The Sagarmāthā National Park (sagaramāthā rāṣṭriya nikuñja) is a protected area in the Himalayas of eastern Nepal that is dominated by Mount Everest. It encompasses an area of 1,148 km2 (443 sq mi) in the Solukhumbu District and ranges in elevation from 2,845 m (9,334 ft) to 8,848 m (29,029 ft) at the summit of Mount Everest. In the north, it shares the international border with the Qomolangma National Nature Preserve of Tibet and extends to the Dudh Koshi river in the south. Adjacent to the east is the Makalu Barun National Park.
Sagarmāthā is a Nepali word derived from सगर् sagar meaning “sky” and माथा māthā meaning “head”.
The protected area has been identified as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International and is included in the Sacred Himalayan Landscape.
The Sagarmatha National Park was established in 1976. In 1979, it became the country’s first national park that was inscribed as a Natural World Heritage Site. In January 2002, a Buffer Zone comprising 275 km2 (106 sq mi) was added. Under the Buffer Zone Management Guidelines the conservation of forests, wildlife and cultural resources received top priority, followed by conservation of other natural resources and development of alternative energy.
Tourism to the area began in the early 1960s. In 2003, about 19,000 tourists arrived. About 3500 Sherpa people live in villages and seasonal settlements situated along the main tourist trails. The park’s visitor centre is located at the top of a hill in Namche Bazaar, where a company of the Nepal Army is stationed for protection of the park. The park’s southern entrance is a few hundred metres north of Monzo at 2,835 m (9,301 ft), a one day trek from Lukla.
Most of the park area is very rugged and steep, and the terrain cut by deep rivers and glaciers. The park contains the upper watershed of the Dudh Kosi river basin and the Gokyo Lakes. Barren land above 5,000 m (16,000 ft) comprises 69% of the park while 28% is grazing land and the remaining 3% is forested. Climatic zones include a forested temperate zone, a subalpine zone above 3,000 m (9,800 ft), and an alpine zone above 4,000 m (13,000 ft) that constitutes the upper limit of vegetation growth. The nival zone starts at 5,000 m (16,000 ft).
In the lower forested zone, birch, juniper, blue pines, firs, bamboo and rhododendron grow. Above this zone all vegetation are found to be dwarf or shrubs. As the altitude increases, plant life is restricted to lichens and mosses. Plants cease to grow at about 5,750 m (18,860 ft), because this is the permanent snow line in the Himalayas.
Forests of pine and hemlock cover the lower elevations of the national park. At elevations of around 3,500 m (11,500 ft) and above, forests of silver fir, birch, rhododendron and juniper trees are found.
The forests provide habitat to at least 118 species of birds, including Himalayan Monal, Blood pheasant, Red-billed chough, and yellow-billed chough. Sagarmāthā National Park is also home to a number of rare mammal species, including musk deer, snow leopard, Himalayan black bear and red panda. Himalayan thars, langur monkeys, martens and Himalayan wolves are also found in the park.
The partial pressure of oxygen falls with altitude. Therefore, the animals that are found here are adapted to living on less oxygen and cold temperatures. They have thick coats to retain body heat. Some of them have shortened limbs to prevent loss of body heat. The Himalayan bears go into hibernation in caves during the winter when there is no food available.