Use HORSE, save HANGUL
Vehicular traffic within Dachigam is considered the second most important source of interference damaging the wildlife
DR. MUJEEB FAZILI
The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red Data Book declared the Kashmir Stag (Hangul) as a critically endangered species in 1996. A drastic decline in its population from 2000 in 1947 to around 200 now has put our state animal at the verge of extinction.
Dachigam National Park is home to the last remaining wild population of the Hangul. Over the years, specific migratory behaviour of Hangul has been studied. These animals show a definite seasonal unidirectional movement. In March and April the stags shed their antlers and begin moving to the upper reaches and remain in the alpine meadows and pine forests of Upper Dachigam between (altitude-2500 to 3500 meters) throughout the summer months. They start descending to the lower valley when the new sets of antlers have grown and hardened by September. By October, most of them are concentrated in the lower valley and the stags have joined the hinds. This is when the rutting season commences. After a gestation period of 7-8 months, the fawns are also born in the lower valley during May and June. Along with their fawns, the hinds also move subsequently to the upper slopes where the nutritious pastures are available. With the onset of next autumn they again start downhill migration.
During last several decades the habitat or living space of Hangul has been disturbed by many factors. The greatest cause of species decline is loss and fragmentation of its habitat. Vehicular traffic within Dachigam is considered the second most important source of interference. The actual movement of the vehicles, the bright light they emanate during dark hours, the noise, air pollution and the deposition of toxic exhausted metals and chemicals from their fuel on the vegetation in the park expose the animals to repeated stressful conditions.
Understanding the physiology of stress in animals could help us to pinpoint the grey areas. The anxiety, fear, distress, pain and suffering caused to the animals have not only the short term deleterious effects but also long term repercussions on their health and well being. Immediate flight response may be accompanied by trauma of varying degrees. Several harmful responses like abnormal feeding, inefficient reproduction and pathologic conditions including gastric and intestinal lesions and hypertension could follow repeated or continuous stimuli. Behavioural changes in the animal’s natural (or ecologic) rhythm, such as territorial or hierarchial upset, disruption of night and day cycles, isolation from conspecifics, and change in diet could also be encountered. Such responses may become a permanent part of the animal’s life and seriously threaten its well being. Many animals display clinical signs that include muscle weakness, muscle atrophy, weight loss, high blood pressure, frequent urination, increased thirst and poor wound healing. Decreased resistance to disease may result in death due to pneumonia, heavy parasitism, or bacterial infection. Parasitism is well tolerated by healthy wild animals, but often trauma and the stress increases the parasite burden. The fawns, pregnant females and the male animals (with well formed antlers) in the lower Dachigam are all highly vulnerable to wounds and fractures. The consequences of the stressors are generally much higher in magnitude in wild species than in domestic animals. Stress is frequently the cause of their death. They are generally distrusting of humans. Even, the direct eye to eye contact is stressful to them. Prey species like Hangul, showing any signs of illness in nature makes them more vulnerable to predation. Predators look for signs of weakness and target those animals.
The orders issued by the government in the beginning of the summer this year restricting the number of the visitors to Dachigam national park was appreciated by people showing concern for the Hangul. However, the expected results may not be achieved when the visits and the stay of the VVIPs in its guest house (for which preparations must have started weeks ahead and brisk activities ended days after the event) requiring to and fro movement of the scores of vehicles.
Considering the significance of lower Dachigam as the specific breeding to fawning area for Hangul, the ban of vehicular movement appears imperative. However, restricted number of men and material could still be able to enter and leave the park without damage to the environment if the services of good quality riding and pack horses/ ponies reared by the nearby local villagers could be availed. Well adapted for running and with highly developed ‘fight and flight’ instinct, unlike other domestic animals, they posses several attributes making them extremely suitable as beasts of burden in the terrain areas. They are not only alert and intelligent animals but also possess good night vision and ability to focus on near or far objects at the same time. Being prey animals they are almost always aware of their surroundings. They have the largest set of eyes among all land mammals and can sleep either by lying down or standing up. Reasonable sense of hearing, touch, taste and smell give them invaluable information about their surroundings. By agonistic behavior, these animals warn other fellows and species to keep distance. By doing so they not only save themselves and their fellow animals but also the life and property of humans for whom they work. While riding a horse the persons visiting Dachigam could enjoy every inch of it. Additionally, the poor local populace living in the periphery of the national park would then actively participate in different conservation programmes.
Author is Associate Professor (Surgery), Faculty of Veterinary Sciences (SKUAST-K). Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lastupdate on : Sat, 20 Oct 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 20 Oct 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 21 Oct 2012 00:00:00 IST
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