The Kashmir stag, or hangul, whose numbers have dwindled over the years, has been handed out new hope with the J&K government planning a conservation and breeding centre in South Kashmir’s Tral town. Known for its 11- to 16-point antlers, the hangul was once believed to be a subspecies of the European red deer but officials say it is an independent species. The International Union for Conservation of Species website says further molecular studies need to be conducted before elevation to species level.
According to the state wildlife department, the Hangul population was 186 in 2015, the lowest in any decade. From between 3,000-5,000 in the first half of the last century, the population has been constantly declining over the decades. Hangul were, however, spotted in Central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district recently, during a fresh census. “We expect the population to be not less than what was recorded in 2015,” said Suresh Chugh, principal chief conservator of forests and chief wildlife warden, J&K.
Chugh told The Indian Express the conversation and breeding centre will be the state’s first for hangul. “Everybody is aware about its declining population. We will lose this prestigious animal forever if there is an outbreak of disease,” he said.
Tral was chosen because it used to be a natural habitat of the hangul and is contiguous with the Dachigam reserve, where the entire surviving population is confined. The wildlife department has started the process of designating the forest area of South Kashmir as Tral Wildlife Sanctuary. “It is very difficult to capture a hangul. So we have to prepare a plan as to how to capture a pair of hangul and bring them to the centre. After breeding, we will release them back into the forest,” Chugh said.
Among other measures, the government has will relocate a 100-hectare sheep farm out of Dachigam. “The presence of the sheep farm was one of the reasons for the decline in hangul population,” Chugh said.
Earlier this year, the J&K forest department had said in the assembly: “Hangul or the Kashmir stag is the state animal of Jammu and Kashmir. However its population has reduced to only 186… making its status critical.”