Kedarnath Wild Life Sanctuary, also called the Kedarnath Musk Deer Sanctuary, is a national sanctuary in Uttarakhand, India. Its alternate name comes from its primary purpose of protecting the endangered Himalayan Musk Deer. Consisting of an area of 975 sq km (376 sq mt), it is the largest protected area in the western Himalayas. It is internationally important for the diversity of its flora and fauna. Located in the Himalayan Highlands with an elevation ranging from 1,160 m (3,810 ft) (near Phata) to the Chaukhamba peak at 7,068 m (23,189 ft), it was a notified reserve forest between 1916 and 1920. It was changed to a sanctuary on January 21, 1972, and has been designated a "Habitat/Species Management Area" by the IUCN. Since 1972, the area of the park has expanded from 967-975 ha (2,390-2,409 acres).
The sanctuary straddles a geographically diverse landscape and transitional environment. IUCN has reported that "From 44.4% to 48.8% of the sanctuary is forested, 7.7% comprises alpine meadows and scrub, 42.1% is rocky or under permanent snow and 1.5% represents formerly forested areas that have been degraded." The sanctuary takes its name from the famous Hindu temple of Kedarnath which is just outside its northern border. The entire 14 km (9 mt) route from Ghauri Khund to Kedarnath Temple (3,584 m/11,759 ft) passes through the sanctuary.
Religious And Social Aspect:
The sanctuary has a large number of Hindu temples located within its precincts. Kedarnath temple is the most historic of these and is visited by a very large number of pilgrims. This temple dates to the 8th century. Other temples, though not of matching importance, have strong legends related to the epic Mahabharata days. These are the Mandani, Madhyamaheshwar, Tungnath, Ansuya Devi and Rudranath. The local Hindu culture is also imbibed by the Bhotiyas (may be with some Tibetan link) who have pastoral work culture and are an integral part of the valleys. Visitors to these temples have occasionally been attacked by wildlife.
A typical temperate to sub-arctic climate prevails in the locale of the sanctuary. The South West summer monsoon rains recorded is the mean annual precipitation of 3,093 mm (122 in). This high value of precipitation is due to the fact that the hill ranges to the south, of about 3,000 m (9,800 ft) height, are open without much of rain-shadow effect. On the basis of rainfall of 3,050 mm (120 in) recorded near Tungnath in 1979-81, the monsoon rain (June to September) was about 81% while snow precipitation during December-March was 11%. Summer temperature recorded is 25°C (77°F), the highest in May or June; a mild and pleasant condition. The lowest winter temperature recorded in the first half of January is −10°C (14°F), when heavy snowfall is received in the upper region. This results in severe cold conditions.
The sanctuary is reputed to be one of the World’s richest bio-reserves. It is host to temperate forests in the middle altitudes; higher elevations are dotted by coniferous, sub-alpine and alpine forests, and further up by alpine grasslands and high-altitude Bugyals. The diverse climate and topography in the sanctuary area has created dense forests of chir pine, oak, birch, rhododendrons and alpine meadows with incidence of numerous Himalayan flowering plants. At Tungnath, two sedges, Carex lacta and C. munda, have been reported which had previously only been reported in the far west region of Nepal.
The sanctuary is rich in faunal, avifaunal and aquafaunal species. Some of the mammalian species of the carnivores are: jackal (Canis aureus), fox (Vulpes vulpes), Himalayan black bear (Selenarctos thibetanus) (V), yellow-throated Marten (Martes flavigula), leopard cat (Felis bengalensis), common leopard (Panthera pardus) (T) and snow leopard (Uncia uncia). Among the ungulates are Wild boar (Sus scrofa), Himalayan musk deer (Moschus leucogaster), and Indian muntjac. The primates recorded are rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) and common langur (Presbytis entellus). Among the smaller mammals are Hodgsons's Brown-toothed Shrew (Soriculus sp.), red giant flying squirrel (Petaurista petaurista), and Royle's Mountain Vole (Alticola roylei)'. Reptile species recorded are: Himalayan pit viper (Gloydius himalayanus syn. Ancistrodon himalayanus) (common) and Boulenger's keelback (Amphiesma parallelum).
Important bird species reported are: Little Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula westermanni), Grey-cheeked Warbler (Seicercus poliogenys) and Nepal Tree-creeper (Certhia nipalensis), Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus) (it is the state bird of Uttarakhand, considered as endangered), Kalij Pheasant (Lophura leucomelanos) and Koklass Pheasant (Pucrasia macrolopha). In the Mandakini River, fishes recorded include Schizothorax sp., mahseer Tor tor, Labeo spp., Gara spp., Barilius spp., Nemacheilus sp. nov., Glyptothorax spp. and Balitora brucei.
Among the more notable of the animals in the region is the animal for which it is alternatively named; the musk deer. Declining population (over 40% in 21 years) of this specie and large scale poaching for profit, dictated the decision to declare it as an endangered animal (EN) in 1973 (Halloway, 1973) and the specie was listed vulnerable in the red data book of IUCN in 1974. It is found, not only in Uttarakhand in the Himalyan belt up to lowest elevation of 2,500 m (8,200 ft), but also in some parts of the Himalayan belt starting from Northern India in Jammu and Kashmir and Sikkim, and in Bhutan, Nepal and China (southwest Xizang) with small numbers reported in China. These deer dwell generally live alone at a density of 3-4 animals per square kilometer in meadows, fell-fields, shrublands or first forests.
Visitors are mostly Indian nationals on pilgrimage to various temples, though a few international tourists also visit the area. The approach to Kedarnath Temple is only through the sanctuary. Visiting season is from April to June and again from September to November. The number of visitors to the Kedarnath shrine, who passed through the sanctuary, was 5,57,923 in 2007 as against 87,629 in 1987, a quantum jump in 20 years. The nearest airport is at Jolly Grant Airport at Dehradun at a distance of 227 km (141 mt) from Chopta, the entry point to the sanctuary. Rishikesh is the nearest rail head at a distance of 212 km (132 mt) from Chopta.
National Highway NH 58 from Delhi passes through Chamoli via Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Roorkee, Haridwar, Rishikesh, Devprayag, Srinagar, Rudraprayag, Okhimath; and by state highway to Chopta. The sanctuary and surroundings offer some housing for visitors, including the forest hut at Madhyamaheshwar for which prior reservation needs to be done through the DFO, Kedarnath Wildlife Division, Gopeshwar. The Temple Committee maintains Dharamshalas for use by pilgrims and tourists at Trijuginarayan, Dougalbitta, Mandal, Gaurikund and Kedarnath. There is also a guest house at Sonprayag.