Ground Report | New Delhi: Kashmir’s state animal Hangul; The number of Hangul or Kashmiri deer has increased, In the year 2019, the number of these creatures was 237 now it’s 261. Their number started increasing six years ago i.e. in 2015 itself. Then the total number of this Kashmiri deer was 186.
Kashmir’s state animal Hangul
The state animal of present-day Jammu and Kashmir, the hangul, was first identified in 1844 by researcher Alfred Wagner. It is believed that this creature came to Kashmir from Bukhara in Central Asia via many countries, mongabay reported.
In the 1900s, about 3,000 to 5,000 Hanguls could be found in Kashmir, from Karen in Kishanganga to Dorusa in the Lolab Valley, and in Bandipora, Tulail, Baltal, Aru, Tral, and Kishtwar. Their numbers have declined due to frequent hunting. This prompted the then Maharaja of Kashmir to build game reserves like Dachigam where the local people were banned from hunting.
In its “Management Plan (2011 – 2016) Dachigam National Park” the department had said the poaching by Gujjars, Bakarwals, and other shepherds, who take their livestock to Upper Dachigam during summer, is the main cause for the decline in the population of the state animal.
Adding the plan said that the problem of declining Hangul population is compounded by the ‘large scale biotic interference due to grazing by the State Animal Husbandry Department-owned cattle that use Dagwan in Upper Dachigam as a grazing ground.’
Hanguls are food for predatory creatures such as leopards and Himalayan bears. Most of the animals are unable to reach the upper places. In such a situation, the importance of Hangul increases.
Decline in the number of Hanguls
“Forest Walnut or Indian Horse Chestnut is the favorite food of deer. It is called ‘Han Doon’ in the local language. It is believed that on this basis this creature was named Hangul. Apart from this, Hangul also eats grass, shrubs, leaves. In the nineteenth century, Hanguls were found in abundance in northern Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Pakistan. Now their range is limited to Dachigam National Park near Srinagar,” says Atul Gupta, founder, and editor of a website on Endangered and Wildlife of India.
“At the moment, the most important aspect for Hangul conservation would be to restore the imbalance of male to female and fawn to female ratios. But it is difficult to do. Hangul is barely visible in the wild, so it is a challenge for researchers to observe them and collect data,” says Gupta.
Hangul placed under schedule-I in the Jammu and Kashmir State Wildlife Protection Act, 1978 and in Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, is among the four easternmost distributed subspecies of red deer but presently, the population of Hangul is restricted to Dachigam National Park and adjoining protected areas.
“The Dachigam Hangul population decreased from 3,000 in the 1940s to 200 by 1969 while the number of sheep introduced in Dachigam NP in 1961 by the State Animal Husbandry Department increased from 20 to 3,000 during the same period.
The master plan, in possession of iamon, further reads that in the vast areas of Nageberan and Marser, thousands of sheep, goat, horses, and cattle are grazed by local graziers, Gujjars from Kashmir as well as Bakarwals and Banyaris from Jammu that creates a ‘natural competition for food resources’ for Hangul population.
The sheep spend the summer in Upper Dachigam and winter in Lower Dachigam. High livestock densities may out-compete native Trans-Himalayan wild ungulates. Empirical studies in the adjoining areas of Spiti, Himachal Pradesh have established that the Bharal gets outcompeted by livestock. The Deer and sheep have similar preferences in grazing and are hence competitive,” reads the Master plan.
According to Master Plan, the decline in the number of hangul has been associated with poaching, increase in predator numbers, grazing of domestic livestock in summer grounds, and zoonotic diseases.