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 in2017 to 237 this year.
"A total of 53 transects were walked and the total number ofHangul encountered were 237. The results show that the Hangul populationstructure with respect to male-female and female-fawn ratios are skewed. As perthe 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 arelower 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 100females 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 16males for 100 females and 27, 25, 14 and 19 fawns for 100 females respectively.
The census was conducted in collaboration with WildlifeConservation Fund, Wildlife SOS, JKMHC, Wildlife Trust of India, KashmirUniversity, Central University, SKUAST, FPF and Forest Department besidesresearch Scholars.
Experts said scientific management interventions werenecessary 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 tobe about 3,000 to 5,000. Kashmir's 'shikar map' prepared by Maharaja Hari Singhdepicts distribution of Hangul in a radius of 40 kms spreading from Karen inKishenganga catchments over to Dorus in Lolab Valley, catchments in Bandipora,Tulail, Baltal, Aru, Tral and Kishtwar.
But, gradually the Hangul population declined to about 1,000to 2,000 in 1947. "During the recent past, the distribution range of Hangulappears to have been drastically reduced possibly due to poaching, habitatfragmentation and degradation. Some small or relic populations are alsoreported to be present from some areas in Kupwara, Bandipora, Ganderbal,Pulwama and Anantnag districts."
The census states that of the present distribution range inDachigam landscape (ca. 1,000 km2) only viable population of Hangul occurs inDachigam National Park.
Only some small fragmented groups are present in itsadjoining protected areas which include 10 Conservation Reserves and theOvera-Aru Wildlife Sanctuary (WS), within the Dachigam National Park of 141km2.
"The animals are restricting their movements mostly to lowerand middle part because of various disturbances in the upper summer range ofthis animal. It becomes the prime priority of the state to provide this animalwith undisturbed habitat in the first instance before this heritage is lost,"it states.
The report states that understanding the overall decliningtrend in Hangul population and the reason for the imbalance in populationstructure, alarming important male: female and fawn-female ratios is importantfor management of deer populations.
It recommends that Hangul movement patterns and routes needto be established especially at the time of migration (both up and down hill).
"Studies have indicated a decrease in genetic heterozygosityover the time and to overcome this, corridors needs to be restored for freegene flow with other relic populations of Hangul."
Kashmir Red Deer or Hangul is state animal of Jammu andKashmir. Hangul was earlier believed to be a sub species of Red Deer till therecent study which revealed it to be a different species Cervushanglu.
With this up gradation as a different species anddistributed to a confined landscape of Dachigam National Park and adjoiningareas, the species is now listed as Critically Endangered in IUCN Red List ofthreatened species.
At least 10 animal species including Hangul are on the vergeof extinction, according to a notification issued by Union ministry ofenvironment and forest (MoEF) last year.
Officials said shifting of sheep breeding farm from DachigamNational Park was a step forward for Hangul conservation.
Regional Wildlife Warden Kashmir Rashid Naqash said thoughthere was marginal increase in Hangul population, its structure is on lowerside. "There is a need to be careful with proper detection of thefawn."
The population structure means the "make up" or compositionof a population and it shows how the population is divided up between males andfemales of different age groups.
"There is a proposal to connect south corridor of Hangullandscape with north corridor through Tral Wildlife Sanctuary. This willaddress Hangul inbreeding and relic population will reach the main populationso that genetic inbreeding which basically is the result of low recruitment andstructural imbalances can be addressed," Naqash told Greater Kashmir.