J&K: Fall in hangul numbers worries animal lovers

The Asian Age.  | Yusuf Jameel

India, All India

The government had few years ago said that the Hangul may be provided protection on the lines of tigers and elephants.

Wildlife officials treat an injured hangul

Srinagar: The population of the hangul or the Kashmir stag, related to the red deer of Europe, in the Jammu and Kashmir, including the Dachigam National Park on the outskirts of Srinagar, has dwindled to 182 — down from 186 in 2015.

Hangul, the endangered species of red deer found only in Kashmir, roams here amidst forests of silver birch and conifer overlooking world famous Dal Lake.

Wildlife experts blame the decrease in the population of Hangul on excessive livestock grazing, predation, inbreeding population, degradation and shrinking of habitat, forest fires and poaching. The poachers kill Hangul for its meat and antlers which fetch high black market process.

According to minister for forest, environment and ecology, Choudhary Lal Singh, the population of Hangul in the state in the 1940s was 5,000. But, as per the 2015 census, there were only 186 Hangul in the state. The number dwindled further in next two years and "as per latest census conducted in March 2017, the population of Hangul stands at just 182," he said.

In 2009, the state government started a Hangul census. This was followed by the captive breeding of the endangered species under a `8.8 core conservation plan approved by the Union ministry of environment and forest. The plan also envisaged for protection of the existing habitat of Hangul by fencing and taking anti-poaching measures. In view of the decreasing population of Hangul, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) had proposed captive breeding as the only viable solution to avoid its extinction.

Mr Singh said that the government has formulated a Hangul conservation action plan as the deer has been accorded highest priority in terms of its conservation and protection as it is the state animal of J&K. "After six decades, the sheep breeding farm located within Dachigam has been shifted, thereby restoring 2,000 kanals (250 acres) of land back to the National Park," he said

Even in its last bastion-Dachigam-Hangul is battling for its survival. Originally set up as a hunting preserve by erstwhile maharajas and later converted into a National Park, Dachigam, the most charming dales of Kashmir, has been an inaccessible fortress with severely restricted entry, used only as a VIP getaway until more than a decade ago when it was opened to all for a 'Hangul safari' and much more.

Also, the violence that engulfed Kashmir with the outbreak of insurgency in 1989-90 took toll on Hangul population. Dachigam was turned into a sanctuary by militants during the heyday of insurgency and later the security forces moved into the area and also set up camps in surrounding hills which only ruined the habitat of the deer.

The state government is now considering to declare the Tral area in southern Pulwama district as a wildlife sanctuary for the conservation of Hangul by way of connecting natural corridors on landscape. This will also reduce human conflict with them.

The government had few years ago said that the Hangul may  be provided protection on the lines of tigers and elephants.