Hangul or the Indian elk found exclusively in the higher rises of the Kashmir Valley is said to be in the red zone. A senior wildlife warden who has spent over a decade looking after their population inside the Dachigam National Park on Friday said the overall scenario of the Hangul (Kashmiri stag) population is not as grim as it seemed in a cursory study of a recently published census report.
Rashid Naqash, the regional wildlife warden (Kashmir), has spent over 10 years of his career inside the Dachigam Park, where he looked after various wildlife species, including the Kashmiri Hangul, which is a separate species of Red Deer found only in valley and nowhere else in the world.
In an exclusive chat with IANS, the wildlife warden discussed the details of a recently published study on the Hangul population inside the Dachigam National Park on the outskirts of Srinagar city.
The study was conducted by the state Wildlife Department in collaboration with some other expert wildlife groups. The findings of the study become important because Hangul is included among 10 other animal species believed to be on the verge of extinction by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest.
The study shows the present Hangul population is 237 as per the 2019 census against 214 in 2017 as no population census of the species was carried out in 2018.
The results of the census show that the Hangul population with respect to male-female and female-fawn ratios are skewed.
As per the data, there were 15.5 males per 100 females and 7.5 fawns per 100 females. The male-female and fawn-female ratios are quite alarming as these ratios are lower than ever.
In 2004 and 2006 the raw count of Hangul was 197 and 153, with ratio of 19 and 21 males for 100 females and 23 and 9 fawns for 100 females, respectively.
In 2008, the Hangul count was 127. In 2009, 2011, 2015, 2017 it was 175, 218, 186 and 214 with ratio of 26, 29, 22 and 16 males for 100 females and 27, 25, 14 and 19 fawns for 100 females, respectively.
During early twentieth century their number was believed to be about 3,000 to 5,000.
Rashid Naqash told IANS the real picture is not so grim as revealed by a cursory look as the results of the study.
"How can the population increase even nominally if the female-fawn ratio is constantly on the decline? The census accepts that the Hangul population was 214 in 2017 and is 237 in 2019.
"As somebody who spent over 10 years inside Dachigam looking after the Hangul and other wildlife species, I believe the study has tried to focus on a small segment and tried to arrive at on overall result.
"Detection of fawns during the study seems to have been the problem otherwise there is no way for the population to increase when female-fawn ratio is on such decline," Naqash said.
He, however, agreed that ratio between females and fawns of Hangul population is decreasing.
"This has been so 2004 onwards. The impact is that the 'recruitment' (induction of new ones into population) is low. This is attributed to inbreeding because the population of this species is mostly confined to a particular, isolated fragment of landscape mostly inside Dachigam.
"We are contemplating to connect the southern corridor of Shikargah in Tral and Khiram areas with Dachigam by declaring the forests in between as wildlife sanctuary.
"By offering undisturbed concentration, the relic population will definitely move towards the main population and vice versa.
"We also plan to connect the northern corridor, that is the Wangat forests of Ganderbal district with Dachigam. Studies by tagging individuals of Hanglu population with satellite collars have shown the population moves towards the northern corridor in summer and we have seen some relic population in Wangat area.
"This is how we plan to address the problem of inbreeding and genetic flow", the wildlife warden said.
State government only two years back shifted a 60-year-old sheep breeding farm from the Dachigam park because the wildlife authorities believed the competition for food between the Hangul population and sheep must have affected the growth in the Hangul numbers.
Experts of the sheep husbandry department though argued that the two species had co-existed for so many years without affecting the population of each other.
"The actual disturbance of Hangul population during summer months is caused by flocks of migratory sheep and goat taken to upper Dachigam Dagwan pasture of the park by nomad 'Bakarwals' (goatherds) which continues uninterrupted despite the eviction of the sheep farm from the park," said Dr Bashir Ahmad War, a retired veterinarian who served the sheep husbandry department for 34 years.