Forests occupy 25 percent of Nepal’s land area. The Terai supports extensive hardwood and bamboo forests in areas not cleared for agriculture or resettlement. However, deforestation is a major problem in Nepal. The country lost half its forests between 1950 and 1980 because of increased demand for fodder, fuel wood, and land for agriculture and settlement. Much of the deforestation has taken place in the Terai, although the Middle and Great Himalayan regions have also experienced serious deforestation. With the assistance of several international agencies, Nepal has embarked on programs to extend and restore its forest cover.
The wildlife of the Terai includes tigers, leopards, deer and elephants. The Chitwan National Park, located in the Terai, was set aside to house and protect endangered wildlife such as the rhinoceros, tiger, sloth bear, gaur (a large species of ox) and Ganges River dolphin. Wild goats, sheep and wolves live at higher elevations, and yak are herded by local people.
Trees such as rhododendron, birch, blue pine, juniper and silver fir are found up to an altitude of 4,000 meters, above which they give way to scrub and alpine plants. In late spring and summer, the hillsides around the villages of Namche Bazaar, Khumjung, Tengboche and Thame are a mass of colours with several species of rhododendron in bloom.
Birdwatchers will be delighted to know well over 100 species of birds find food and shelter within the variety of habitats of Everest and Annapurna regions. These include resident birds, summer nesters, winter visitors and migrants. Commonly seen are Impeyan Pheasant, Blood Pheasant, Snow Cock, Snow Pigeon, Red Billed and Yellow Billed Chough, Himalayan Griffin vulture and Lammergeier.
Mammalian wildlife most likely to be seen in Sagarmatha are the Himalayan Tahr, Ghoral, Musk Deer, Pika (also known as a Mouse Hare), Weasels and, less frequently, Jackals. Endangered, but not extinct, the Snow Leopard is occasionally sighted, although only by a few lucky and wilderness-savvy people. In the lower areas, particularly in bamboo forests, there have been sightings of Red or Lesser Pandas, also known as Catbears. Other mammals include Himalayan Black Bears, Mountain Foxes, Yellow-throated Martens, Himalayan Marmots, and the not-so-wild, but always delightful Yak.
Trexplorers’ clients are always advised to keep scanning the mountainsides during hikes, as more often than not there are interesting animals nearby, certainly scanning us. It certainly pays to stay close to the guides and porters as they know all the best places for encounters, and are very keen at spotting even the best camouflaged of critters.