When the authorities were busy implementing the pandemic lockdown in 2020-21, poachers made their way into the wild and started their illegal activities.
Much of this hunting pursuit was attributed to the tumbling economy making people jobless. Amid that confined situation, many turned into poaching to support themselves. In fact, the lockdown years saw an increase in the illegal logging of Kashmir’s green gold.
According to a report in IndiaSpend on the findings of Wildlife Trust India, “Species at risk on a global scale such as hanguls, leopards, markhors (large goats with screw-like horns) and the Himalayan musk deer are among those targeted the most for hunting in Jammu and Kashmir.”
Here is a list of the most targeted species in Kashmir:
While the pictures of 10 Hangul in Shikargah Tral might seem to make people appreciate their beauty but the population of this critically endangered species is decreasing at an alarming rate in the valley.
Also known as the Kashmir stag, it is the only Asiatic survivor of the European red deer. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’ (IUCN) Red Data Book, Hangul is being declared as critically endangered in Jammu & Kashmir along with Markhor (wild goat) and Tibetan antelope.
According to a research paper by Riyaz A Bhat, Kashmir’s shikar map prepared by Maharaja Hari Singh showed that Hangul was distributed in a radius of 40 km spreading from Karen in Kishenganga to Dorus in Lolab valley, Erin catchments in Bandipora to Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh.
With continuous encroachment of land, this wildlife species loss their habitat and are confined to Dachigam National Park and adjoining protected areas in the Greater Dachigam landscape, mentions the paper.
The latest population monitoring survey of Hangul conducted by the Wildlife Department in 2019, revealed that the number of Hangul in Dachigam and nearby areas is 237. According to an earlier population estimates the number of Hangul was 197, 186, and 182 in 2004, 2015, and 2017 respectively. The report also mentioned a sharp decline in the fawn-female and male-female ratio of Hangul.
Native to Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and Nepal, the musk deer was supposed to be extinct in 1948 until they were sighted in 2009. The Himalayan musk deer popularly known as Kasturi in the Himalayan regions are categorized as endangered species.
According to research, seven species of musk deer are endemic to the mountains of Asia, and six of these are listed by IUCN as endangered. The paper suggests that poaching and habitat destruction are the two major activities that are responsible for the decline in their population.
The research also mentions that most of the current habitats of Kashmiri musk deer will disappear in the 2050s or the 2070s except in Uttarakhand and west Nepal and their adjacent areas in Tibet.
The male musk deer are poached because of their scent glands which are used to produce perfumes and traditional medicine. The scent glands are considered more valuable than gold and the end products cost thousands of rupees.
Markhor is the world’s largest species of wild goat which has a limited geographical distribution in India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan. In India, the wild goat species is only found in Jammu & Kashmir.
According to a survey conducted by Wildlife Trust India in 2004-05, 35 markhor groups comprising of 155 individuals were sighted in Hirpura and Kaj-i-nag. The survey mentions that poaching has been the main threat to markhors in J&K due to which the wild goats were reduced to near extermination.
Most of the areas where markhors were found were inaccessible during winters due to heavy snowfall which helped the locals to kill it for meat, mentions the survey, adding, “Markhor meat is locally regarded as the tastiest wild meat.”
According to the survey shelling along the Line of Control (LoC) for many years has also affected the population of markhors.
Another similar report about the status of markhors in J&K, states that intensive grazing by the livestock of Bakkarwals has made the areas inaccessible to markhors which has led to the shrinking of the available habitat space for the wild goat.
The species are found in the higher Himalayan and trans-Himalayan landscape at an altitude between 3,000 and 5,400 meters. Within India, they are found in J&K, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh.
According to a research by Supriya Bhatt, India’s leopard population has declined by 75-90% between ~120-200 years owing to threats such as the depletion of prey population, destruction of habitat, human-leopard conflict, and poaching.
“Widespread conversion of the biodiversity-rich habitats into land for cultivation and human habitation has resulted in extensive habitat loss for wildlife including leopard,” mentions the study by Athar Noor on the density of leopard in the forest of Dachigam National Park and north-western Himalaya.
The research found out that the leopard density estimates recorded from the study area turned out to be the lowest in the country. “The low densities of prey represent an alarming status of the species as well as of forest ecosystems of the study area,” notes the research.
Another cause for the decline of the population of leopard is human-wildlife conflict. The maximum human-wildlife conflict in the valley is because of the proximity of humans with leopard and bear. The carnivores have come down to human settlements in recent years and have attacked the inhabitants, particularly since the armed conflict in the valley in the 1990s.
According to Census 2011, Jammu & Kashmir has a population of 1.25 crores as compared to a population of 1.01 crore in 2001, leading to an increase in land demand, food, raw materials, and many other resources that are procured at the cost of nature.
A study conducted by University of Kashmir found out that the fencing of Line of Control (LOC) has fragmented natural habitat resulting in the hindrance of wild animal movements across the line, consequently, they are heading towards human settlements adjoining areas.
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