Kashmir’s Hangul’s population shows marginal increase: Census
Population census of the unique Kashmiri royal stag, vernacularly known as the Hangul, has shown a marginal increase in its population, but has indicated a skewed male-female and fawn-female ratio
The biennial population census of the unique Kashmiri royal stag, vernacularly known as the Hangul, has shown a marginal increase in its population, but has indicated a skewed male-female and fawn-female ratio.
Hangul once ruled the Valley but has become a critically endangered species with sightings mostly reported in the Srinagar’s Dachigam National Park.
The results of population monitoring exercise conducted in April this year show a marginal increase in population from 2019 estimates - 237 in 2019 to 261 in 2021.
“However, there is no considerable increase in population numbers. The basic demographic ratios of male: female and fawn: female ratios are skewed,” the latest census published last month by the department of wildlife protection said.
The last viable population of Hangul (cervus hanglu hanglu) in the Indian sub-continent exists only in the protected Dachigam National Park, a vast mountainous 141 sq km sanctuary on the outskirts of Srinagar, where Hangul grazed in hordes before the start of militancy in 1989. Lately, there have been a few sightings in connected areas outside the park in south Kashmir but their number is believed to be negligible.
The species has been placed in the ‘critically endangered’ category by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a Schedule I Species in Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and is the only survivor of the red deer group in the Indian sub-continent. A population census is conducted every two years.
Officials said that the present population monitoring exercise was carried out in the first week of April 2021.
The census revealed that the number of Hangul’s males per 100 females was 12.6 in 2021 down from 15.3 in 2019. The number of fawns per 100 females has increased to 13.4 in 2021 from 9 in 2019.
The ratios ideally should have been 40-50 males/100 females and above 60 fawns/100 females.
“The recent scientific studies on the current Hangul population trend have indicated that the species could go extinct if serious management and conservation interventions are not made immediately. The studies indicate that besides biotic interferences, some of the major ecological issues, concerning the decline in the population and long-term conservation and survival of the Hangul are low breeding and disturbed viability,” the census report said.
In the past decade, the population appears to have mostly stabilised but not improved. It was 218 in 2011, 183 in 2015 and 214 in 2017 which has improved to 237 in 2019 and now to 261 in 2021.
“Hangul population is stable but there is no considerable improvement in population because of the various concerns,” the census report said and pointed out factors like habitat fragmentation and poaching, livestock grazing, predation, ecological threats and disturbed corridors and landscapes as its reasons.
Poached for its meat, antlers and skin, the deer’s population dropped below 200 in the early 1990s from 800-900 in 1988 after insurgency paralysed the state administration. It had a thriving population of 3,000-5,000 in the 1900s.
However, the poachers were forced out when militancy reached its peak in the mid-1990s and militants and the army battled each other deep in the forests, the natural abode of the shy animal.
However, wildlife experts are concerned as to why their numbers are not increasing despite three decades of conservation efforts.
The census report mentions that a conservation action plan (CAP), aimed at connecting the erstwhile habitat areas of Hangul, has been formulated and needs to be approved.
“Landscape-level planning needs to be strengthened further to connect the erstwhile habitats of Hangul on the northern side i.e. Gurez and Tulel. The aim of the plan is to stop the disturbed trends of population of the species,” it said.
The aspect of increasing the spread of Hangul to outside Dachigam holds some promise.
“The recent sightings of Hangul based on camera trap evidence in Tral Wildlife Sanctuary (in south Kashmir) is encouraging, 12 individuals were camera trapped in the recent winter season,” the report said.
“Likewise, the photographic evidence captured by the oﬀicials of the department of wildlife protection in the Wangat Conservation Reserve also shows that the habitats outside the Dachigam National Park can be promising to hold a contiguous population of Hangul,” the report said.