16,000 feet up in the Himalayas a lung full of air contains only half the oxygen of a breath taken at sea level. Despite the cold the sun burns fiercely through the thin atmosphere and despite the permanent ice of the peaks, water is scarce. Every Himalayan life is precarious. The Himalayas presents no easy survival opportunities to the animals. Only the tough and the lucky indure
The Rumbak valley in India’s Hemis National Park is usually dusted by snow. The air that reaches Rumbak is dry and cold. Humans have lived in Rumbak for hundreds of years. Families depend on the milk and meat of domestic animals. Their dung is essential fuel.
The Snow Leopard one of the top predators hunts alone in the twilight and at night. A rare species the snow leopard is a specialist mountaineer. It has short legs and its ears and testicles are drawn deep into its multi layered fur coat in extreme cold it wraps itself in its lush tail.
Bharal are one of six different Himalayan species of mountain sheep and goat. To extract maximum oxygen from the thin air bharal blood is rich in red cells. Short legs reduce heat loss and lower the center of gravity. Bharal hooves are soft and rubbey for grip. Its gut generates heat as it digests. Hollow hair fibers retain that heat and the bharal’s topcoat is perfect camouflage.
Marmots are fast breeding rodents and are an important source of food for Himalayan carnivores including snow leopards and wolves. Their diggings and droppings encourage grass growth. Defenceless alone they have a group warming system.
With a wingspan of nine feet the Bearded Vulture in the Himalayas scavenges meat and has an advantage over all its competitors. It eats the bone. To digest its hard diet the bird’s gut is highly acidic as it can swallow bones ten inches long.
Golden Eagles breed in the early spring so that they can raise their young when its warmer and prey more plentiful. The Golden Eagle seldom drinks as it gets moisture from flesh. The more efficient lungs of the birds cope easily with the thin air.