), mid-term (2041-2070) and long-term (2071-2100) for the state. It is a high-resolution study in the sense that projections have been made for grids of 5 X5 km size, so as to help in vulnerability assessment for each grid and adaptation planning at local level.
Future projections show an increasing temperature rise under different scenarios. Under these projections, the rise in maximum temperature in Meghalaya in the long term ranges from 2.65 degree to 3.8 degree, while the rise in minimum temperature will be between 2 degree and 3.5 degree in the long term. The increase in temperature may result in higher number of extreme hot days and nights. Under the extreme scenario projection, the number of hot days could be as high as 100 a year. Similarly, there may be a decrease in extreme cold days and nights.

“The state has already seen a rise of temperature of 1 to 1.5 degree in the past three decades, and the projections point to a similar rise by 2040. If temperature in Meghalaya will rise by about 3 degree rise in a span of half a century, we don’t know what Meghalaya will be like in future – West Bengal or Assam?,” wondered Dr Mishra.

There will be changes in the rainfall patterns too in future. The central plateau region is projected to experience an increase in rainfall at a higher rate than the rest of the state. The occurrence of extreme rainfall events will also show an upward trend under various projected scenarios. “The West Khasi hills which already receive very high precipitation are projected to face even higher rise in precipitation,” Dr Mishra added.

The changing climate in Meghalaya, he said, would have widespread implications for forests, water resources, biodiversity, agriculture, livestock and human health. For instance, due to significant rise in temperature, forest fires may go up while extreme rainfall events will increase risk of landslides in high altitude areas causing siltration of water bodies downstream. The rise in temperature will also threaten endemic plant species many of which are already on the verge of extinction. Rainfed agriculture in the state will be adversely hit with crop yields and production declining. Higher temperature will also induce premature breaking of insects and pests.

“Meghalaya has some of the most vulnerable districts to current climate risks and long term climate change in the region,” pointed out Prof. N.H. Ravindranath of Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. “Sectors like agriculture, forests, fisheries, horticulture are already subjected high climate risks currently and will be highly vulnerable to climate change risks in future. We need to prepare both incremental as well as transformational adaptation plans to make based on vulnerability assessments.”

The workshop was jointly organized by the Department of Science and Technology, Indian Himalayas Climate Adaptation Programme (IHCAP) and Centre for Media Studies. (India Science Wire)

Twitter handle: @dineshcsharma