Conserving Hangul: Problems & Solutions

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Hangul (Cervus elaphus hanglu) is one of the precious creature crafted by the creator, painted and decorated with an athletic copper color and multi-pronged antlers. Hangul also branded as Kashmir stag being the state animal is a subspecies of European Red deer and is one of the shy and elusive creatures that dwell among the high mountains of the mighty western Himalayas. 

The majority of its population can be traced in the world famous Dachigam national park covering an area of 141 square kilometers. The park is famous for its unique and diverse wildlife and bird species. The rich wildlife includes leopard, common palm civet, jackal, red fox, musk deer, yellow-throated marten and Himalayan weasel. Over 145 different bird species including the lammergeier, colorful species like monal pheasant and blue magpie are seen. 

As far as Hangul is concerned the antlers come in handy during rutting season when stags shield territories for procreation and stave off competition to their harem. Antlers are cast off in mid-March and April when the stags budge uphill to congregate above the snowline for the summer. By September, the fine-looking antlers grow back to full size and the stags begin to roar and challenge each other. They descend the slopes to join the does and their roaring calls resonate the forests of Dachigam until late November.

Forlornly, the attractiveness of the Kashmiri stag hasn’t protected it from a gloomy fate. The handsome stag is declared critically endangered species by Red Data Book of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). 

The populace of Hangul was assessed to be about 5,000 animals in the beginning of the 20th century. Dachigam was habitat to about 2000 animals in 1947. Thereafter a decline in the Hangul population was observed. As per the last census conducted in March 2015, the population of stag was found to be in the range of 82 to 180, the lowest ever. 

There are lot many causes of its depletion. The habitat of Hangul has been disturbed by many factors and the prominent ones being a metallic road from lower Dachigam to upper Dachigam, fragmentation by fish farm, sheep farm, water supply from Marsar lake to Dachigam village and adjacent areas, and also encroachment by agricultural activities which limits the movement of Hangul in the park. Vehicular traffic is the second most source of biotic interference that is responsible for the noise and air pollution in the park. Hangul needs grasslands to survive but most of it is taken over by local shepherds to graze their livestock. 

No doubt poaching has been cent percent controlled by the management but disturbances by several departments of Jammu & Kashmir Govt, such as fisheries (trout hatchery), VIP lodge at Draphama, public works (maintenance of main road), horticulture, water and irrigation, public health, and domestic livestock like sheep farm that can pose a serious threat by transmitting different diseases to Hangul and may deplete their population. 

As we know predation is the natural observable fact which is seen in almost all the species of animals but, when the ultimate objective is the conservation, predation too is adverse and hence not allowed. In our Kashmir valley, the predators such as brown bear, leopard, snow leopard, and Himalayan black bear considerably influence the Hangul population. Among these predators, leopard is on the top list for the declined Hangul population in the valley. Not only this from past few years we are getting reports about the wild animal attack on humans in Kashmir, the prime cause being habitat destruction of wild fauna in Kashmir valley. 

If we talk about the water bodies of Kashmir valley, including high altitude water bodies, they are almost contaminated and predispose both humans and animals to various life threatening conditions. Climatic alterations in Kashmir due to high population explosion and heavy pressure of tourists visiting the valley and the park itself have caused a significant decline in Hangul population. So, we must pull our socks up to strengthen the conservational and managemental strategies for saving the gene pool of our state animal Hangul. 

The blueprint for the conservation of Hangul must include enforcement of J&K wildlife protection act, 1978, recruiting antipoaching squads, strict regulation to grazing and instigating participatory management and awareness programs to restore the status of wildlife in the valley. In addition to this other conservation measures must  be taken such as assessment of the factors accountable for habitat destruction, evaluation and regular monitoring of the species status, crucial evaluation of any developmental programme, understanding the species biology, improvement of methodologies for promotion and conservation of habitat and animal species based on latest scientific approaches, successful breeding of other deer species in captivity and use of latest technology like cloning using potential surrogates like goat for Hangul. 

The blueprint for the conservation of Hangul must include enforcement of J&K wildlife protection act, 1978, recruiting antipoaching squads, strict regulation to grazing and instigating participatory management and awareness programs to restore the status of wildlife in the valley. In addition to this other conservation measures must  be taken such as assessment of the factors accountable for habitat destruction, evaluation and regular monitoring of the species status, crucial evaluation of any developmental programme, understanding the species biology, improvement of methodologies for promotion and conservation of habitat and animal species based on latest scientific approaches, successful breeding of other deer species in captivity and use of latest technology like cloning using potential surrogates like goat for Hangul. Caretakers of Hangul, animal scientists and veterinarians can play a significant role in improving its population status in the park. Veterinarians play a pivotal role in the conservation of captive and free-ranging wildlife. 

A variety of disciplines, including veterinary medicine, is now recognized as key to wildlife conservation. Today, veterinary doctors work with captive and free-ranging animals to prevent or treat diseases that threaten species survival. In addition to the health care provided to captive animals, wildlife veterinarians today have a number of roles within in situ conservation projects that ensure the maintenance of healthy and viable free-ranging populations of wildlife. 

As part of the team to address various diseases in wild animals, veterinarians have unique skills, training, and experience that contribute to conservation programs, both ex-situ and in-situ. Therefore, the Govt of Jammu & Kashmir must give opportunities to the veterinarians, veterinary scientists to prove their erudite skills in the wildlife conservation programs especially Hangul conservation and must create separate placement of wildlife veterinarian in the state especially for those holding a special degree in wildlife medicine. One tenet of medicine that should be considered in the conservation equation is that prevention is always better than the cure. As we know the world is changing too swiftly and the stresses on wildlife are too enormous. One thing is clear, it will take all the conservation disciplines, including veterinary medicine, to handle the current and future challenges.                    

 

 

 

 

 

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