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Location India, Jammu & Kashmir
Central coordinates 78o 35.00' East  33o 50.00' North
IBA criteria A1, A3
Area 65,000 ha
Altitude 0
Year of IBA assessment 2004

Bombay Natural History Society

Site description Pangong Tso is a long, narrow, brackish lake spanning the Indian/ Chinese border, in a valley in the upper drainage basin of the Indus river, at the east end of the Karakoram Range. Only the westernmost one-third of the lake lies in Indian territory. It is a chain of four interconnecting lakes, formed by natural damming of the valley. Five rivers fed by perennial springs and snowmelt flow into the Indian portion of the lake. The runoff from the west end of the lake flows northwest into the Shyok river, a tributary of the Indus. There are some brackish to saline marshes near the western end, with adjacent wet meadows. The lake has been suggested as a Ramsar site due to its biological, cultural and geological values (Chatterjee et al. 2002). It is the largest and most brackish wetland in the cold desert ecosystem of the Trans-Himalaya. A fossil freshwater mollusc Lymnea auricularia was discovered in ancient lacustrine clay deposits above the present level of lake, providing evidence that earlier it was a freshwater lake (Sharma 2000). Due to its extreme salinity, Pangong Tso does not have any vegetation in the deeper parts, but at the margins and marshy areas, typical, steppe vegetation is seen. Sedges and grasses are found towards the northern and eastern sides. The surrounding plateau and hills support low thorn scrub and perennial herbs.

Key Biodiversity 

AVIFAUNA: Pangong Tso is an important breeding area for a variety of waterfowl, including Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea. The Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus occurs in significant numbers on migration and could be breeding there. It is also a significant staging ground during the autumn migration. Although, the globally endangered Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis does not breed here (Pfister 1998), nearby Chushul is a very well-known breeding and staging area, with 3-4 breeding pairs. Pangong Tso could be their staging and foraging ground, especially on the marshes on the fringe of this lake (O. Pfister pers. comm. 2003).

OTHER KEY FAUNA: The surrounding hills and plateau support a rich assemblage of Himalayan and Tibetan wildlife, including the Wild Ass Equus kiang, Snow Leopard Uncia uncia, Great Tibetan Sheep Ovis ammon hodgsoni, Ladakh Urial Ovis orientalis (now considered a subspecies of Ovis ammon), Blue Sheep Pseudois nayaur, Tibetan Gazelle Procapra picticaudata, Tibetan Wolf Canis lupus chanku, and Red Fox Vulpes vulpes. Himalayan Mouse Hare Ochotona roylei and Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana are very common, and form the main prey for smaller carnivores and raptors.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis breeding  2004  present  A1, A3  Vulnerable 

IBA Monitoring

2003 high not assessed not assessed
Good - based on reliable and complete / representative data

Agriculture and aquaculture livestock farming and ranching (includes forest grazing) - small-holder grazing, ranching or farming happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) slow but significant deterioration high
Biological resource use gathering terrestrial plants - unintentional effects (species being assessed is not the target) happening now small area/few individuals (<10%) slow but significant deterioration low
Human intrusions and disturbance recreational activities happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Human intrusions and disturbance work and other activities happening now small area/few individuals (<10%) slow but significant deterioration low
Pollution agricultural & forestry effluents - soil erosion, sedimentation happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) no or imperceptible deterioration low


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Wetlands (inland)   -

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
nature conservation and research -
Notes: Nature conservation and research
rangeland/pastureland -
Notes: Grazing
tourism/recreation -
Notes: Tourism

Acknowledgements Key contributors: Otto Pfister, Rashid Raza, S. A. Hussain and Bivash Pandav.


Chatterjee, A., Chandan, P., Gautam, P. and Droz, B. H. (2002) High Altitude Wetlands of Ladakh: A Conservation Initiative. WWF-India, New Delhi. Pp. 38.

Pfister, O. (1998) Breeding ecology and conservation of the Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis) in Ladakh/India. Thesis, University of Hull, Hull, UK.

Pfister, O. (2001) Birds recorded during visits to Ladakh, India, from 1994 to 1997. Forktail 17: 81-90.

Sharma, V. P. (2000) Geology of the Ladakh Region, J&K State with special reference to High Altitude Lakes. Unpublished. Paper presented at National Consultation Workshop: Conservation of High Altitude Wetlands. WWF-India, Leh.

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Pangong Tso. Downloaded from on 22/10/2016

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