Satellite collaring of the endangered Hangul population concentrated in its last bastion Dachigam National Park here has revealed that state animal is trying to revive its traditional summer grazing corridor in Gurez valley in northern Kashmir.
Famed for its magnificent antlers with 11 to 16 points, Hangul or Kashmiri stag was once widely distributed in mountains of Kashmir. During early twentieth century their number was believed to be about 3,000-5,000. 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. Gradually, the Hangul population declined to about 1,000-2,000 in 1947 and subsequently as low as 214 at present.
To study movement patterns of Hangul using Global Positioning System (GPS) and Satellite Telemetry, the Wildlife Protection department in collaboration with SKUAST Kashmir and Wildlife Instute of India undertook satellite collaring of the animal.
Officials said preliminary findings of satellite-collared two female Hangul have provided significant information on movement patterns and habitat use by individual Hangul in and outside Dachigam National Park.
"Analysis of satellite collaring data reveals that Hangul stags and hinds are trying to revive their traditional summer grazing spots in Tulail area of Gurez. This is an encouraging trend as these animals are expanding their concentration beyond Dachigam," Rashid Naqash, regional wildlife warden Kashmir told Greater Kashmir.
Till few decades ago, Dachigam-Wangath- Tulail was the traditional summer corridor of the Hangul. "However, fragmentation and increased human activity along the corridor hindered the movement of Hangul," Naqash added.
On 23 July, a female fawn was captured at Bonibagh area of Kangan, which forms part of the corridor to Tulail and shifted to Pahalgam zoo. "It seems the fawn was part of the Hangul herd which passed through the corridor to Tulail," he said.
Owing to its undisturbed meadows and less human activity, Tulail offers abundant foraging grounds for the Hangul. Researchers point out that upper Dachigam area, which was a favorite haunt of Hangul, is being gradually abandoned by the animal due to presence of livestock and grazers.
Government plans to put in place slew of measures to provide safe passage to the Hangul while moving through the Dachigam-Wangath-Tulail corridor.
"Hangul herds have been spotted in Tulail and its adjoining areas signifying they are using their old corridor. We have initiated certain management measures along the identified corridor in the Sindh forest division. The measures include setting up of command and control centre at Haknar Gund for protection of Hangul during their local migration. In case Hangul movement is detected, we will stop vehicular movement along Sonmarg-Leh highway till these animals cross the road," regional wildlife warden Kashmir added.
Principal investigator of the satellite collaring project. Dr Khursheed Ahmad, who heads Division of Wildlife Sciences, SKUAST Kashmir, said radio-locations of two satellite collared Hangul hinds (females) were monitored following deployment.
"One of the collared doe moved outside Dachigam National Park towards Surfrao, Akhal and Kangan blocks of Sindh Reserve forest. The animal although crossed the mighty Sindh Nallah to move further ahead, however, the movements were restricted from Yechihama onwards possibly due to heavy human and livestock grazing disturbances. The animal was most likely making attempt to reach to its earlier summer ranging area of Tulail in Gurez," said Dr Khursheed.
The fawn spent few days in and around Yechihama-Ganiwan forests and meadows and moved back and forth between Dachigam National Park and Yechihama-Ganiwan forests through the same route.
"The information generated through this study is expected to provide in-depth knowledge on lesser known aspects of Hangul biology, behavior and ecology that would further support the management interventions for long-term survival of the species in its erstwhile range from Gurez to Kishtwar," Dr Khurshid said.
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. Scientifically known as Cervus elaphus hanglu, Hangul is the only surviving race of the Red Deer family of Europe in the sub-continent. Hangul is state animal and placed under Schedule I in the J&K Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1978.