There are not many animals that can be found near the top of Mount Everest because it is just too high. The conditions are very cold and there isn’t as much oxygen so animals have to adapt to survive.
The bottom of Mount Everest has forests of pine and hemlock trees. In these forests live animals such as musk deer, pikas (an animal a little bit like a rabbit or a hare) and Himalayan tahrs. Himalayan Tahrs are goat-like animals related to wild goats.
Higher up the mountain the trees stop growing because it is too cold and windy but shrubs still grow under the snow. Animals such as the snow leopard and mountain sheep can live in these areas.
The Snow Leopard
The snow leopard was nearly hunted to extinction because of its beautiful coat. Their coats are light in colour so that they can blend in with the snow and ice, but they have beautiful spots and markings that blend in with the rocks and shrubs. Snow leopards are rarely spotted in the Himalayas.
Did you know that Edmund Hillary spent 10 months in the Himalayas searching for the yeti. The whole time he was there he did not manage to see a single snow leopard (he didn’t see the yeti either!)
Snow leopards have adapted perfectly to living in a cold mountainous environment:
- Their bodies are stocky
- Their fur is thick
- Their ears are small and rounded so they don’t lose too much heat
- Their paws are wide which is better for walking on snow, and have fur on their undersides to grip on steep and unstable surfaces
- Snow leopards’ tails are long and flexible, helping them to balance, which is very important on the rocky mountain slopes.
- Their tails are also very thick due to storage of fats and are very thickly covered with fur which allows them to be used like a blanket to protect their faces when asleep
The Mountain Tahr
The mountain tahr is a goat-like animal that lives on the wooded slopes of Everest. It has a small head with large eyes and small pointed ears and red circles on its cheeks. It has small horns on its heads. Its hooves are flexible and rubbery to grip smooth rocks, but have a hard, sharp rim around them so they can lodge into small footholds to stay stable on the steep rocks.
The tahr is a herbivore, it survives on the grass, trees and shrubs found on the lower slopes of Everest. It doesn’t eat meat but is hunted by other predators so must be very quick.
Did you know that tahrs can live up to 15 years?
The Himalayan Yak
The Himalayan yak is closely related to wild cattle found on other highlands. Yaks are huge animals, standing at 1.6m-2.2m tall and weighing up to 1000kg! They are very well adapted to living in such a hostile environment:
- They have long, thick coats to keep them warm. Some coats are so long they nearly touch the ground.
- They have a very thick layer of fat to insulate them even more and keep the heat inside their coats.
- Yaks live in herds to protect them the cold and from predators.
- They have large rounded horns to defend themselves but do not use them to harm other animals. They are herbivore and eat grasses, shrubs, mosses and lichen.
- They have very large lungs to help them breathe at high altitudes, they do not like it further down the mountains.
Did you know that yaks are actually shy but very friendly animals? Many are domesticated by humans. Sherpas use yaks to help them bring heavy loads of food and equpiment up the mountain.