The Kashmir Stag (Hangul)

(Cervus elaphus hanglu)

The Hangul Deer is an endangered species of red deer listed in the IUCN Red List of threatened animals. It inhabits the thick forests of Jammu & Kashmir. In the past, Jammu & Kashmir had a large and vibrant population of Hangul Deer. But environmental pressures caused by hunting and loss of habitat from deforestation and dam projects has significantly curbed the wild population of Hangul Deer. Jammu & Kashmir does have one reserve and conservation area for Hangul Deer; the Dachigam National Park, also home to a diversity of wildlife.

'Big stags cast their horns about March 15 to April 1st. Young ones often carry their antlers into May. After shedding their horns most go up hill and congregate under the snow line, as soon as the weather get warm. The rutting seasons commence about September 15. In hard winters when there is heavy snowfall the stags come down in March also. Where there is green pasturage, they descend.

The female has no horns. The colouring depends on the climate of the place where they live and also on the age. The hair on the neck is coarse, long and sometimes thick. This is much less marked on the female than on the male. The hair on the lower part of the neck of the stag is very long and in an old animal very dark brown

Like other environmental problems in Jammu & Kashmir, the armed conflict of the last 8 years has also caused terrible pressures on the wild Hangul Deer population. Wildlife experts say the numbers may have dwindled to less than 170 in its only habitat, the Dachigam National Park near the capital, Srinagar.

A slew of factors is responsible for the hangul's population slide. "The presence of a sheep-breeding farm inside the park poses the danger of spreading domestic cattle diseases besides being an unnecessary intrusion into the hangul's pastures and grazing fields."

The presence of security forces has also created havoc. A company of the Indian paramilitary, the Border Security Force (BSF), is camped inside the park. Their vehicles are a constant disturbance to deer and other wildlife.

Heavy movement of VIPs in the park is also a vexing issue. The Government of Kashmir has launched a massive awareness campaign to educate people to protect wild life. It has also been decided to set up conservation breeding centers or deer parks at Dachigam and in the hill resorts of Pahalgam and Gulmarg.

( Photograph-courtesy BNHS magazine "Hornbill")


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