From Everest to the Sea – Part 1: The Terai

This is the first in a two-part series of Tuesday Tree guest-video posts that we’ll start by looking down on Mount Everest in a nicely filmed tutorial to set the scene.

We’re going to check out the narrow strip of land between the foothills and the Indo-Gangetic Plain, where the Ganges (Ganga) first leaves the Himalayas and starts to flow down much gentler slopes towards the distant Bay of Bengal,

Too, in this video he mentions the Shivaliks (Lesser Himalayas, a/k/a Siwaliks), and that a rang a bell for me in terms of cat evolution.

What’s now the Shivaliks used to be a floodplain back in Miocene and Pliocene days.

Meanwhile, in what’s now Florida, a few barbourofelids kept on for a while, too. (Image: Dallas Krentzel, CC BY 2.0)

Some sabertoothed cat species prowled that land, leaving their bones to fossilize in its alluvial soil layers.

So did Sansanosmilus — one of the last of an earlier group of carnivores called barbourofelids that may have been related to sabertooths and modern cats. (Werdelin et al.)

Since then, the Indian subcontinent has continued to grind into Eurasia, raising the lithified Siwalik sediments up into hills. But the region currently at the foot of the Himalayas is still a floodplain.

Called the Terai, it’s where those great mountain rivers and other waterways shown above slow down, dump their load of ground-up rocks, and start to spread out across the plain.

Part of the Terai is in India, but it covers about a quarter of Nepal, too.

Yes, a sizable chunk of Nepal is flat land!

In both countries, this a place of open woodlands (mainly sal trees and other hardwoods) and grassy savannahs, as well as wetlands.

Today, Nepal’s only East-West road crosses the Terai, which is also the country’s main farmland.

And at Chitwan Park here, and elsewhere, wildlife and tourists watch each other:

Those are rare rhinos (here’s more information from the Red List). But the video has so much more (except tigers, but we’ll soon meet some of those) — it’s just fun to watch this exploration of the Terai, on land and over water, and know that the landscape at the foot of the Himalayas has looked more or less like this, day and day out, for tens of millions of years.

As you might expect of a flat region with so many rivers, Terai flooding is a major problem here during the monsoon. 2019 is no exception; India has been hit hard, too.

There are some problems unique to this area when it floods.

That tiger came from one of the nearby national parks, which were almost completely underwater during the recent Assam floods.

Tigers and the Terai go back a long way. Once upon a time, there was probably one continuous population of big striped cats here.

Local rulers and rich Westerners used to hunt them, killing hundreds on each shikar. That tradition gradually disappeared during the first half of the 20th century.

By the 1970s, Project Tiger researchers were beating the bush for a different purpose.

They needed to find tigers for radiotelemetry monitoring and to collect other data that would help protect these increasingly rare cats.

I don’t know if this is Tigress 101 — the first Bengal tiger to be radiocollared in Project Tiger — but it might be. This 1970s episode was filmed around the same time that telemetry studies began in the Terai. Let’s assume that’s Tigress 101 and continue her story, per Seidensticker et al.:

  • Though the tiger’s territory was close to farmlands (you can see farm buildings in the background in a few parts of this video), she never left the wild.
  • Over her approximately 12-year lifetime she had at least four litters.
  • As she aged, her territory was eventually taken over by one of her daughters and Tigress 101 established a new one in lower quality habitat.
  • She ultimately died from poison set out by villagers.

It’s easy to hate people for such an act, but we have to realize that there’s a lot of human-wildlife conflict in the Terai, where millions of people now live, about half of them with incomes below the poverty line.

Tigers are as big as us, or bigger, and they do sometimes attack people — 54 incidents occurred between 2007 and 2014, near Chitwan National Park, with 32 fatalities. (Dhungana et al.)

Livestock depredation is a devastating economic problem for Terai villagers, too, and let’s not even get into the wild elephant situation!

OK, let’s, but very briefly:

Coexisting with wild elephants and with other wildlife — especially the cats (Chaus, fishing cats, leopard cats, and leopards live in the Terai, too) — is very difficult

To protect all stakeholders in the Terai, conservationists are basically following through on the plan Mutual of Omaha’s Jim described in that video.

Corridors have been set up between the various national parks in northern India and southern Nepal that comprise the Terai Arc conservation area.

This enables wildlife to travel over great distances without human contact (traffic is a problem, though). Tigers, in particular, need a lot of room.

And other government-sponsored and NGO programs continue to address the needs and concerns of villagers.

It’s not a perfect system. Much more needs to be done, but step by step, life of all kinds continues to find ways to survive and occasionally even thrive in the Terai.

Meanwhile, the Ganges continues flowing toward the sea . . .

Featured image: Sanjayapirk, via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 4.0.


Agustí, J., and Antón, M. 2002. Mammoths, sabertooths, and hominids: 65 million years of mammalian evolution in Europe. New York and Chichester: Columbia University Press.

Barry, J. C.; Morgan, M. E.; Flynn, L. J.; and others. 2002. Faunal and environmental change in the late Miocene Siwaliks of northern Pakistan. Paleobiology, 28(S2): 1-71.

Bryant, H. N. 1991. Phylogenetic relationships and systematics of the Nimravidae (Carnivora). Journal of Mammalogy, 72(1):56-78

Dhungana, R.; Savini, T.; Karki, J. B.; Dhakal, M.; and others. 2018. Living with tigers Panthera tigris: patterns, correlates, and contexts of human–tiger conflict in Chitwan National Park, Nepal. Oryx, 52(1): 55-65.

Flynn, L. J.; Pilbeam, D.; Barry, J. C.; Morgan, M. E.; and Raza, S. M. 2016. Siwalik synopsis: A long stratigraphic sequence for the Later Cenozoic of South Asia. Comptes Rendus Palevol, 15(7): 877-887.

Hunt, Jr., R. M. 1989. Biogeography of the Order Carnivora, in Carnivore Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution, Vol. 2, ed. J. L. Gittleman, J. L., 485–541 Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Loveridge, A.; Wang, S. W.; Frank, L.; and Seidensticker, J. 2010a. People and wild felids: conservation of cats and management of conflicts, in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, eds. Macdonald, D. W., and Loveridge, A. J., 161-195. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nanda, A. C.; Sehgal, R. K.; and Chauhan, P. R. 2018. Siwalik-age faunas from the Himalayan Foreland Basin of South Asia. Journal of Asian Earth Sciences, 162: 54-68.

Seidensticker, J.; Dinerstein, E.; Goyal, S. P.; Gurung, B.; and others. 2010. Tiger range collapse and recovery at the base of the Himalayas, in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, eds. Macdonald, D. W., and Loveridge, A. J., 305-324. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Werdelin, L.; Yamaguchi, N.; Johnson, W. E.; and O’Brien, S. J.. 2010. Phylogeny and evolution of cats (Felidae), in Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids, eds. Macdonald, D. W., and Loveridge, A. J., 59-82. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wikipedia. 2018. Terai Arc Landscape. Last accessed August 4, 2019.

___. 2019. Project Tiger. Last accessed August 4, 2019.

___. 2019. Terai. Last accessed August 4, 2019.

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