It’s been around one and a half years, since the reorganization act, passed in the Parliament of India got the President’s nod, recognizing Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh as union territories.
As the administrative structure of J&K and Ladakh changed, one out of the several tasks levied on the local administration was the identification and declaration of a new state bird and animal.
However, Ladakh is yet to arrive at any conclusion on the same, as of now, making it the only union territory in the country without a state symbol.
Why are state symbols important?
The state symbols play an imperative role in reflecting the state/union territory’s true identity. It is a window to the History, Geography, Culture, and biodiversity of the land.
It also facilitates the conservation of endangered species and helps in driving conservation efforts at the grassroots levels.
Preceding state symbols of J&K:
Prior to October 31, 2019, the state of J&K had the Kashmir stag (Hangul), found exclusively in the Kashmir valley as its state animal, and the black-necked crane found only in Eastern Ladakh as the state bird.
However, following the bifurcation of the state into two union territories, Kashmir Stag can no longer be the state animal of Ladakh and vice versa.
Thus, in order to accelerate the staggering selection process, local wildlife organizations pitched in their suggestions to the administration of Ladakh. In a meeting held in December, last year the Wildlife Conservation & Birds Club of Ladakh, an NGO working to preserve wildlife in the region, strongly suggested naming the black-necked crane as the state bird and the snow leopard as the state animal of Ladakh.
Snow Leopard & Black-necked Crane constitute popular local choice
Ladakh is the primary habitat for snow leopards in India, followed by the Lahul-Spiti districts of Himachal Pradesh. The snow leopard is the apex predator of the region, yet critically endangered, finding its place in the IUCN Red List.
The snow leopards are tied to Ladakh in an inextricably fragile manner, which speaks of their imperative role in nurturing the natural ecosystems of the union territory. It is thus, acclaimed internationally as the snow leopard capital of the world, as per experts.
The black-necked crane, on the other hand, is found amidst the high-altitude wetlands and marshes of Eastern Ladakh. It is listed on the IUCN Red List as a nearly threatened species.
Viable alternatives to the popular choice:
Ladakh is a biodiversity hotspot and many contenders can be found against the popular choice.
Take for example the Ladakh Urial, or the Asiatic ibex, or the Himalayan brown bear. The rare and exquisite species like the Pallas’s cat, Eurasian lynx, Tibetan argali, Tibetan antelope, or Tibetan gazelle could also be considered. The wild yak, also called Dong is also worth considering.
There are over 300 exquisite species of birds found in Ladakh. Selim’s Finch found across the north-eastern border of Ladakh or the Eurasian eagle owl, or the Tibetan snowcock and the Eurasian golden oriole can be brilliant alternatives to the Black-necked Crane for becoming Ladakh’s state bird.