Friday, October 20, 2006

India: Who will help Kashmiri wildlife?

When the government itself is not keen to protect and preserve wildlife in Jammu and Kashmir, who can help the helpless animals, comments Yasar Mohammad Baba.

The Jammu and Kashmir once had a unique position in the country by virtue of the wide range and variety of its wildlife.

The wildlife which had now almost vanished from the lands of Jammu and Kashmir had now largely been confined to the mountain ridges and ravines of Ladakh and the densely forested hill slopes and glades in the rest of the State. This is understandable. Instinctively the wild animals took resort to these difficult and inaccessible spots beyond the reach of human depredators.

It was not always like this the State of Jammu and Kashmir was rich in its wildlife, but the state especially Ladakh and the densely forested areas on the borders in the Jammu and Kashmir had a big casualty when over 60 years ago the state was the victim of unprovoked aggression from across its borders. The destruction did not cease here but has also resulted in large scale induction of arms into the State and the distant and difficult areas which the wild animals frequented for safety’s sake, gradually started opening up with the extension of roads and communications. Though all this was not bad enough, a much more destructive factor appeared on the scene. The growing craze in affluent circles in the west for fur coats etc which let to poaching on an extensive scale. The result is there in front of us which anybody can see. Not only the members of our wild animals have been vastly depleted, but many wonderful species including the world famous Hangul, Ammon, Markhor, Ibex, Musk Deer and Snow Leopard have been brought to the very verge of extinction and nothing is being done for them in the State.

Hangul (its Kashmiri name) and in the rest of India it known as Barasingha, and in Ladakhi as Shawa. There are around 73 species of Cervus Hangul and is to be found in both old and new world. The Hangul, the representative of the genus is found in Kashmir only.

The habitat of Hangul comprised from the upper reaches of Kishenganga valley to Kishtwar the Chenab valley and the south-east flanks of the Pir Panchal range, but now a days it is rare to see a Hangul from the Kishenganga one has to go to Dachigam Sanctuary to see if he can spot a one anywhere there.
Musk Deer (Kashmiri name Roos) (Hindustani name Kastoora) (Ladakhi name Lava) was found all over the forests of Jammu and Kashmir province (except Ladakh) at an elevation of 2500 m, or more and they can brows, at anytime of the year but commerce calls for Muskpod either for medicine or perfume has threatened the species to verge of extinction.

Markhor (Kashmiri name) cannot be approached very easily there sense of smelling is very keen. Markhor do not like snow, and seldom go higher than the snowline looking for crags and rocks at the elevation. They are very sure footed and negotiate very difficult and precipitous climbs with ease. This is due to the soft padded hoofs. They came down to 1250 m during winter and go up to 3750 m in summer, grazing in spring and early summer, but mostly browsing during the rest of the year. This species is also on its decline.

Ammon (Ladkahi name) is very shy by nature also possessing keen powers of scent and sight, so these sheep’s are hard to approach is aggravated by the fact as they choose to live and graze in open rolling slopes with rounded hill-tops and avoid broken ground. In summer they are habitually to be found at over 5334 m and in winter down to 4668 m. In Ladakh they are to be found on the high Plataux of Rupsho, the rolling plains round about Pangong Lake and Changchhenmo, and on the rounded hilltop dividing the Ladakh, Shoyok and Zanskar valley with the Plataux of Changthang.

Snow Leopard (Ladakhi name Schan or Shun) is a small animal and is distinguished from a panther by the soft wooly coat and the shape of the skull which is short and wide with high orbit. It is found in forest but on rocky hill-side above the tree line. Its natural food is Ibex, Bharal, Shopo, Markhor, Hares, Marmot but they take away or kill goats, sheep, cattle and ponies of the nomads or local inhabitants of Ladakh. Unless they are wounded they never attack a man. During winter nights they steel away a sheep or goat through a skylight or small window and suck up the blood of all sheep and goat and stack the carcass along the door. After sucking the blood of the whole flock, he becomes too heavy, voluminous and dizzy and is unable to jump to the skylight or pass through the window and he is killed in the morning by the shepherd with sticks and stones. Snow Leopard is found only in Ladakh District but some stray to the borders of Kashmir or Kishtwar.

Ibex (Kashmiri name Kyel) (Ladakhi name Skin) is found in the precipitous mountains of Ladakh and Baltistan northword of Kashmir valley, and is also found in Dachhin and Wardwan (Kishtwar) of Jammu province.

The Ibex found in Baltistan Ladakh and Wardwan are distinct varieties.

Ibex is at home in precipitous cliffs with an adjacent grazing ground. During the day time they lie down amongst precipitous cliffs from where they can look down and watch the low ground while an old buck, generally the leader of the herd stands in a prominent place doing sentry duty. When danger is in sight, he alarms the herd with a shrill whistle. They remain almost with the snowline in winter, especially when snow is heavy they come low down in the cliffs of the valley.

Brown Bear (Kashmiri name Lal Haput) (Hindustani name Lal Bhalu) (Ladakhi name Drenmo or Dredmo) hibernate in caves, hollows of trees, or under a mass of fallen trees, provided it makes a complete covering. They come down from their higher haunt in late autumn (depending upon the altitude) and visit spots where sheep have been found, and will parsnips and other vegetables grow and dig up the roots and systematically descends slowly to lower level till they find a suitable site for hibernation.

They keep below the snowline, if they are disturbed they trek for miles across the hard snow. They are vegetarians but will kill sheep, cows, buffaloes and ponies. Once it has tasted blood, then it becomes a pest. It on the whole is a harmless animal, but attack a man when wounded. The sense of smell is keen, sight is poor and hearing not at all acute.

Brown Bears are found in all the alpine areas of Jammu and Kashmir above 3000 m except Indus valley, Ladakh. Some are found in the Suru and Zanaskar valley.
Black Bear (Kashmiri name Kuin Haput) (Hindustani name Kala Bhalu or Reich) (Ladakhi name Tom) hibernate but not willingly if it could be avoided by migrating into warmer region. They generally hibernate in caves or hollows of trees and it is possible to dislodge them.

They are very dangerous when wounded or bullied, the females with cubs are very dangerous.

They are generally found in plenty all over the forests of Jammu and Kashmir except Ladakh.

The emergency created by the aggression on the State understandably monopolized the attention and energies of the new popular rulers of the State who unfortunately were not alive to the importance of the precious natural asset. And when the hostilities fortunately ceased, their attention was mainly taken up in rehabilitating and restructuring the State’s shattered economy. This left the poachers and those possessed arms free to do as they liked with the State’s rich heritage of wildlife and alas! they played havoc with it.

There is a J&K Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1978 which categories the wild animals in the State into five different schedules. Schedule I includes the most endangered species, like the Hangul, Musk Deer, Snow Leopard, Lynx, Ovis Ammon, Markhor, Tiger/Leopard, Black Buck, Tebetan Gazelle, Tibetan Wild Ass or Kiang, Urial or Shapu, and Wild Buffalo besides others. Hunting of these animals is strictly forbidden. Hunting of wild animals specified in schedules II III and IV is also forbidden except under and in accordance with, the conditions specified in a license granted by competent authority some of the important animals listed in these schedules are:- Himalayain Brown Bear, Serow, Tibetan Antelope, Wild Yak, Lyan, Black Bear, Ibex, Samber, Tebetan Wolf Nilgai, Marmot, Martin, Red Fox certain types of Hares, Squirrels, and Monkeys. Schedule V comprises vermin like Jackal. Common Fox, Mice and Rats.

Under this Act the State Government is empowered to declare any area to be a sanctuary or national park, if it considers that “such area is of adequate ecological, funal, floral ort geomorphologic significance for the purpose of protecting, propagating and developing wildlife and its environment.

No one can enter a sanctuary or national park, except under a permit issued by competent authority. Nor can anyone hunt there. Nor is the grazing of cattle allowed there.

The J&K Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1978 provides penalties for contravention of its provisions or the rules made under it, or breach of any of the conditions of a license or permit issued under it. These include imprisonment up to six years and fines, besides, cancellation of license or permit. Provision also exists for rewards to person or persons giving bona-fide information leading to convection under the Act.

It shall not be presumed that Jammu and Kashmir had no rules and regulations for the protection of its wild animals in the past. There were rules in the Maharaja’s time also and there is now a wildlife Department also but for what nobody knows it does not have necessary equipment, facilities, infrastructure for keeping wild animals or capturing wild animals even it lacks manpower so if any animal comes down from the forests in the villages or cities they are being killed ruthlessly by the people, police and paramilitary forces because there are not even tranquilizers available in this so called wildlife Department of Jammu and Kashmir to Comatose the wild animal, and when the Government itself is not keen in protecting and preserving of this valuable asset of Jammu and Kashmir then who is going to help these helpless animals the only hope for there survival is in the hands of God. We can only hope that God may come for their rescue so that they do not extinct from our land.

(The author can be e-mailed at: Date=20_10_2006&ItemID=3&cat=12

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