Hangul’s endangered existence: Challenges and conservation strategies
The Hangul, scientifically known as Cervushanglu ssp. hanglu, is a Kashmiri deer species facing a severe threat to its survival due to a combination of factors, primarily driven by industrialization and extensive human intervention. This species has experienced a dramatic decline in its population since the beginning of the 20th century, sounding alarms for its survival.
In the early 1900s, the Hangul population was estimated to be a robust 5000 individuals. However, the latest Hangul population estimation census-2023 report reveals that estimated population of Hangul is now 289. This sharp decline can be primarily attributed to the destruction and fragmentation of their natural habitat, which has been severely impacted by urbanization, mass tourism, human interference, the establishment of illegal industries, and a significant military presence in the region.
The rapid expansion of human settlements and infrastructure development has encroached upon the Hangul’s native habitat, leading to the destruction of critical wildlife corridors, thereby isolating and confining the deer population. The influx of mass tourism has further exacerbated the situation by causing disturbances and disruptions to their natural behavior and breeding patterns. The establishment of illegal industries in the region has introduced pollution, habitat destruction, and a range of environmental threats that have pushed the Hangul towards the brink of extinction.
Additionally, the ongoing conflict in the region has also contributed to the precarious situation of the Hangul. It has led to habitat disruption and human-wildlife conflicts, further imperiling the deer.
In recognition of the dire situation, the Hangul has been categorized as a “Schedule I” species under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 and the Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Protection Act of 1978. Despite these protective measures, experts and conservationists are gravely concerned about the impending extinction of this critically endangered species. Immediate and comprehensive conservation efforts are essential to prevent the Hangul from disappearing from the natural world, and to ensure that this unique Kashmiri deer species can thrive and persist for future generations.
Cement factories have constricted the corridors for hangul
Cement factories have significantly constricted the vital wildlife corridors crucial for the Hangul’s survival and movement, particularly in the region near Srinagar, specifically in Khrew, an area adjacent to a wildlife sanctuary. This area serves as a crucial link connecting various wildlife-rich regions, including the Dachigam National Park and Gurez Valley in northern Kashmir, with other protected areas such as the Shikargah Conservation Reserve (now part of the Tral Wildlife Sanctuary), OveraAru Wildlife Sanctuary, and Kishtwar National Park.
These corridors have historically been used by long-ranging animals like the Hangul for seasonal migration and movement. However, the construction and proliferation of cement factories have significantly limited the available space for the Hangul to safely traverse this corridor. As a result, these majestic Kashmiri deer are now predominantly confined to the Dachigam National Park, unable to access their extensive historical range.
In the past, Hanguls would traverse an area spanning from the Gurez Valley in the north, covering a distance of 150-200 kilometers, and extending southwards for 400 kilometers to Kishtwar National Park. Tragically, no Hanguls are known to exist in Kishtwar today.
The establishment of a cement factory in Khrew in the mid-1980s, covering approximately 12 square kilometers, was initially attributed to the substantial limestone deposits found in the nearby mountain range. However, in the subsequent decades, especially over the last two, numerous additional cement factories have sprung up in and around this area, encroaching upon the traditional Hangul corridor.
The presence of these cement factories is one of the primary concerns directly impacting the Hangul’s habitat and, consequently, its population. It is estimated that there are now six cement factories operating in Khrew. Moreover, at least seven privately-owned cement factories have been established in the vicinity. The Supreme Court of India’s guidelines stipulate that a 10-kilometer radius around wildlife sanctuaries should be considered an eco-sensitive zone, where construction and human activities are strictly prohibited. However, it is evident that many of the cement factories in Khrew are situated within just a kilometer of the adjacent wildlife sanctuary, likely in violation of wildlife conservation regulations.
The ramifications of these factories extend beyond encroachment upon Hangul habitat. They have also inundated pastoral land, forcing the pastoral community to relocate their livestock to higher elevations within the forests for grazing. This, in turn, further diminishes the safe spaces available for Hangul movement and compounds the challenges faced by this critically endangered species.
The adverse impact of cement factories on Hangul habitat is a pressing concern, and urgent conservation measures are necessary to mitigate these threats and ensure the survival of this unique and vulnerable species.
Hangul population is adversely impacted by human intervention
Human intervention has emerged as a major and multi-faceted threat to the Hangul population, significantly affecting its survival and well-being.
Hanguls, known for their acute sensitivity to both smell and sound over long distances, face considerable challenges due to the blasting of limestone deposits around Khrew, which disrupts their movements. This activity not only restricts their range but also causes distress to these majestic creatures.
Moreover, emissions from the surrounding cement factories have taken a toll on the physiology and feeding patterns of the Hangul. Chemical particulates released by these factories settle on the grass in Hangul feeding areas, making forage a problematic endeavor for these animals on the move.
The confined habitat of the Hangul, a species known for its long-ranging movements, has led to reduced breeding. Reports suggest an imbalanced sex ratio, with a higher number of females compared to males, a situation considered unfavorable for the species. Furthermore, the addition of new fawns to the population is limited, and even when new offspring are born, their survival rates are distressingly low. Various factors contribute to this grim statistic, including changes in climate, natural predation by animals like foxes and jackals, and human-related threats, such as attacks by paramilitary forces’ dogs based inside Dachigam.
In the aftermath of the insurgency in the 1990s and ongoing border disputes between India and Pakistan, grazers have increasingly chosen areas like upper Dachigam and other sections of the Hangul corridor for their livestock. This has an immediate and detrimental impact on the Hangul’s habitat, further restricting their already constricted space.
In addition to these challenges, mounting tourism and human activities within Hangul’s habitat have also severely affected their well-being and survival. The cumulative impact of these human-related factors has prevented the Hangul population from stabilizing over the past three decades. Urgent and comprehensive conservation measures are essential to mitigate these threats and secure the future of this critically endangered species.
Several key recommendations emerge as essential to safeguard the Hangul population and address the multitude of threats facing this endangered species comprehensively:
Recognition of Armed and Industrial Impacts: It is crucial for the government to acknowledge the detrimental impact of the deployment of security forces and the establishment of cement factories within Hangul’s habitat. These factors pose genuine threats and need immediate resolution to ensure the preservation of the species.
Comprehensive Census and Monitoring: The Hangul census, conducted biennially by the Wildlife SOS team in collaboration with the Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Department and student volunteers from Kashmir University, should be expanded to include regions around Khrew, which serve as important Hangul corridors. This will provide a more accurate assessment of the Hangul population and help in formulating conservation strategies. Ensuring transparency in the census process is vital to avoid underreporting.
Removal of Cement Factories and Paramilitary Encroachments: Actions need to be taken to remove and decommission the cement factories and paramilitary establishments that have encroached upon Hangul habitat. Strict enforcement of guidelines, such as the 10-kilometer eco-sensitive zone around wildlife sanctuaries, must be implemented.
Active Implementation of Conservation Projects: The Hangul preservation project initiated in 2015, which focuses on community support, awareness, and wildlife management, needs to be revitalized and fully implemented. The conservation breeding center established in Shikargah should be operationalized, and Hangul should be brought into captivity to ensure their protection and potential reintroduction into the wild.
Improvement of Breeding Center Facilities: Efforts should be made to enhance the quality and infrastructure of the breeding center to align with international standards. This will contribute to the successful breeding and conservation of Hangul in captivity.
Public Awareness and Engagement: Public awareness campaigns should be intensified to inform local communities, tourists, and the general public about the importance of Hangul conservation and the need for responsible behavior in their habitat. Involving local communities in conservation efforts can lead to more sustainable practices and support for Hangul protection.
Scientific Research and Data Collection: Further research and data collection on Hangul’s behavior, habitat preferences, and dietary patterns can inform more effective conservation strategies and policies.
International Collaboration: Collaborating with international organizations and experts in wildlife conservation can provide valuable insights, technical assistance, and financial support to bolster Hangul conservation efforts.
Incorporating these recommendations into a comprehensive conservation plan will be instrumental in reversing the decline of the Hangul population and ensuring the survival of this unique and critically endangered species. It requires the concerted efforts of government authorities, conservation organizations, local communities, and concerned individuals to protect the Hangul and its vital habitat.
the author is a writer and Fellow – Himalayan Journalists Collective Against Climate Change. She has worked with organisations like The Global Times, Scribblers, and Kashmir Leader. She is a guest contributor for the wildlife magazine, Saevus, and ecotech website, Green Clean Guide. Adeela is a member of the writer’s community, WissenMonk, and the Editor of their monthly magazine – Wisdom Quest. She works for environmental conservation and social sustainability.