The recently concluded International Conference held in Srinagar on Kashmir Hangul, the only surviving species of the Red Deer family, in Kashmir, expressed serious concern over the fast dwindling number of this rare variety. Considering the seriousness of the issue, the concern is well placed and needs to be addressed.
A look at the figures gives an Idea of the magnitude. Forget about the times when the number of Hangul in Kashmir was stated to be in thousands. Just at the beginning of the 20th century, their number was 5,000. By the time militancy broke out in the state in late 80’s, it had come down to 900. Last year it touched a low of 117 to 180, according to a census. But, since then it has risen to about 230, thanks to some renewed conservation efforts. With the help of WWF, ‘Project Hangul’ was started in Kashmir in the 70’s which resulted in the number of Hangul going up to 340 by the eighties. But that was short lived. The latest census of 2008 puts the figure at 150 to 160.
Kashmir Hangul is one of the proud possessions of Kashmir. It is also the state animal of Kashmir. Its extinction will surely be a matter of concern. The wake up call by the conservationists and environmentalists, to all the stake holders, is something that can be ignored only at great risk.
“We will not let the Hangul go extinct”. That is how the J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah expressed his determination to save the rare animal. The State Governor ShriN.N.Vohra, too, was emphatic in his remarks even as he blamed human biotic interference for the fast depleting number of the species.
It is not the Hangul alone that is meeting this fate. Markhur, Himalayan Bear and the Musk deer, too, are becoming endangered species due to melting glaciers, depleting forest cover and water bodies. And as Mr. Vohra pointed out, if this trend is not reversed the very survival of mankind could be in danger.
Experts blame extensive human encroachment as a major cause for extinction of wild life. Poaching, indeed, leads the list. Poachers do so to make a quick money as the skin and magnificent antlers of Hangul fetch them a very high price Internationally. In case of tigers and leopards poachers look for their medicinal values. The tiger, too, is thus disappearing fast despite the ‘Project Tiger’ launched by the Government long ago. The latest tiger census counted just 1,411 big cats, down from 3,642 in 2002 and around 40,000 a century ago.
The Dachigam sanctuary on the outskirts of Srinagar, spread over an area of 140 sq. km., which is home to the Kashmir Hangul, came under the sway of the Militants. They killed the animal for its meat as well. For well over a decade, the area was out of bounds for even the security forces. Besides Dachigam, Kashmir Hangul is also seen in Wadwan valley,Bhaderwah, Kishtwar and Tilel regions of the State. The male deer has impressive antlers whereas the female has no antlers. Hangul has a red brownish coat and that is why it is also called red deer. The colour, however, changes with every season and age. The male Hangul has long hair along its neck while the female has none.
Destruction of natural habitats, overgrazing by domestic live stock and deforestation are other forms of human interference that has led to this tragic situation. Forests are disappearing as trees are felled illegally for both firewood and timber, most of which is smuggled. This paves the way for the grazing areas extending deep into the jungles leading to destruction of the natural habitats.
The State Government, too, charged with having neglected the environment and wildlife in the state and ignoring the need for protecting the rare species. Surely, the State Government, too, has a responsibility to protect the animal from becoming extinct.
Critical environmental issues like ozone depletion, global warming and climate change are also responsible for the present situation. This explains the need for swift and long term action in dealing with global warming which the world is facing now.
There is, however, some hope for the future. The latest census has shown improvement in the female-fawn ratio which indicates a possibility of a sustained growth in the future. Apart from that, there is also a need for effective implementation of conservation plans. Along with punitive measures against those who violate laws, the people need to be sensitized by launching massive awareness campaigns. All the stakeholders need to come together to preserve, conserve and sustain environment, ecology, fauna and flora of the state. The joint effort will surely go a long way in helping in protecting the world famous Hangul in the State.