Kashmiri Hangul faces extinction threat

From 3000-5000 In Early ’90s, Only 190 Left

Arif Shafi Wani
Publish Date: Nov 22 2007 12:00PM
Srinagar, Nov, 21: Kashmiri stag or hangul, one of the world’s most endangered species, is on the verge of extinction due to increasing interference in its habitations. Experts blame excessive livestock grazing, predation, inbreeding population, habitant degradation and forest fires for the declining population. 
 Scientifically known as Cervus elaphus hanglu, hangul is the only surviving race of the Red Deer family of Europe in the sub-continent. The animal is battling for its survival in its last bastion—the Dachigam National Park located on foothills of Zabarwan range on the outskirts of Srinagar.
 Known for its magnificent antlers with 11 to 16 points, hangul was once distributed widely in the mountains of Kashmir. During early ‘90s, their number was believed to be about 3,000-5,000.
 Kashmir’s shikar map prepared by Maharaja Hari Singh depicts distribution of hangul in a radius of 40 km spreading from Karen in Kishenganga catchments over to Dorus in Lolab Valley, Erin catchments in Bandipora to Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh through Baltal to Aru, Tral, and Kishtwar
 Gradually, the hangul population declined to about 1,000-2,000 in 1947 and subsequently as low as 250 in ‘70s.
 According to the population estimation carried by the Department of Wildlife Protection and subsequent analysis by Wildlife Institute of India (WII), the hangul population has been reduced in between 117 to 190. The hanguls are now scattered within 141 sq km of the Dachigam National Park.
 In 2006, the hangul sex ratio was 21 males per 100 females. The fawn-female ratio seems to be an important concern as it shows significant decline from 23 fawns to 9 fawns per 100 females between 2004 and 2006.
 “The current trends indicate that the species could go extinct if necessary serious interventions are not made immediately,” states a group of scientists from the WII who had recently carried survey on hangul. 
 Quoting previous studies, the researchers have highlighted the problems confronting hangul due to disease transmissions from the sheep and goats leading to vulnerability of the species due to health problems.
 “Habitat degradation due to the collection of firewood, small timber and palatable foliage for cattle by local people has also been reported and strongly recommended that in order to maintain suitable food available for hangul in winter, the habitat degradation must be completely stopped,” it states.
 As per the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of threatened species assessment the hangul was categorized as endangered in 1996. Taking hangul’s current population structure, distribution, area of occupancy, number of maturing individuals, fluctuations in the number of mature individuals and female fawn ratio, the scientists recommend its inclusion into IUCN’s critical endangered category.
 Researchers point out that the Upper Dachigam area which is the ideal and traditional summer habitat of hangul has been abandoned by it. “This may be due to disturbances by livestock and the grazers who camp in the upper Dachigam during summer. Competition for food, disease transmission from livestock to hangul, harassment by sheep, dogs, and other disturbances to hangul by humans could be the reasons. The upper Dachigam area should be made free from livestock and human use to enable hangul use their traditional summer ranges and not remain confined to the lower Dachigam only” the report states.
 The scientists indicate that decline in hangul population presumed to be a reflection of continued degradation of hangul population due to possible predation by the common leopard (Panthera Pardus).
 Concentration of hangul only in lower Dachigam, the report states may also be due to provision of supplementary feed and salt at certain locations in this area during winter by the Department of Wildlife Protection. Hangul habitat degradation could be a factor, largely due to human use.
 “Frequent uncontrolled fires in the recent years may have adverse effects on hangul population, by removing escape cover. Besides, habitat degradation, poaching and lack of connectivity between the relic populations and the main (Dachigam) population could be another reason for the overall decline of hangul population in the mountains of Kashmir (historical range),” it states.
 Chief Wildlife Warden A K Shrivastava said the department too was concerned over decrease in hangul population. “We have prepared a plan for hangul conservation and it will be hopefully sanctioned soon. The plan envisages in-situ breeding of hangul and restoration of its summer habitats in Dachigam National Park and conservation of its relic habitations like Khanmoh and Wangath,” Shrivastava said.
 He said though there are no reports of poaching of hangul from last few years, still the department has formed special teams to check it.   
 Wildlife Warden Central Rashid Naqash who also monitors Dachigam National Park said, “Leopards and bears are found in many places but hangul is now only present in Kashmir. As citizen of this state we should be concerned over future, survival and future of hangul. It is a state animal and our pride. It is high time for government and people to join hands and save the hangul from extinction.”   
 Regional Wildlife Warden, Farooq Geelani, said, “Our priority is to restore the habitat of hangul and we have taken up the matter with state as well as central government. We will shortly launch massive awareness campaign for hangul conservation and seek help of national and international experts for preserving its diminishing population.”
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