The Threat Of Exotic Wild Boars To The Ecological Balance Of Dachigam National Park
By Semran Parvaiz
Jammu and Kashmir and its national parks are very rich in biodiversity and famous all over the globe. One such national park is Dachigam National Park, which is only 22 kilometers from Srinagar. The park was established in 1910 on the site of the previous wildlife preserve of the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir. The park’s total area is 141 square kilometers, making it one of the largest protected areas in the Himalayas.
There are more than 500 kinds of herbs, 50 kinds of trees, and about 20 kinds of shrubs in the park. Dachigam is known for more than just Hangul. It is also known for its musk deer, leopards, Himalayan Grey Langurs, leopard cats, Himalayan Black Bears, and yellow-throated martens, among other animals. Dachigam is home to many different bird species, including the Himalayan monal, Long-eared owl, Tawny owl, golden oriole, koklass pheasant, Kashmir flycatcher, Lemon-rumped warbler, Tytler’s leaf warbler, variegated laughing thrush, streaked laughing thrush, Brown dipper, Himalayan rubythroat, and many more. Apart from these animals and birds, the population of a new exotic animal – wild boar, is increasing at an alarming rate.
In this study, we will discuss the origin of the wild boars in Kashmir and explore the threat that they pose to the ecological balance of Dachigam National Park.
Introduction of Wild Boars in Dachigam National Park
Wild boars are not native to Kashmir as they were introduced to Kashmir by the Maharaja some 100 years back. The main reason for the introduction was hunting. However, after the Maharaja’s rule ended and the hunting system was abolished, the exotic wild boars remained. With time, their population grew considerably. One of the primary reasons for this is the absence of a natural predator. The wild boar is a stout, heavy, and strong animal that even a leopard can’t predate easily. As per the research, the favorable prey size for Leopards is around 25-30 kgs; however, wild boars normally weigh 60-100 kgs which far exceeds the normal prey size for a leopard. On the contrary, leopards favor dogs that are 15-30 kgs in size and come to cities and villages to prey on the same.
Moreover, these animals have been increasingly sighted in the valley in the past few years, causing concern among the locals and wildlife experts. The wild pigs have been sighted at many places in South and North Kashmir, including Uri, Lachipora, Limber, Sopore, Botanical Garden, Tulip Garden, Rafiabad, Rajwar, and Balpur. Earlier, they were not sighted commonly in the towns, but now everybody is informing the wildlife department about their presence.
Biology Of Wild Boar
Wild boars (Sus scrofa) and pigs (Sus scrofa domesticus) are both considered boars because they belong to the genus Sus. Although originally from Eurasia and North Africa, wild boars have since made their way to the New World (Australia, Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia). This makes them one of the most globally distributed animal species. As a result, the IUCN classifies wild boars as a species of “Least Concern.”
Their appearance is known to most people because they are the ancestors of domestic pigs. They have huge ears, small eyes, and a long, blunt snout. Their hair is short and thick. Domestic pigs have less hair than their wild forebears. However, some wild subspecies have a mane-like characteristic on their necks and backs. The males have longer tusks than the females do, and they can be up to a foot long when they emerge from the sides of their mouths. They can reach a maximum length of 7 feet (200 cm) without their tail and a maximum weight of 220 pounds (100 kg). Adult males can reach a shoulder height of up to 47 inches (120 cm).
Social Structure, Mating, and Reproduction
Wild boars are nocturnal animals that spend the day dozing off in leaf and debris nests. Males are typically solitary and only interact with other males during the breeding season when they battle for the right to mate with the females in their area by courting and fighting over them. Sows, or female pigs, typically congregate with other sows and their young. “Sounders” may consist of anywhere from five to thirty people.
On average, a sow (female adult pig) will have 4-6 piglets after a pregnancy that lasts for 4 months. Approximately 2 months after birth, the piglets are ready to venture out of the den for the first time in search of food. After 7 months of being nursed and protected by the sow, they are ready to venture out on their own. While sows achieve reproductive age at 1 year, boars take around 2 years to attain sexual maturity.
Wild boars are omnivores. In the wild, they will move around in their environment for food. Moreover, they remove the roots of plants and small trees. Moreover, they may raid bird and reptile nests for eggs, and they will kill small mammals and insects they come across when hunting or browsing. Sometimes wild boar will even prey on the young of larger mammals like calves or lambs that are kept as livestock. In most cases, domestic boars will eat feed that has been developed for them. Ingredients include rice, corn, soybeans, cassava, and other grains, as well as vegetables and discarded alcohol still parts.
Dachigam National Park is an ecologically sensitive area that is home to the only critically endangered red deer species-Hangul, in this part of the world. Due to habitat fragmentation and human interference, such as Bakerwal migration, the park is facing serious threats to its long-term sustainability. What has added to the problem is the growing population of Wild boars. The worst part, though, is that there has no official or scientific census on the population of wild boars in Dachigam National Park. The increasing sightings of boars in parks, gardens, paddy fields, etc., are adding to the nervousness of the people.
The boars are already causing huge destruction to Dachigam National Park by plowing the land and changing the structure of the soil. Moreover, the Hangul is very sensitive to any disturbances, so it can get disturbed because of this animal.
As mentioned that they are omnivorous and can eat anything. So they are better adapted to the conditions than the elusive Hangul and can survive tough climates. They can even replace the park as a dominant species in the coming years.
Another issue is their fast reproduction rate. As mentioned earlier, a wild boar gives birth to 4-6 piglets after a short period of only 4 months, and a female boar can reach the reproductive age at only 1 year.
We hereby suggest a few measures that should be taken to control the population of wild boars.
Controlling the exotic wild boar species is not going to be an easy job. They are fast, strong, and strongly adapted to the environment. The first thing that needs to be done is conducting extensive scientific research on the number, population, feeding, and breeding of these wild boars in Dachigam National Park. Only after knowing the exact numbers can other strategies be implemented.
For instance, the wildlife department can use cages to capture these animals, especially in human-habituated areas. Second, with the proper use of scientific research, their breeding can be stopped. This is vital because wild boars are able to breed quickly within a short span of time.
Third, on the extreme side, their population can be regulated by shooting or poisoning them. Such things have been done in certain parts of Australia and New Zealand where local as well as official people have been granted the license to hunt them.
Researchers may need to take these steps to maintain the fragile ecosystem balance in Dachigam National Park and other areas. This is because the boars are not restricted to Dachigam National Park only but can be found in many places throughout the Kashmir valley. The growing wild boar population can have dire consequences on the hangul population. So, all the stakeholders of this state need to come together to save this precious habitat.
The past is full of examples where human interference has caused ecological problems. The fragile Dachigam National Park is not an exception. A mistake made decades ago can have dire consequences for future generations. The authorities and researchers together need to pave a way to handle the growing population of wild boars in Kashmir. We can learn a lot from the Australians about how they have/are managing their ecosystems by using different mechanisms. Together with the people’s support, the problem, our fragile National parks can be saved from human destruction. At the same time, the government must take some decisive steps and decisions to fight against this problem.
Although the J&K wildlife department is well aware of this menace, the need of the hour is to take this issue seriously. Their scientists should immediately start working on controlling the wild boar population. At the same time, they cannot do this without legal support from the JK UT government. Thus, government officials can implement the mentioned strategies and use their manpower to curb this menace on time. This is because we may see increased numbers in the future, which will make control very difficult. (www.jkpi.org)