Latest census shows alarming decrease in Hangul population composition

Latest census of the endangered Kashmir stag or Hangul has revealed alarming decrease in the animal’s population structure, with lowest ever male-female and fawn-female ratios.

The census was conducted by State Department of Wildlife Protection. The census however shows marginal increase in Hangul population from 214 in 2017 to 237 this year.

“A total of 53 transects were walked and the total number of Hangul encountered were 237. The results show that the Hangul population structure with respect to male-female and female-fawn ratios are skewed. As per the data there were 15.5 males per 100 females and 7.5 fawns per 100 females. The male-female and fawn-female ratios are quite alarming as these ratios are lower than ever,” the census reveals.

In 2004 and 2006 the raw count of Hangul was 197 and 153, with ratio of 19 and 21 males for 100 females and 23 and 9 fawns for 100 females respectively. In 2008, the

That time the Hangul count was 127. In 2009, 2011, 2015, 2017 the Hangul count was 175, 218, 186 and 214 with ratio of 26, 29, 22 and 16 males for 100 females and 27, 25, 14 and 19 fawns for 100 females respectively.

The census was conducted in collaboration with Wildlife Conservation Fund, Wildlife SOS, JKMHC, Wildlife Trust of India, Kashmir University, Central University, SKUAST, FPF and Forest Department besides research Scholars.

Experts said scientific management interventions were necessary to understand factors associated with these lowering trends.

Famed for its magnificent antlers with 11 to 16 point, Hangul or Kashmiri stag was once widely distributed in mountains of Kashmir.

During early twentieth century their number was believed to be about 3,000 to 5,000. Kashmir’s ‘shikar map’ prepared by Maharaja Hari Singh depicts distribution of Hangul in a radius of 40 kms spreading from Karen in Kishenganga catchments over to Dorus in Lolab Valley, catchments in Bandipora, Tulail, Baltal, Aru, Tral and Kishtwar.

But, gradually the Hangul population declined to about 1,000 to 2,000 in 1947. “During the recent past, the distribution range of Hangul appears to have been drastically reduced possibly due to poaching, habitat fragmentation and degradation. Some small or relic populations are also reported to be present from some areas in Kupwara, Bandipora, Ganderbal, Pulwama and Anantnag districts.”

The census states that of the present distribution range in Dachigam landscape (ca. 1,000 km2) only viable population of Hangul occurs in Dachigam National Park.

Only some small fragmented groups are present in its adjoining protected areas which include 10 Conservation Reserves and the Overa-Aru Wildlife Sanctuary (WS), within the Dachigam National Park of 141 km2.

“The animals are restricting their movements mostly to lower and middle part because of various disturbances in the upper summer range of this animal. It becomes the prime priority of the state to provide this animal with undisturbed habitat in the first instance before this heritage is lost,” it states.

The report states that understanding the overall declining trend in Hangul population and the reason for the imbalance in population structure, alarming important male: female and fawn-female ratios is important for management of deer populations.

It recommends that Hangul movement patterns and routes need to be established especially at the time of migration (both up and down hill).

“Studies have indicated a decrease in genetic heterozygosity over the time and to overcome this, corridors needs to be restored for free gene flow with other relic populations of Hangul.”

Kashmir Red Deer or Hangul is state animal of Jammu and Kashmir. Hangul was earlier believed to be a sub species of Red Deer till the recent study which revealed it to be a different species Cervushanglu.

With this up gradation as a different species and distributed to a confined landscape of Dachigam National Park and adjoining areas, the species is now listed as Critically Endangered in IUCN Red List of threatened species.

At least 10 animal species including Hangul are on the verge of extinction, according to a notification issued by Union ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) last year.

Officials said shifting of sheep breeding farm from Dachigam National Park was a step forward for Hangul conservation.

Regional Wildlife Warden Kashmir Rashid Naqash said though there was marginal increase in Hangul population, its structure is on lower side. “There is a need to be careful with proper detection of the fawn.”

The population structure means the “make up” or composition of a population and it shows how the population is divided up between males and females of different age groups.

“There is a proposal to connect south corridor of Hangul landscape with north corridor through Tral Wildlife Sanctuary. This will address Hangul inbreeding and relic population will reach the main population so that genetic inbreeding which basically is the result of low recruitment and structural imbalances can be addressed,” Naqash told Greater Kashmir.