Srinagar: Wildlife department has launched a comprehensive study to identify the factors contributing to slow Hangul population growth in Kashmir.
Despite years of conservation efforts, the population of Hangul has shown limited improvement, prompting the need for a deeper understanding of the challenges facing this iconic species.
The population of Hangul also known as the Kashmir Stag, a critically endangered species native to the region, has shown some improvement over the years.
As per Jammu and Kashmir Wild Life department’s “Population Monitoring Exercise 2023”, the estimated population of Hangul in Jammu and Kashmir has increased to 289, compared to 261 in 2021,
While there has been an addition of 28 Hangul in the last two years, the department claimed that this is not a “considerable increase” in population numbers.
In the census document, the department has enlisted habitat fragmentation and poaching as one of the prime reasons behind this wild animal’s low population.
“Degradation owing to the large scale biotic interferences in Hangul’s habitat, in the form of excessive livestock grazing in its erstwhile summer habitats, grass cutting, fuel, and firewood collection have contributed largely to the Hangul habitat degradation and hence the decline of the Hangul during the recent past,” it said.
The department in the document highlighted that livestock grazing in upper Dachigam has been considered to prove harmful to Hangul in the long run.
“Apart from competition for food resources, chances of transmission of disease also exist as there has been confirmed evidence of transmission of John’s Disease to Hangul in Dachigam in 1978,” it said.
As per the department, the ecological threats equally pose a threat to the revival of the Hangul population in the valley.
“The recent scientific studies on the current Hangul population trend have indicated that the species could go extinct if serious management and conservation interventions are not made immediately. The studies indicate that besides biotic interferences, some of the major ecological issues, concerning the decline in the population and long-term conservation and survival of the Hangul are Low breeding and disturbed viability,” it said.
The department said that the predation, particularly by the leopard and black bear, both of which prey principally on the young deer, seems to be the worst threat for Hangul.
Decreased genetic heterozygosity is also one of the prime reasons enlisted by the department behind the least increase in population numbers.
“The Scientific studies conducted by WII and SKUAST-Kashmir have indicated a decrease in genetic heterozygosity in the Hangul population over a period of time and resultant susceptibility to inbreeding depression resulting from low population size. The sensitivity analysis indicated that there is a 25% chance of extinction in 100 years. Increasing the chance of poaching to 39% with additional winter mortality with a 5% chance of occurrence will substantially increase the extinction risk to 90%.,” it said.
An official said that a Conservation Action Plan (CAP) for Hangul has been formulated, which is awaiting approval.
“The main motive of the CAP is to stop the disturbed trends of the population of the species and build a better information base for future conservation actions needed for the long-term survival of the species. Another aspect of the action plan is to identify the historically available habitats of species for possible actions of wider dispersal,” he said.