Last year’s unusually dry summer and this winter’s unprecedented snowfall, the worst in nearly 50 years, in Ladakh’s Changtang area has claimed over 18,000 “pashmina” goats, the source of one of the finest varieties of wool that has put the region on the world map.
Changtang is a high altitude plateau in southeastern Ladakh, inhabited by Changpa (Champa) nomads, and known for its harsh and semi-arid weather with very little vegetation. The harsh winter makes these mountain goats grow extremely warm and very soft coating that is six times finer than human hair and used to produce pashmina wool. Its products including shawls, scarves, wraps, stoles are exported worldwide.
“While rains were scanty last summer, the winter witnessed unprecedented snowfall,” said Dr Morup of Leh’s district sheep husbandry office. Because of the harsh climate no other agricultural activity is possible and the fodder comes mainly from the natural vegetation. Lack of rain last year dried out the natural flora and the heavy snowfall in January and February cut off the region from the rest of the country, preventing fodder supplies. “The goats perished because of extreme cold and lack of food,” he explained, adding, “We had supplied 13,000 quintals in November before the closure of the roads, otherwise loss would have been more.”
Leh deputy commissioner Tsering Angchok told TOI, “Now, 1100 quintals of fodder have been sent in 62 trucks to the area where these animals are located.”
The members of the Ladakh hill council, led by executive councilor Gyurmet Dorjey, are helping in organizing additional stocks of fodder to prevent any further loss of these “golden goats”. The council members accuse the Omar Abdullah government of not doing enough to save these rare animals.
“These conditions also threaten the ancient nomadic lifestyle of the Champa people,” said Tsewang Namgyal, advisor to YDA, an association of Drukpa Buddhists. Among the three main lineages of Himalayan Buddhism practised in the region, the Drukpa lineage has the largest number of followers. The harsh climate does not permit agriculture and these people are completely dependent on their livestock.
The pashmina wool has an enormous contribution to Ladakh’s economy. “This kind of calamities might convince them to quit the nomadic lifestyle and settle in the villages. This will have a huge impact on the local economy,” he added.