Hangul may soon be declared as ‘critically endangered’
As the Kashmir Stag popularly known as Hangul is on the verge of extinction, largely because of human intrusions and domestic livestock grazing, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is all set to declare it a ‘critically endangered’ species to protect this beautiful animal from disappearing from earth.
Once found in the high altitudes of northern India and Pakistan, Hangul now only lives in the dense riverine forests of Dachigam. Known for its giant antlers bearing 11 to 16 points, Hangul has been hunted over centuries and its habitat destroyed, leading to its population in the wild plunging to a mere 150.
According to official figures, Hangul population has been declining steeply since the last century when there were some 5,000 deer in the Kashmir valley.
The 1947 Hangul census recorded its number at 2000. The massive decline was mainly attributed to poaching then. The last census was done in 2011 when its population was found just over 200, according to the wildlife department figures.
However, due to the efforts of the wildlife researchers, including Dr Mukesh Thakur of Amity Institute of Wildlife Sciences, the Kashmiri Hangul will now be reclassified.
A scientific journal brought by the IUCN, ‘DSG (Deer Specialist Group) Newsletter,’ has recently emphasised on the urgent requirement to save the rare species.
The May 2016 edition of the IUCN journal quotes Sarah Brook, IUCN Deer Red List Authority, as saying: “The subspecies assessment of red deer, which has however not been performed up to now, would surely promote Hangul conservation in India.”
In his research Mukesh Thakur had indicated that in Kashmir just about 150 hanguls are left and elevating it to a species level, probably by merging with two other subspecies, Bactrianus and Yarkandensis red deers, from China’s Tarim Mountains will bring international focus on Hangul and more efforts will be made to preserve it.
“Species rank is crucial in conservation decisions. At the local scale, this would certainly attract the immediate attention of biologists, park managers and policy makers to invest more efforts, time and funds to safeguard the dwindling population of Hangul in India which has regional and international value,” Thakur had said in his research.
Rashid Ahmad, Regional wildlife warden Dachigam National Park told The Kashmir Monitor that though they have not received any official confirmation from IUCN of declaring Hangul as ‘critically endangered’ specie but if done it will help in protecting the rear specie which is on the verge of extinction.
“Earlier, Kashmir Stag was counted among Red Deer species that is why it was in least concerned category. But if they are counting it separately and declaring Hangul as endangered species it will be brought back to international focus and more efforts will be taken to save it,” said Rashid.
Historically, the Hanguls were distributed in the mountains of Himalaya, Kashmir, Chenab Valley and Chamba district in Himachal Pradesh.
However, there is only one viable population left today in the wild, which is largely confined to the Greater Dachigam Landscape (1,000 sq.km.), encompassing the Dachigam National Park (NP) and adjoining protected areas.
It is listed under Schedule-I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and J&K Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1978 and has also been listed among the top 15 species of high conservation priority by the Government of India.
As per the Bombay Natural History Society, Kashmir’s Hangul population was anywhere between 3,000 to 5,000 around the year 1900.
However, 2015 census carried out by Kashmir’s forest department estimated it could be at its lowest ever, 110-130, in Dachigam.
The phenomenon is blamed on fragmentation of forested habitat, land encroachment for grazing.