The population of Kashmir’s royal stag Hangul — an endangered species of red deer found only in the Valley —has decreased by 40% in four years despite years of conservation efforts, prompting the authorities to initiate some desperate measures.
According to a report published by JK-ENVIS (Environment Information System) under the state government’s department of ecology, environment and remote sensing, the population of Hangul has gone down from 218 in 2011 to 130 in 2015.
The last viable population of Hangul (Cervus elaphus hanglu) in the Indian sub-continent exists only in protected Dachigam National Park, a vast mountainous sanctuary (141 sq km) on the outskirts of Srinagar.
Poached for its meat, antlers and skin, the deer’s population fell from 800-900 in 1988 to below 200 in early 1990s after insurgency paralysed the state administration.
However, the number of Hangul stabilised after poachers were forced out when militancy reached its peak in mid 1990s and militants and army battled each other deep in the forests, a natural abode of the shy animal. In 2011, the population was around 218.
The JK-ENVIS report, compiled by a team of environmentalists and wildlife experts, has given a number of reasons for the decline in the animal’s population.
Besides the armed conflict, it has blamed a large scale biotic interferences in its habitats, in the form of excessive grazing by livestock of nomads in the Hangul’s erstwhile summer habitats, grass cutting, fuel and firewood collection, human trampling owing to men and vehicles of hundreds of paramilitary (CRPF) forces camped inside the park and employees of more than seven government departments.
The report said that a sheep breeding farm spread across 100 hectares of prime Hangul habitat in lower Dachigam and poaching have contributed largely to the Hangul habitat degradation.
Dachigam wildlife warden Tahir Ahmad Shawl acknowledged there was pressure on the park from different quarters.
“For some months now, we are not allowing the vehicles of the government employees to enter the park. The CRPF and army movement could not be stopped but we have regulated their vehicle movement. We have also stopped those coming for picnics,” he said.