The recent decision by the Indian Government to upgrade the status of Dachigam Sanctuary in Kashmir, and make it a national park i.e. a part of UNESCOS Man and Biosphere Reserve programme, is expected to improve dramatically the Kashmir Stags’ prospects for survival.
The Kashmir Stag, also known as the Hangul, has fallen victim to habitat destruction, poaching and human encroachment over the past half century. Previously common throughout the Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh regions, this unique deer species is now found only in and around the Dachigam Sanctuary.
There were about 5,000 of these animals in Kashmir 50 years ago, about 2,000 in 1947 and a mere 400 a decade later. After dipping to an all time low of 174 in 1962, their number is now said to be about 350. In 1952, the Indian Board of Wildlife put the Hangul, along with the snow leopard and the Indian lion, on the list of 13 rare fauna, which required full protection.
By becoming part of the MAB reserve system, Dachigam will be linked via contiguous ridgelines to other reserves, creating a protected habitat that extends all the way from Kolahoi Glacier to near Gulmarg. The extension will incorporate within the new park boundaries virtually all the flora and fauna found in Kashmir. The Hangul will be able to migrate upward and downwards seasonally from 6,000 ft to 11,000 ft without coming into contact with migratory shepherds and their flocks.
In an earlier era, as royal game, the Hangul used to receive blanket protection from the Maharaja of Kashmir. Wildlife experts hope that the extension of the hanguls’ habitat by governmental notification will prove as effective as a royal decree and that the Hangul will once again be secure.
Rajiv Chopra in Jammu Tawi.