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Teeming With Tigers, India Needs To Manage Their Population

India is facing a serious 'problem of plenty'. Rising tiger population in many parts of the country is creating conflict zones. And the tiger- human clashes are going up, alarmingly in many landscapes. The Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) needs to take initiatives to control the situation. Fifty years after the project tiger as India moves on from dwindling tiger population to surplus numbers of the big cats,  the nation needs an active tiger population management plan. As MoEFC&C yet to  become proactive, a team of  tiger catchers continue to carry out search operations for the past over five months to  capture a tigress with four cubs. Thge team members are  scanning Tadoba Andhari Tiger Landscape in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, grappling with the issue of over population of 200 tigers. As many as 53 people lost their lives in Chandrapur in 2022 in tiger attacks while 14 tigers have also died from January 2022 to January this year. This

Kashmir Forests Cry:Wildlife Inches Towards Extinction

 

Kashmir forest and wildlife

Over three decades of war like situation in Jammu and Kashmir has affected the economics, environment and the wildlife of this paradise on the earth. Counter terrorism operations of Indian army to neutralize the cross border terrorism have protected the country. And as the army fights against terrorists, it is forced to camp in jungles in harsh winter conditions. Pakistan’s proxy war has cost dearly to the wildlife and environment on both sides of the LoC.  As we look at the forest and environment of Kashmir on this World Environment Day, we find, ever since terrorism started somewhere in 1989, the Kashmir Valley has lost a huge forest cover. In one of its national parks in the valley , the iconic Hangul (Cervus hanglu hanglu), the royal stag of Kashmir, is feared to become extinct in the next few years. What tiger is for India, Hangul is for Kashmir. Besides Hangul, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’ (IUCN) Red Data Book — which contains lists of species at risk of extinction -- has declared two more species as critically endangered. They  are the Markhor — the world’s largest species of wild goat found in Kashmir and several regions of central Asia — and the Tibetan antelope or ‘Chiru’, found mostly in the mountainous regions of Mongolia and the Himalayas, where Jammu and Kashmir is mostly situated. In a two part series, we first talk about the  the impact of insurgency on forests and the iconic Hangul .The second reflects the mysery of  Markhor and Musk deer.  

Insurgency Affects J&K Biodiversity

Kashmir forest and wildlife

On this world Environment Day, I picked up the issue deliberately to draw the attention of the world to the degrading environment in Jammu, Kashmir , Leh and Ladakh , directly or indirectly affected by the violence forced upon India. This is also the time when climate change has impacted the  fragile ecology of the Himalayan region.  Continuous war like situation has further aggravated the situation on the environmental front. Glaciers are melting at a faster rate than expected.  The India State of Forest Report (IFSR) 2021, released in January 2022 noted an increase in forest loss in mountainous states along its Himalayan frontier which are already in the throes of climate change. Jammu and Kashmir, which had very dense forests of 4,270 sq km in 2019, had 4,155 sq km of the same category in 2021. This is the highest loss of ‘very dense forest’ anywhere in India. Both India and Pakistan had the worst ever summers this year. A study shows climate change caused India and Pakistan's record heat in March and April .The extreme heat experienced by the two countries in March and April was the most intense, widespread and persistent in the region's recorded history.  Variety of wildlife species in Kashmir including Hangul, musk deer, Himalayan brown bear ,  Ibex, markhor among others are threatened, some of them face the danger of extinction. The forests of Kashmir, which used to be an abode of rare wildlife species, are being exploited by terrorists and timber smugglers equally, claimed a report of the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS), Amsterdam. “Sheltering a rich repository of biodiversity, Jammu & Kashmir presently stands highly threatened owing to the ongoing conflict”, the report said.

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The State of Jammu & Kashmir has experienced three wars since 1947, and has been in a “war-like” situation for close to three decades. Besides the loss of human lives the conflict has led to the destruction of the territory’s ecological wealth. Due to counter-terrorist strategies, army is forced to set up camps in the forest areas disturbing the natural habitat of the wild animals, the EFSAS report said. “Available data reveals that most of the faunal diversity, which is about 66%, lies along the 460 miles long and 15.5 miles wide LoC and a considerable percentage of it has been lost to landmines. “In their pursuit to apprehend terrorists, there is also a widespread use of high velocity rifles by security forces and other methods like electrical fenced, solid steel walls, all-night lighting, multiple-layered vehicle barriers, an immense network of newly bladed roads, a 24-hour flow of patrol vehicles including all terrain vehicles, constant low-level aircraft over fighters, and foot patrols.” Although these measures have been designed to counter terrorist activities, they also create barriers to the wildlife movement in the villages and forests surrounding the Himalayan Valley. In addition, rare species like the Snow Leopard  Ibex, Blue Sheep, Kashmiri Otter, the big horned sheep, and Antelope, are frequently hunted and poached for its precious skin and teeth which are sold in international markets at exorbitant prices, the report said.

Revive Project Hangul before Its Extinction

Kashmir forest and wildlife

Before the status of the region changed to union territory,   Hangul was the state animal of Jammu & Kashmir. The iconic Hangul (Cervus hanglu hanglu), also known as Kashmir red deer, is under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and the Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Protection Act, 1978. But the royal stag of Kashmir is facing threat of extinction.  Its numbers have been dwindling drastically since the early 1900s when they were widely distributed in the mountains of Kashmir and parts of Chamba district in adjacent Himachal Pradesh, north and east of Jhelum and Chenab rivers. In his book titled Management Plan, Dachigam National Park, regional wildlife warden Rashid Naqsh writes that the hangul population decreased from 3,000 in the 1940s to a little over 200 by 1969. But, according to the latest survey in 2019, there are only 237 Hangul left, all in and around the Dachigam wildlife sanctuary near Srinagar.

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The park is also home to predators like black bears and leopards who largely feed on fawns.   Though   their number is stable around 250- 270 for the last 10 -15 years, the situation of Hangul is very critical, said Intesar  Suhail ,wildlife warden in Shopian.  To save the herbivore, the project conservation Hangul was started in 1970 by the J&K government with the help of World Wildlife Fund(WWF)  but it failed.  Many factors were responsible for the failure which also includes non-participation of local communities like Gujjars, Bakarwals, Nambardars, Chowkidars, and Patwaris, wildlife experts in the valley claimed.  Later the project was rechristened as “Save Kashmir’s Red Deer Hangul” in 2009.  Project Hangul should be put into action again.  Though Hangul population started declining much before the  insurgency started in the valley, anti -insurgency operations further impacted the animal.

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There was a time when the deer was spread across the Bandipora district in north Kashmir, through Srinagar, eastwards to Anantnag in the south of the Valley. Besides, a significant population could be found in Kishtwar district in Jammu.“There was a constant genetic flow across these areas and contiguous habitats permitted movement across the Valley, but this movement got hampered and has resulted in Hangul populations becoming locally scarce or even extinct,” said an official when I visited Srinagar few months ago. The onset of militancy also dealt a blow to the conservation efforts. Hangul’s ability to move freely was obstructed by security forces fencing and occupying high altitude meadows from the 1990s onwards. There is also a considerable presence of security forces inside Dachigam park, particularly in the upper reaches where the Hangul move to graze during summer.

By Deshdeep Saxena

Representational Images

 

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