Lest we lose it!

Should Hangul be allowed to go extinct?


You are reading this article because it is all about a species which is having its roots deep in our history, culture and social life. We could have this argument about a black bear or a common leopard and the issues would have been identical, but the ability to get people's attention would be far lower.
Everywhere you look on this planet there are issues to be addressed and we have finite resources. So we do make really horrible choices. But nowadays, almost exclusively, when people work in conservation they focus on saving habitats, because there are many species that live in a narrowly defined habitat. If we don't destroy their habitat they will just continue in the same way as they have been for the thousands of years before.
I don't want the hangul, the designate state animal for Jammu and Kashmir, to die out. I want the species to stay alive but conservation, both nationally and globally, has a limited amount of resources, and I think we're going to have to make some hard and pragmatic choices.
The hard fact being that we have already left the Hangul to face the extinction because we have compromised on the animal’s habitat at every level. We spend millions and millions of rupees on developmental works, that too, within its very habitat and on the name of saving this species, knowing that the best thing we could have done with this money was to have effective habitat management with adequate protection measures. Without habitat, you've got nothing. So maybe if we took all the money we spend on hangul over the years and just bought its habitat with it, we might have done a better job and earned the required dividends in the shape of increased number of hangul and other species sharing its habitat.
Of course, it's easier to raise money for charismatic megafauna like hangul, which appeals to people's emotional side, and attract a lot of public attention. The species being emblematic of what I would call single-species conservation i.e. a focus on one animal as this approach began in the 1970s with Save the Tiger, Save the Panda, and so on, and it is now out of date.
Many among the conservationist community may stand up and say, "It's a flagship species. We're also conserving the forest, where there is a whole plethora of other things." And when that works, I'm not against it. But we have to accept that some species are stronger than others. The hangul is a species of red deer - a herbivorous animal. It is susceptible to various diseases, and, till recently, it has been bred in captivity only during late eighties and early nineties on experimental basis in erstwhile City Forest National Park, but the task seems not so simple now. Had that time the concerned agencies given due attention towards that project, the present day crises would have not been at least in beginning the project once again. The present very restricted range of this animal is also ever decreasing, due to grazing pressure and encroachment on their habitat. Perhaps the hangul is already destined to run out of time.
Extinction is very much a part of life on earth. And we are going to have to get used to it in the next few years because climate change is going to result in all sorts of disappearances. I'm not trying to make predictions. I'm saying we won't be able to save it all, so let's do the best we can. And at the moment I don't think our strategies are best placed to do that. We should be focusing our conservation endeavours on habitat management and conservation, spreading our net more widely and looking at good-quality habitat maintenance to preserve as much of the life as we possibly can, using hard science to make educated decisions as to which species are essential to a community's maintenance. It may well be that we can lose the cherries from the cake. But you don't want to lose the substance.
In the background of things saving the hangul habitat, or saving the Dachigam National Park landscape as a whole, is definitely going to serve the purpose to a greater extent otherwise, this biological massacre will take place, that too, in a grossly distorted manner which is likely to include a multitude of species losses constituting a basic and irreversible alteration in the nature even before we understand its working.

(Dr. Mir M. Mansoor is Chief Wildlife Biologist, Department of Wildlife Protection, J&K State. Feedback at mirmnsur@gmail.com)

Lastupdate on : Thu, 25 Mar 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Thu, 25 Mar 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Fri, 26 Mar 2010 00:00:00 IST

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