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.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Saving te Pride of the Dachigam National Park

Declining Hangul population alerts wildlife experts to plan conservation measures

Zeenat Zeeshan Fazil (Kashmir Images)

Srinagar: Alarming decline in the population of the famed Kashmir stag or ‘Hangul’ has finally alerted the wildlife authorities who are now making a desperate bid to save this specie of deer from extinction.

Already a ‘red-book animal’, the Hangul (Cervus Elaphus Hangul) population has witnessed a steady decline in Kashmir valley, particularly in past two decades and today this endangered specie of deer is already on the verge of extinction.

Perhaps alerted by this, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has agreed to fund “Hangul Conservation Plan’ in a phased manner. This Rs 8-9 crore project aiming to save Hangul envisages using modern techniques including special breeding in captivity, satellite tracking and habitat improvement.

“We have received approval from the Ministry of Environment for ‘Hangul Conservation Plan’ which will be executed in next five years and is divided into three parts - Research, Survey and Census,” says Chief Wildlife Warden, A K Sirivastava.

He said the census will be conducted in Feb-March this year in collaboration with Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun inside Dachigam National Park, which has been the traditional breeding ground of this rare specie of deer, besides in Bandipora, Kupwara, Aawoora and other places where these animals have been sighted.

Shrivastava said for the implementation of project, the Wildlife department will be receive Rs one crore during the current financial year which will be used for putting in place the requisite infrastructure, including setting up a breeding place, construction of guard huts, watch towers, pasture improvement, and conducting surveys.

Some research will also be done to see how to use latest techniques for conservation of Hangul, said Chief Wildlife Warden.

“We have started construction of an enclosure for the first breeding place in Shikargah Wildlife Conservation Reserve in Tral on an area of about five-acre as per the guidelines of Central Zoo Authority (CZA)," Shrivastava said, adding the CZA has already released Rs 42.5 lakhs for the breeding programme.

"Besides the enclosure, the infrastructure to be set up for the breeding plant will include guard-huts, watch-towers, cabins for officials, pasture improvement, fencing and construction of road for round-the clock monitoring and management of Hanguls," he said.

Although Chief Wildlife Warden said the infrastructure is expected to be ready by the March-end, Wildlife Warden Dachigam National Park, Intisar Suhail, says it is already late for the programme to start and now we are planning to start it in Feb 2010.

Under the conservation plan, the Wildlife authorities are planning to breed the Hangul in captivity. “Once the fawns grow, they will be released into the forests after being fitted with satellite radio-collars so that the experts can monitor their activities," Shrivastava says.

“The programme can take place only in Dachigam National Park and will start from February 2010 as this is the only month suitable for conducting the activity,” said Suhail, adding that in February the animal is found in lower areas while as by the month of March the Hangul usually moves towards upper reaches.

Confirming that besides the Dachigam National Park Hangul is present in other areas as well, Suhail informed “some three years back I received message form Ganderbal area that the animal has been sighted there and after reaching the spot I myself found give Hanguls, which might have come down through Kangan canal.”

He said three of the five animals seen there were captured by the Wildlife people and were later released in Dachigam National Park and Pahalgam zoo.

The population of Hangul, one the pride of Dachigam National Park, has declined drastically in the last 28 years, bringing the animal on the verge of extinction. According to a census carried out by the WII, during 1980’s, the number of Hanguls inside the Dachigam park was believed to be about 3,000-5,000, which declined to 197 by 2004.

In 2008 census carried out by WII in collaboration with Wildlife department here, the population of Hangul was found at 178.

This decline in the Hangul population is attributed to the increasing human interference in their habitat. Experts blame poaching, excessive livestock grazing, frequent forest fires, and the growing rate of predation from leopard as the major reason for declining Hangul population.

Hangul is the only surviving race of the Red Deer family of Europe in the sub-continent since the ‘Shou’ (Cervus Elaphus Wallchi) of Bhutan is now considered extinct by experts. Hangul stags are prized for their magnificent antlers (horns), having 11 to 16 points.

The animal was enlisted as an endangered species in the Red Data Book of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) in 1996.

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