Srinagar, May 21: The Kashmir stags known as Hangul deer, one of the endangered species, are facing a threat due to the gradual destruction of their natural habitat owning to deforestation and excessive livestock grazing, andrequent forest fires.
Found only in Kashmir in the country, Hanguls are on the verge of extinction, with only 160 animals in existence as per a preliminary census by wildlife authorities
Hanguls were once the biggest draw of Dachigam National Park, located 22 kilometres from Srinagar, where they grazed in thousands decades ago.
The forest officials sighted innumerable reasons affecting Hangul population amongst which the disturbance in food chain and increase in livestock population has been the significant ones.
"Forest area is decreasing. Deployment of security forces in the region has increased. Besides, due to increase in livestock population, grazing has increased pressure on the land. Also human population has also escalated adding more pressure on the forestland. Due to all these factors our pastures are not in good condition as before," said A.K. Srivastava, Chief Wildlife Warden, Kashmir.
"The decrease in population of Hanguls is also due to disturbance in its ideal food chain in forest ecosystem. As leopard population has risen along with it predation on fawns has also escalated. However, the population of these fawns has not been balanced in the same ratio," added Srivastava.
In 2006, the Hanguls sex ratio was 21 males per 100 females. The fawn-female ratio seems to be an important concern as it shows significant decline from 23 fawns to 9 fawns per 100 females between 2004 and 2006.
The depleting numbers of this rare specie of red deer in recent years has become a major cause of concern for the wildlife officials, who are now working on the proposal to save the animals. So apart from a captive breeding plan, Hangul Conservation Plan would be launched to preserve thendangered animal.
Dachigam, which is home to the endangered Hanguls in the country is also host to other wildlife of the state viz Black and Brown Bear, Musk Deer, leopards and migratory birds. There is a Trout fish farm also in Dachigam.
It is a big natural reserve, which requires permissions from the Wildlife Authorities for exploration. The dense forests of Dachigam offer a brilliant view along with a Glacier fed rivulet flowing right through the middle.
The Hangul is the only surviving race of the red deer family of Europe in the sub-continent. Hangul stags are prized for their magnificent head of antlers, having 11 to 16 points. The number of Hanguls in the world has dwindled from 2,000 in 1947 to less than 200 today.
Hangul is listed as an endangered species in the Red Data Book of the international Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.