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Deosai National Park

Date of Submission: 12/04/2016
Criteria: (ix)(x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
Government of Pakistan, Directorate General of Archaeology
State, Province or Region:
Gilgit - Baltistan
Coordinates: N35.018930 E75.414393
Ref.: 6115

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Deosai National Park is an alpine plateau of exceptional beauty and ecological value located in the western massif of the Himalayas, east of Nanga Parbat Peak and in close proximity to the Central Karakoram Range. The plateau, with an altitude of 3500 to 5200 m., is an area of 358,400 ha. of flat but undulating plains broken by gently rolling hills and surrounded on all sides by mountains. It forms a stark contrast to much of the surrounding landscape which is made up of narrow valleys between steep mountains.

The plateau’s environment is characterized by extreme cold with low atmospheric pressure coupled with low oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, aridity, intense and rapid solar ultraviolet radiation. The Deosai plain receives higher rainfall than adjoining northern and north eastern valleys of Baltistan due to its geographical location facing the monsoon affected outer Himalayas. Annual precipitation varies from 350 to 550 mm., mostly received during winter as snow.

Deosai National Park is located where two biogeographical provinces merge, in the Himalayan and Karakorum-Pamir highlands. As a result, it is a place of very rich biodiversity as species are channelled through the Karakorum range, the main crest of the Himalayas, Zanskar range (Trans-Himalaya), Ladakh range (Trans-Himalaya) and the Indus valley.

These factors combine to create high altitude wetlands characterized by Sheosar Lake, at 4,250m which represents a unique category of alpine wetlands that is confined to the Himalaya, Hindukush and Karakoram mountain cordilleras. The wetlands are fed by snow melt from the surrounding high snow-clad peaks and are drained by many fast-flowing rivers and streams. Large expanses of alpine meadow alternate with drier stony areas, and there are patches of dwarf willows along the rivers and streams with many species of Poa, Saxifraga and Euphorbia. The plateau is highly significant in terms of watershed value. Three important river systems originate from Deosai National Park namely; Shatung, Bara Pani and Kala Pani which form the Shigar River, an important tributary of Indus River.

The park is part of the Conservation International Himalayan Biodiversity Hotspot and contains a rich variety of species including a population of Tibetan wolf (Canis lupus chanco), Himalayan ibex (Capra ibex sibrica), Tibetan red fox (Vulpus vulpus montana) and Golden marmots (Marmota caudata). The waters of the Deosai plateau are home to the local snow trout which reach enormous size. The park lies within the BirdLife International’s Western Himalaya Endemic Bird Area and is important as a resting place and breeding ground of residential and migratory birds of international importance. The flora of Deosai is influenced by four major floristic elements: Boreoalpine and Circumpolar; the Euro- Siberian; Southern European/ Mediterranean and Siberian- Mongolian and is home to hundreds of species of medicinal and aromatic plants. In the Spring season it is covered by sweeps of wildflowers and a wide variety of rare butterflies.

The area was designated as Deosai National Park by the Government of Pakistan in 1993 with the primary objective of protection and conservation of the Himalayan Brown Bear (Ursus arctos Isabellinus), unique to this part of the world. The Himalayan brown bear is a critically endangered species in some of its range and the key-stone species of Deosai National Park. The populations in Pakistan are slow reproducing, small, and declining because of habitat loss, fragmentation, poaching, and bear baiting. Bears are legally protected, however, and recently designated as critically endangered in IUCN’s Red List of Mammals of Pakistan. Seven populations probably persist in the Himalaya, Karakoram, and Hindu Kush ranges; but the Deosai Plateau in western Himalaya hosts the only stable population. The sizes of these populations do not exceed 20 individuals, except for Deosai National Park, where 72 bears are currently reported.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Deosai National Park is located where two biogeographical provinces merge, in the Himalayan and Karakorum-Pamir highlands, and as a result is a place of very rich biodiversity. It is recognized as an internationally important site for the protection and conservation of the Himalayan Brown Bear, a critically endangered species. The Deosai plateau hosts the only stable population in the region and is important for its continued survival.

Deosai and Sheosar Lake form one of the highest elevation freshwater wetlands in the world. The cold alpine environment is important due to its diverse alpine flora and the rich variety of species. This biodiversity reflects the parks location where two biogeographical provinces merge as species are channelled through the Karakorum range, the main crest of the Himalayas, Zanskar range (Trans-Himalaya), Ladakh range (Trans-Himalaya) and the Indus valley.

Criterion (ix): Deosai National Park is an outstanding example of significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of the high altitude wetlands of the Western Himalayas.

Criterion (x): Deosai National Park contains the important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of the biological diversity of the high altitude wetland environment. The Park was designated specifically to protect this environment as the home of the endangered Brown Bear, a species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of conservation.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The integrity of the park is protected by its status as a national park. The boundaries of the park were designed to include all elements necessary to express its Outstanding Universal Value as an exceptional example of high altitude wetland environment and as a critical habitat for conservation of the endangered Himalayan Brown Bear. It is of adequate size to ensure complete representation of these values and processes which convey the property’s significance.

There is no permanent human habitation in Deosai plains, mostly due to the extreme weather conditions and remoteness. Tourism is limited in numbers and to the short summer season when the park is at its most beautiful. Traditional grazing rights inside the demarcated boundaries of the park are restricted to seven communities which are permitted to take livestock to summer pastures in designated sectors of the park.

Comparison with other similar properties

There are several natural World Heritage properties in the western Himalaya region which include alpine meadows. Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Park (India 2005) is inscribed on account of its diverse alpine flora representative of the West Himalaya biogeographic zone. Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh, (India 2014) stresses a combination of mountain environments with high latitudinal variation, unlike Deosai, including high peaks and glaciers. Like Deosai National Park its OUV rests in part in its biodiversity conservation role, not for one key stone species like the Brown Bear, but for a general assemblage of fauna species.

A number of conservation areas and wildlife sanctuaries in India, Nepal and China share some characteristics of the OUV of Deosai National Park: Kugti Wildlife Sanctuary, Himachal Pradesh, India; Chitwan National Park in Nepal famous for conservation of tiger and rhino populations; Corbett and Rajaji National Parks in India with important populations of elephants and tigers. Khunzerav National Park, also in Gilgit Baltistan, was created to protect the Marco Polo Sheep. It is adjacent to Taxkorgan Natural Reserve in China which was created for the same purpose.

Initial comparative analysis of relevant properties, World Heritage and otherwise, indicates that Deosai National Park is exceptional with regard to its diversity, representatives of its high altitude wetland environment and critical importance in efforts to preserve the Himalayan Brown Bear in its natural habitat.