Tsomoriri Wetland Conservation Reserve

Tsomoriri Wetland Conservation Reserve
Tso Moriri
Location Ladakh
Coordinates 32°54′N 78°18′E / 32.9°N 78.3°E / 32.9; 78.3Coordinates: 32°54′N 78°18′E / 32.9°N 78.3°E / 32.9; 78.3
Lake type brackish
Primary inflows Snow Melt in summer
Primary outflows none
Basin countries India
Max. length 19 km (12 mi)
Max. width 3 km (1.9 mi)
Surface area 12,000 ha (30,000 acres)
Max. depth 40 m (130 ft)
Shore length1 Wet meadows and borax loaded wetlands
Surface elevation 4,595 m (15,075 ft)
Settlements Korzok, Leh
1 Shore length is not a well-defined measure.

Tsomoriri or Lake Moriri (official name: Tsomoriri Wetland Conservation Reserve), in the Changthang (literal meaning, northern plains) area, is a High Altitude Lake (HAL) with an altitude of 4,595 m (15,075 ft) in Ladakh, India and is the largest of the High Altitude Lakes in the Trans-Himalayan biogeographic region, entirely within India. It is hemmed between Ladakh in the North and Tibet in the east and Zanskar in the west; the Changthang plateau is the geographical setting with snow peaks that provides the source of water for the Lake. Accessibility to the lake is limited to summer season only.[1] Tsokar means salty lake in local language and salt was extracted from this lake in earlier times, till the end of 1959, for consumption by the local people. It is oligotrophic in nature and its waters are alkaline. The lake formerly had an outlet to the south, but it has contracted considerably and has become land locked; as a result; the water is now brackish to saline. The lake is fed by springs and snow-melt in two major stream systems, one entering the lake from the north, the other from the southwest. Both stream systems create extensive marshes where they enter the lake.



As per a classification of the Himalayan Lakes done on the basis of their origin, there are four groups and Tsomoriri falls under the third group of “Remnant Lakes". The classification as reported states:[2]

(i) Glacial lakes which are formed in and around glaciers; (ii) Structural lakes, formed by folds or faults due to movements in earth’s crust (e.g. Nainital lake in Uttaranchal), (iii) Remnant lakes which were originally structural but represent the remnants of vast lakes (e.g., Tsomoriri, Tso Kar, Pangong Tso in Ladakh, and Dal Lake in Kashmir), (iv) Natural dammed lakes i.e., temporary water bodies formed along the river courses due to deposition of rocks or debris e.g. Gohna Tal in Garhwal, Uttaranchal.

The Changthang plateau in the eastern Ladakh represents a landscape of low productive Ecosystems which protects unique floral and faunal species.The area is an extension of the western Tibetan plateau that lies above 4,500 m (14,800 ft) msl and supports diverse but low populations of several globally threatened mammals.[2] The Lake's basin could also be categorised as an endorheic basin since it is a closed drainage basin that retains water and allows no outflow to other bodies of water such as rivers or oceans.

Tso Moriri Lake, Korzok, in Ladakh.

The lake is surrounded by the elevated valley of Rupshu with hills rising to 6,000 m (20,000 ft). “Changpas", the nomadic migratory shepherds (pastoral community) of yak, sheep, goat, and horses of Tibetan origin and who are engaged in trade and work on caravans in Ladakh region, are the main inhabitants of the area.[3][4] Changpa herders use the land of this valley as grazing ground and for cultivation.[2]

The Working Report (2006) of the Planning Commission of the Government of India also reports:[2]

Despite a poor vegetation cover, relatively low standing biomass and high anthropogenic pressure, this area sustains a considerably high livestock population. Steady increase in the livestock population in the area is mainly attributed to influx of nomadic herders from Tibet during recent decades and promotion of Pashmina goat production by the Animal Husbandry Department (AHD) for fine quality under wool (Pashmina). The herders and AHD officials, in recent years have begun to raise concern over degradation of pastures, resultant shortage of forage, and mass mortality of livestock during severe winters.

The Korzok Monastery, on the western bank of the lake is 400 years old and attracts tourists and Buddhist pilgrims. Tourism during May – September attracts large number of foreign and local tourists even though tented accommodation is the facility available, apart from a small PWD guest house close to the Lake.[1]


The lake is located to the Southeast of Leh in Eastern Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir, at a road distance of 215 kilometres (134 mi). Leh is also connected by Air with many destinations in India.

Mountains East of Tso Moriri Lake, seen from Korzok, Ladakh.

Hydrology and water quality

The Lake, draining a catchment area of 120 km2 (46 sq mi) is enclosed by rolling hills of the Tibetan cold desert on the western side with steep hills and by the Pare Chu, which flows on the southern side. Another wetland, the Nuro Sumdo (with a catchment area of 20 km2/7.7 sq mi), lies between Tsomoriri in the north, and the Pare Chu in the south, a bog which drains into the Pare Chu. Several small mountain streams feed the Lake notably through pasture land at Peldo Le. The lake is fed by springs and snow melt and has a maximum depth of 40 m (130 ft). Aridity and cold desert conditions prevail in the lake region; with summer temperature varying from 0 ° to 30 °C (32 °-86 °F) and winter temperature recording −10 ° and −40 °C (14 ° to -40 °F). Geologically the lake is in the Cambrian/Pre-Cambrian terrain.[5][6]

Avifauna and flora

Tibetan Ass in the vicinity of Tsomoriri Lake

An avifaunal survey of the Lake and its adjoining Nuro Sumdo wetland conducted in July 1996 revealed the following facts:[5][6]

  • Thirty-four species of birds included 14 species of water birds (some are pictured in the gallery) of which following are the vulnerable species

Mammalian fauna

  • Nayan Ovis ammon hodgsoni
  • Bharal (Pseudois nayaurr) Himalayan blue sheep
  • Tibetan Ass (Kiang) or Equus kiang, endemic to the Tibetan Plateau
  • Great Tibetan Sheep
  • One species of marmot, Marmota himalayana in large numbers seen on the hill slopes surrounding the lake and also along the roadsides
  • One species of hare, Lepus oistolus
  • One species of vole, Alticola roylei
  • Three species of mouse hares, Ochotona macrotis, Ochotona curzoniae or Tibetan Sand Fox and Scincella ladacensis

Large carnivores fauna

  • Carnivores fauna reported are:
    • the Snow Leopard (Uncia uncial)
    • the Tibetan Grey Wolf (Canilupus chanku)


While the deeper parts of the lake have no vegetation, the shallow areas are reported to have Potamogeton sps. Marshes have several species of sedges and reeds, particularly Carex, Caragana and Astragalus sps., which are all representative of the surrounding arid steppe vegetation. Details of the Vegetation recorded in the area comprises the following:[6]

Ramsar site

Largely based on the ecological diversity of the Lake (explained in the previous section) and its surroundings, the Tsomiriri was notified in November 2002 under the List of Ramsar Wetland sites under the Ramsar Convention. The justification could be summarized as:[6]

  • The faunal collection is unique and has a large variety with endemic and vulnerable species
  • The herbivore species are also endemic to the region
  • The lake plays a fundamental role as breeding grounds and key staging posts on migration routes for several water birds belonging to six families, which is distinctive of wetland diversity and productivity
Tsomoriri Lake

Threats to the lake

There are a number of threats to the Lake, such as:[1][6]

  • Increase in the number of tourists visiting the lake affects breeding of avi fauna
  • Construction of a road right up to the Lake
  • Pasture degradation affecting wildlife, particularly wild herbivores (marmots, hares, ungulates)
  • An increase in the grazing of Sheep in the wetlands surrounding the Lake
  • The absence of a proper garbage disposal Facility at the Lake.
  • Dogs kept by the people who live near the lake are known to attack the cranes and destroy their eggs.
  • Jeep safaris have been known to chase wildlife such as Kiang and approach close to the breeding ground.
  • Lack of regulations and monitoring by the government.

Conservation efforts

The need for evolving a strategy and an action plan to preserve the extreme fragility of the lake ecosystem has been recognized with the needed emphasis at the National and International level to develop the lake conservation activity with participation of all stakeholders.[7] The actions initiated in this direction are:

Tsomoriri is an administratively declared Wetland Reserve. Legally, shooting wildlife is prohibited. The State Department of Wildlife has set up a check post near Mahe Bridge at the entrance towards the lake.[5][6] WWF-India Project has established a field office at Korzok in Rupshu near Tsomoriri for ‘Conservation of High Altitude Wetlands in Ladakh Region’ to carry out surveys, interact with tourists, tour guides, act as information centre and conduct education awareness programmes for locals, tourists etc.

Wildlife Institute of India has also set up a field station at Leh to carry out scientific research in the region. Nature clubs have been set up and Information booklet on the lake published. Efforts of WWF – India has also resulted in the local community declaring Tsomoriri as a ‘Sacred Gift for a Living Planet’ during the Annual Conference held in Nepal in November 2000.[6]

Some of the other achievements so far reported on the Lake’s conservation are:[7]

  • Regulation in consultation with local community Vehicular traffic flow and parking has been restructured with restriction of camping sites around the lake
  • The Indo Tibetan Border Petrol (ITBP), tour operators and local population have introduced regular garbage clean up operations
  • Korzok community living around the lake has voluntarily built traditional and social fencing around the wetland to protect breeding and feeding grounds from vehicular traffic
  • Tsomoriri Conservation Trust has been set up.
  • Twenty Nature Clubs have been registered in different schools in Ladakh

The Indian Army has committed to support and set up a Nature Interpretation Centre at 'Hall of Fame', Leh.

World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) role

World Wildlife Fund for Nature — India (WWF-India) is spearheading the efforts at conservation of the Tsomoriri lake in particular, and the Ladakh region in general. WWF’s activities as a NGO have spanned more than 30 years. The main objective set by WWF is[8] the main activities planned for the Tsomoriri and other wetlands in Ladakh regions are:[7]

The Promotion of Nature Conservation and Environmental Protection as the Basis for Sustainable and Equitable Development.

  • Evolve plan to establish a Sustainable Tourism Model managed by Local Communities at Tsomoriri
  • Carry on with the biological and socio-economic surveys around selected wetlands and document for future reference
  • Organize capacity building training programmes for Tour operators, Army, Teachers and local communities
  • Frequent education and awareness Programmes for various target groups
  • Management Planning for Tsomoriri and also Tsokar and Pangong Tso lakes by involving major stakeholders
  • To set guidelines for introducing Eco-Tourism Certification Scheme in Ladakh
  • To mobilise financial resources to carry out a comprehensive Strategic Environment Assessment
  • Develop Environmental Management Systems, implement and certify the Environment Management Systems with special focus on tourism sector
  • Maintain and enhance existing field presence at Tsomoriri, Leh, and Tsokar and increase presence at Chushul and Hanle marshes as well to achieve better results


See also


External links

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