Kashmir Conflict Spares Wildlife16 June 2011
New Delhi: Thousands of people have died in 20 years of turmoil in Kashmir in northern India, but the conflict seems to have spared the animal population, particularly the severely endangered Kashmir stag or 'hangul' whose population has grown in recent years. Wildlife officials cite the recent census that showed the hangul population increasing to 218 as of March 2011, from 175 in 2009. In 2008, the figure was 127. The hangul, the state animal of Jammu and Kashmir, belongs to the family of red deer distinct for having huge antlers with as many as 16 points. The red deer is found in some parts of Europe and Central Asia. In Kashmir, the hangul is now mostly found in the Zabarwan mountain range east of the capital Srinagar. 'There is no doubt that the insurgency has benefited the wildlife in Kashmir,' Javed Ahmad Panzoo, former regional wildlife warden for Kashmir, told IPS. 'There are many reasons for it, but the decades- long conflict has also been a prominent cause.' When the ongoing anti-India insurgency in Kashmir began in 1989, locals were banned from owning guns, and those caught carrying them were treated as insurgents. Thus, people refrained from shooting birds and wild animals. Wildlife warden Rashid Naqash told IPS that the insurgency has certainly helped the wildlife in a positive manner. 'People here cannot own guns, and neither can they go into the forests, which ultimately benefits the wildlife,' Naqash said. The vast stretches of forest became the battleground of militants and troops. Poachers stayed away for fear of getting caught in the crossfire. 'The major benefit to wildlife during the conflict has been the presence of security forces and militants in the forests,' said Panzoo. 'People did not even dare go into the forests, where they fear the presence of security forces or militants.' Aside from the increase in the population of the hangul, the numbers of leopards and bears have grown as well. The 2009 hangul census indicated that for every 100 females, there were 27 males and 28 fawns, as compared to 23 and nine respectively in 2008. 'We are optimistic that the male-female-fawn ratio will also show an upward swing in the current census, and will subsequently lead to a marked increase in the hangul population in the coming years,' Naqash said. The census was carried out by the Jammu and Kashmir Department of Wildlife Protection in collaboration with the Wildlife Institute of India and spanned over 450 sq kms of national parks, wildlife conservation reserves and forests. But in a negative offshoot of the growth of wildlife and the occupation of forests by security forces and militants, the man-animal conflict has shown a drastic increase in the Kashmir valley. The state government revealed that 119 persons died and 1,072 others were injured in man-animal conflicts across the state during the past few years.