Hangul deer or the Kashmir stag has been spotted outside its protected zone, the Dachigam national Park (141 km²), located at the foothills of Zabarwan range, just outside of Srinagar. A female deer was seen this May in Wangat - Naranag conservation reserve, nearly 45 km away from its safe zone. Endangered as critically as the one horn Rhino and the Asiatic Lion, it is the only Asiatic surviving member of the red deer family.
Since 1940s, their numbers have been on decline and in 1957, they were declared as the most endangered species in the report of E. P. Gee, member Bombay Natural History Society. The gorgeous spreading antlers of the male deer’s with 11 to 16 points, is there distinguishing feature. These prized antlers have been a reason for their poaching.
In its heyday's, it used to roam in the high altitudes (3035 m) of northern parts of India and Pakistan. Indiscriminate killing for its antlers, meat and skin caused its population to shrink. From a group of 18 individuals to 2 individuals, this deer's population was around 5000 at the start of the 20th century.
This sighting indicates that its numbers are increasing. This sighting has been captured on camera by the assistant project officer Mr Mansoor Nabi Sofi. And evidence of first-time Hangul spotting beyond the perimeter of Dachigam national Park.
This photograph is the result of the survey started in the year 2008 by the Kashmir Department of wildlife protection in partnership with Wildlife Trust of India with the mandate to ascertain whether Hangul population is spreading elsewhere or not. In the zone between Kupwara near the LOC and Pahalgam in southern Kashmir, 36 sites were chosen to conduct the survey. Within this 17 sites were further identified as most probable zone's for Hangul sighting based on past records, locals feed back, hoof marks and antlers. Your wildlife tour can include some of these locations.
From 1940 to 1989, the Hangul population shrank from 3000 to 900. Then militancy happened to Kashmir. Between the crossfire of Army and militants, the count came down to 200 (160 mature adults in 2008 census). The dam projects encroached upon its habitat, which also contributed to the reduction in numbers. With this alarming backdrop of numbers fall, it is indeed refreshing and encouraging to see a success story in the realm of environmental protection.
The Army chipped in with its "Save Hangul Campaign". The Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry has adopted Hangul as its mascot in the year 2011.
The insurgency in Kashmir has benefited wildlife protection as animals were spared, but people were killed. Locals were banned from possession of guns and anyone caught with a gun was considered to be militant. Therefore, the incidence of wildlife hunting by the locals dropped significantly, giving new lease of life to the fauna. The poachers were scared to venture into the forests due to this raging conflict. Apart from Hangul, the population of leopards and bears have gone up. A fallout of this has been the increased incidences.