Monday, September 9, 2013

Kashmir’s State Animal, Sheep or Hangul?

                                      

The world famous Hangul (Kashmir Stag) in the Dachigam National Park, faces a mortal threat because of the tussle between two government departments.

The Dachigam National Park which has been the traditional sanctuary of Hangul is more than a century old. It has an area of 141 square kilometres. This National Park had received worldwide acclaim and recognition for the efforts made by the Wild Life Department to preserve this rare species. In fact, in early eighties the population of Hangul which had been reduced to almost 100 or so was restored to about 800 or so. The sanctuary has natural barriers on three sides in the form of high wooded mountains. Only one side is open by closing which it had become a safe place for Hangul. The Sanctuary had been set up in Maharaja’s time. During those days nobody was allowed inside except the Maharaja himself who had constructed a small rest house in Drapahama to observe the rare animal. However, after 1947, the “New Maharajas” of Kashmir converted the Drapahama rest house into a VVIP jaunt which caused a lot of interference to the Hangul population. The second intrusion was the setting up of a Fisheries Trout Farm at Laribal. However, this farm too was in a way a conservation and propagation effort for the rare trout obtained by the Maharaja from Scotland. Moreover, the trout don’t walk on the ground or graze in the meadows. Even though this farm created a disturbance yet the Hangul continued to thrive in spite of it.
The real dangerous threat came when the State Government permitted the raring of sheep within the sanctuary by giving the Animal Husbandry Department 2000 kannals of land. This must be the only sheep breeding farm within a National Park anywhere in the world! One fails to understand why government knowing all the facts about the traditional habitat of the Kashmir Stag allowed a sheep farm to be located inside the sanctuary? The disturbance to Hangul is because of the fact that these animals descend in winters to lower flat grounds in search of food which is provided by the Wild Life Department. Some salt slicks are also provided at different spots on their route in lower flat grounds. On being informed of the threat posed by this farm to the Hangul population by the Wild Life Trust and many experts, the Government decided to shift the sheep farm to some place outside the sanctuary. However, the decision remained in limbo because of the dithering on the part of the government and lobbying by some vested interests. The plea that the sheep rearing is an important economic activity and should be above conservation does not really gel. There are umpteen places in the valley where sheep can be reared but there is only one place where Hangul have been living for more than a century. It is not a big deal to find an alternate pasture and rearing ground for just 800 or so sheep! Ridiculously, the Animal Husbandry department has been pleading for de-notifying the part of the National Park to accommodate their imported sheep!
Dithering in shifting the farm has been classic. In 2005, the State Cabinet took a decision to shift the farm out of the sanctuary to some other suitable pasture of which there are plenty in the valley. However, the decision remained unimplemented. In fact, a committee was constituted to get the decision implemented. The Union Environment Minister even felicitated the State Government through a letter addressed to the Chief Minister for having taken the decision to safe guard the Hangul habitat. Still there was no action on the ground. Finally, the Chief Minister ordered in 2012 that the shifting of the farm be completed before the Durbar move. But the Sheep Husbandry authorities remained unmoved. On the contrary they demanded that the 2000 kannals of land occupied by them should be de-notified as the part of the National Park. There can be nothing more ridiculous than this. The Hangul has a century old habitat while the sheep can be put anywhere for grazing and raring. In fact, there is already a big farm set up by the department in Daksum area. This farm can easily house the 800 or so sheep which are in the sheep farm in the Dachigam National Park.
 In one of the meetings of the State Wild Life Board, Mr. M.K.Ranjit Singh, the President of the Wild Life Trust of India sarcastically observed that the Jammu & Kashmir Government needs to take a decision about its State Animal. The observation was prompted by the refusal of the Animal Husbandry Department in shifting the Sheep Farm from the World famous Dachigam National Park to some other suitable pasture in spite of the cabinet decision and specific orders of the Chief Minister. Mr. Ranjit Singh stated that the Government should decide whether the Sheep or the Hangul is Kashmir’s State Animal as the decision to shift the farm has been pending for almost 8 years now. The world famous Kashmir Stag also known as Hangul is facing a threat of extinction not so much from poachers and exploiters but from the Sheep being reared by the State Government’s Animal Husbandry Department in its traditional sanctuary.
The World Wild Life Fund (WWF) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) may soon take note of this deliberate attempt to harm one of the rarest species of the wild animals in the world and both the State and the Central government may face unnecessary embarrassment on this account. The Chief Minister needs to take the matter directly in his hands to safeguard the rare species for which Kashmir is known all over the world. It may be mentioned that Kashmir is home to two rarest species, the Snow Leopard in Ladakh and the Hangul (Kashmir Stag) in Kashmir. These are not only our precious possessions but a great tourist attraction especially for the nature lovers from all over the world. One hopes that as suggested by M.K. Ranjit Singh, there should be no need for the state government to decide whether Sheep or Hangul is our State Animal. The Hangul has been and should continue to be the State Animal of Kashmir if good sense prevails among the rival departments!

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