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Location India, Jammu & Kashmir
Central coordinates 78o 19.00' East  32o 53.00' North
IBA criteria A1, A4i
Area 20,000 ha
Altitude 0
Year of IBA assessment 2004

Bombay Natural History Society

Site description Tso Morari in eastern Ladakh is the largest of the high altitude Trans-Himalayan lakes situated entirely within Indian territory. The lake formerly had an outlet to the south, but has now become landlocked, because of which the water is now brackish to saline. The lake is fed by streams and snowmelt from two major stream systems, which create extensive marshes when they enter the lake. The lake is frozen from November to April. Small islands near the north and south ends are important for breeding waterfowl. The lake is bounded by mountain ranges with peaks exceeding 6,500 m. On the north and east sides, the lake is bounded by the hills of the Tibetan cold desert. The western side is bordered by steeper peaks exceeding 5,500 m. The Pare Chu river, which originates about 40 km upstream of the lake, flows along the southern side. Between Tso Morari in the north, and the Pare Chu in the south, lies the Nuro Sumdo wetland, covering an area of about 2,000 ha (Mishra and Humbert-Droz 1998). There does not appear to be any vegetation in the deeper parts of the lake, but shallow areas have some Potamogeton. Various species of sedge and rushes grow in the marsh, notably Carex. Caragana and Astragalus spp. characterize the steppe vegetation. Juncus thomsonii and Leontopodium sp. are also found.

Key Biodiversity 

AVIFAUNA: Tso Morari is thought to be the one of the most important breeding sites for waterfowl in Ladakh. The lake has the best known and most important breeding ground of the Bar-headed geese Anser indicus in Indian territory (Pfister 1998, in press) and supports significant breeding populations of other species such as the Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus, Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea, Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus, Brownheaded Gull Larus brunnicephalus and Common Tern Sterna hirundo. The Black-necked cranes Grus nigricollis stage regularly on the marshes. During autumn migration, the Lake serves as an important staging area for multitude of waterfowl, including Near Threatened Ferruginous Pochard Aythya nyroca. River Tern Sterna aurantia is among the 200 species of birds reported by Otto Pfister. During a 10 day survey between 19 and 28 July, 1996, Mishra and Humbert-Droz, (1998) found 34 bird species, including 14 waterbirds that breed in the area. At least 3 Black-necked Cranes and 826 Bar-headed Geese (62% goslings) were sighted in Tso Morari and Nuro Sumdo marshes. According to Wetlands International (2002), 1% biogeographic population threshold of the Bar-headed Goose is 560. Thus these wetlands harbour more than the threshold. A breeding colony with 250 adults and chicks of Brown-headed Gull, a Biome-5 species (Stattersfield et al. 1998) was also found by Mishra and Humbert-Droz (1998). While the Nuro Sumdo area is important for Black-necked Crane, Tso Morari is an extremely important breeding area for Bar-headed Geese (Mishra and Humbert-Droz 1998).

OTHER KEY FAUNA: Large mammal fauna includes the Snow Leopard Uncia uncia in the surrounding mountains, the Wild Ass Equus kiang and Tibetan Wolf Canis lupus chanku on the plateau. Blue sheep Pseudois nayaur and Nayan or Great Tibetan Sheep Ovis ammon hodgsoni are found on the hillsides. Weasel Mustela sp, Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana, Red Fox Vulpes vulpes, and Woolly Hare Lepus oiostolus are also seen (Rauf Zargar pers. comm. 2003).

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus 2004  present  A4i  Least Concern 
Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca unknown  2004  present  A4i  Near Threatened 
Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis breeding  2004  present  A1  Vulnerable 

IBA Monitoring

2013 high not assessed negligible
Medium - based upon reliable but incomplete / partially representative data

Human intrusions and disturbance recreational activities happening now some of area/population (10-49%) moderate to rapid deterioration high
Invasive & other problematic species, genes & diseases problematic native species/diseases - unspecified species happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium

Wetlands (inland)   0 0 good (> 90%) good (> 90%) favourable

Little/none of site covered (<10%)  No management planning has taken place  Unknown  negligible 

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Tsomoriri Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar) 12,000 unknown 0  


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

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
agriculture -
Notes: Agriculture
tourism/recreation -
Notes: Tourism
urban/industrial/transport -
Notes: Transport; Urban settlements


Mishra, C. and Humbert-Droz, B. (1998) Avifaunal survey of Tsomorari Lake and adjoining Nuro-Sumdo wetland in Ladakh, Indian trans- Himalayan. Forktail 14: 65-67.

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. (in press) Birds and Mammals of Ladakh.

Stattersfield, A. J., Crosby, M. J., Long, A. J. and Wege, D. C. (1998) Endemic Bird Areas of the World: Priorities for Biodiversity Conservation. BirdLife Conservation Series No. 7. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Wetlands International (2002) Waterbirds Population Estimates: Third Edition. Wetlands International Global Series No. 12. Wageningen, The Netherlands.

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Tso Morari Lake and adjacent marshes. Downloaded from on 25/10/2016

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife