Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Another Story of a Vanishing Breed in Kashmir: This time it is the stag call Hangul

This beautiful creature of Mother Nature stands at the precipice. Before it vanishes, we will have to think of its preservation, suggests J N Raina

The Handsome Hangul

The Kashmir stag, or the Hangul, being considered as one of the “living wonders” of the Elysian valley, is facing extinction. The unique kind of stag, found nowhere else on earth except Kashmir, is “critically endangered”. Its number has declined to just 190, as per the last census, conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India.

It was in 1984, when the Hangul (Cervus elaphus Hangul) was counted 556. The main reason for the decrease in the number of the Hangul is “continued habitat fragmentation” in the lush green forests of Dachigam National Park, the abode of the Hangul, 21 km from Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir. Experts believe that only the European Red stag has some semblance to the Kashmiri stag. It is believed to be one of the ancient animals of the valley.There are said to be 73 species of stags globally, on the basis of zoological investigations. The Kashmiri stag has the distinction of being a rare among them.

The Hangul has had its chequered history of sorts. Its population has been fluctuating from time to time; with a gradual rise and fall. By the end of the 19th century, it is estimated there were between 3,000 to 5,000 Hangul in Kashmir, but their number went down drastically, ranging between 2,000 to 1,000 in 1947. The handsome Hangul till then used to gambol ‘sportingly’ everywhere in the Kashmir forests. But whoever wished could kill the animal, because it was unprotected. Till then, the Hangul were the “Royal game” during the Maharaja’s time. In fact, those were the days, I can vividly recall, when not only Dachigam forests, but also a cluster of villages far away from the Hangul’s abode, would reverberate with the sound of the stag, which echoed and reechoed in the rural belt. These calls were enough to keep one awake during night.

But the irony is, these innocent animals would often invite trouble from the traditional hunters, who would kill them just for a song. With the end of the autocratic rule of Maharaja Hari Singh, the sprawling Dachigam sanctuary, an amalgamation of ten villages, became vulnerable and unprotected. There was large-scale encroachment and poaching, resulting in the decimation of the Hangul’s population. By 1954, only 300 stags remained. There was a gradual fall in the number, just 140 in 1970.

Dachigam, an epicenter of flora and fauna of devastating beauty, covering an area of 141 square km area, was declared a sanctuary in 1951 to save the Hangul. In 1965, its population gradually rose to 180, but five years later the number again tumbled down to 140. Thus there has been rise and fall in the number of the Hangul.

E P Gee, a noted environmentalist, has observed that nothing was done to implement the orders to protect the specie.

Even responsibility was never fixed to take care of the animal. Poaching and encroachment became rampant. These basic problems were ignored which could have been addressed in the very beginning. According to another expert Dr Holloway, Hangul’s frolicking range was curtailed, which once extended to a 65 km wide arc, north and east of Jehlum and Upper Chenab rivers in the valley, and from Shahrah in the north to Ramnagar in the south.

Overgrazing in the sanctuary became a permanent feature. It was a great menace. The nomadic tribe would also bring in thousands of buffaloes and goats in the Upper Dachigam region, which forms catchment area of the world-famous sanctuary. Kashmiri name “Hangul” is attributed to its zoological nomenclature “Cervus elaphus”. The full nomenclature the Kashmiri stag assumed is “Cervus elaphus Hangul”. Despite its pre-eminence, its population dwindled in comparison to other animal species in the valley.

The problems escalated with the setting up of a Government Sheep Breeding Farm in the Lower Dachigam area, considered as a prime Hangul habitat. Heavy damage was caused to the sanctuary by the goats, which moved unhindered. It was horrifying when a Hangul in captivity died in 1977, because of what was believed to be “Johne’s disease”, which originated from a nearby sheep farm. But fortunately the disease was controlled in time. Otherwise it would have taken a heavy toll of the Hangul. Even the endangered Hangul could have been wiped out entirely. But still the Government was unmoved and the sheep-breeding farm continues to pose a serious threat to Hangul’s habitat. The animal has got squeezed to a smaller area of activity mainly because of human disturbance, that too during the mating season. Once there was a huge forest fire around Dachigam in 1981, due to the carelessness of the grass-cutters. Oblivious of the Hangul’s rarity, the herdsmen move frequently in the pastures during summer to tend their livestock, causing a colossal damage to the sanctuary.

The human disturbance, coupled with the grass-cutting business and the movement of vehicles, transporting fodder and other commodities within the National Park, result in the confinement of the Hangul to a smaller area during mating season, affecting its “breeding rations”, say experts. Dr Fred Kurt, a noted environmentalist and animal lover has made a deep study on the Hangul for several years until 1979. The Hangul does not appear, he says in his report, within Upper Dachigam .

Overgrazing and drastic shift in predator-prey ratio has been described as a “contributing factor” for major decline in the Hangul’s population. Simultaneously, the population of leopard has increased in the sanctuary over the years, which prey upon the endangered animal. May be, the militants too have some share in the annihilation of the Hangul, in the absence of adequate staff, forest guards et al.

But in spite of these impediments the decline was arrested though briefly, following improved conditions in Dachigam. There was a gradual increase in the number of the Hangul from 140 in 1970 to 320 in 1979; and further to 440 in 1983. It was mainly because of the reduction in poaching incidents. But the Hangul continues to remain an animal of prey, although it was declared protected. During the past two decades from 1984-2006, when the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute conducted the latest survey, the number of the Hangul has gone down to just 190. One of the Wildlife officials has been quoted as saying that there was a “decreasing trend” in the population of the Hangul from 1940 to 2006.

“Poaching is no longer a limiting factor”, Dr Kurt has noted. Only ‘effective protection’ from the Wildlife Department could save a species of this nature from extinction.

Zoologists are of the opinion that the stag has assumed ‘perfection’ in the process of evolution by attaining the structure of the Hangul. The destructive feature of it is its bushy horns, which give it a separate identity from other stags. Initially it bears only two horns. They grow after two years. After another two years, they shed away and grow other two horns. Among these, the latter two horns are lengthier than the former ones. After six years it ceases. At the age of 8, it wears 12 horns, six on either side.

The Hangul’s life span is 25 years.The horns are used for making the handles of swords and knives. It is also used as medicine and as a charm to keep the evil spirit away from the homes.

(Rising Kashmir)

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