Undue human intervention especially with nature and its creations is bound to cause destruction. Whether it is water bodies, forests or glaciers, exploitation of natural resources is leading to climate change and taking a toll on humans as well as wildlife.
Decline of Hangul population, which was once spread all over J&K, is blamed on destruction of its fragile habitat.Famed for its magnificent antlers with 11 to 16 points, Hangul (Cervus hanglu hanglu) or Kashmiri stag was once widely distributed in mountains. During the early 20th century, their number was believed to be about 3000 to 5000.
Kashmir’s ‘shikar map’ prepared by Maharaja Hari Singh depicts distribution of Hangul in a radius of 40 km spreading from Keran in Kishenganga catchments over to Dorus in Lolab Valley, catchments in Bandipora, Tulail, Baltal, Aru, Tral, and Kishtwar. The Hangul population gradually declined to about 1000-2000 in 1947 and subsequently to 289 at present.
Now the Hangul is surviving in its last bastion the Dachigam National Park and few of its adjoining areas. There is 800 sq-km of Hangul habitat spanning Dachigam, Brein, Nishat, Dara, Khimber, Khrew, Khanmoh, Tral, Shikargah, Khiram, Sindh and Akhal.
Till date nine censuses have been carried out in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2015, 2017, 2019, and 2021 and the Hangul population estimates in the past were 197, 153, 127, 175, 218, 183, 214, 237 and 261 respectively.
The recent census reveals that there is a marginal increase in Hangul’s population. There are 289 Hangul as per latest census. More than numbers, it is the fawn-female ratio that is important for long term survival of Hangul.
Major threats to Hangul include vulnerability of population with regard to viability, structure and habitat health. Hangul is a critically-endangered species as per the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of IUCN, Red List Data, a Schedule I Species in Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972.
Studies have revealed that Hangul is not using summer habitats due to anthropogenic pressure owing to livestock grazing in Kashmir’s upper reaches. This has also been revealed by results of Satellite Collaring of Hangul.
Years ago, authorities even shifted Government Sheep Breeding Farm from Dachigam National Park as sheep was affecting grazing of Hangul. Still there is undue human interference in Hangul’s habitat in Dachigam National Park. The presence of wild boars in the park is disturbing the habitat of Hangul.
Experts have been recommending measures to expand the range of Hangul to alpine meadows and corridor areas outside Dachigam National Park. But there is increased human interference.
Extraction of raw material in Khrew and Khanmoh for cement factories and construction works is severely disturbing Hangul. The problem is compounded by heavy movement of trucks, machines and quarrying in areas close to Dachigam National Park.
By nature, Hangul is a shy animal and usually likes undisturbed areas. During the recent census, Hangul herds of 70 and 83 were spotted in upper reaches of Dachigam.
Regular population monitoring of Hangul has so far revealed that although the population is stable, there were concerns like poor female- fawn ratio,increasing rate of fragmentation of relict habitats, poaching, and consequently reduction in its historical home range.
There are problems associated with low recruitment rates and population stability of Hangul. The Department of Wildlife Protection is focusing on genetic related studies and awarded the study of complete genome sequencing of Hangul to understand evolutionary insights through a mitogenomic lens.
Hangul Conservation Breeding Centre has been established at Shikargah in Tral area of south Kashmir
In its endeavour to study movement patterns of Hangul using Global Positioning System (GPS) and Satellite Telemetry, Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, Kashmir (SKUAST-K) in collaboration with the Department of Wildlife Protection has been undertaking satellite collaring of the animal.
The study has been instrumental in providing valuable information on the Hangul movement ecology, seasonal Hangul home ranges, movement patterns, and migration and in identifying and validating important stop-over sites of migration, movement corridors, and barriers to migration of Hangul outside Dachigam National Park.” The capture and collaring of five individual Hanguls by SKUAST-K under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MOEF&CC), Government of India, funded project has yielded significant results.
The findings of this extensive research in last four year has tracked movement of Hangul from Dachigam National Park towards Hangul relic areas of Wangath-Naranag corridor in the north and Tral and Shikargah corridor in the south through the identified corridors in Sindh Forest Division in north and areas of Tral Reserve forest in south.
Despite availability of ideal summer habitats for the Hangul in upper Dachigam, these alpine meadow habitats were not being explored or used by Hangul possibly due to the anthropogenic pressure owing to livestock grazing. Sustainability of a good population of Hangul is an indicator of a healthy ecosystem.
There is a need to protect large landscapes and associated biodiversity of the Western Himalayas in order to restore the historical range of Hangul to facilitate a viable increase in its existing population.
Based on the findings, experts from SKUAST-K and the Department of Wildlife Protection have recommended several measures and management interventions towards expansion of the range of Hangul to alpine meadows of Upper Dachigam and potential corridor areas outside Dachigam National Park.
We have example of how Cheetahs went extinct in India. The last known Asian cheetah in India died in 1947 in Korea district, now Chhattisgarh. The species was declared extinct in 1952. Under the Project Cheetah of Government of India, reintroduction of Cheetah was undertaken last year-after nearly seven decades.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year released the eight cheetahs brought from Namibia into Kuno National Park. 25 cheetahs from Namibia and South Africa will be reintroduced to the Park, which was once a bastion of Cheetahs.
In absence of sustained conservation measures, there is risk for Hangul to go extinct like Cheetahs. So far, the situation for Hangul is far better than Cheetahs. Being a Union Territory animal, it is the responsibility of the government and people to help in conservation of Hangul’s habitat. There is a need to rope in global wildlife experts to save the remaining population of Hangul.
Threats to Hangul need to be identified. Awareness programmes should be started for people living close to Hangul’s habitat to make them aware about the importance of this endangered animal. We need to join hands to save the remaining population of Hangul for our future generations.
Author is Executive Editor, Greater Kashmir
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.