August 4, 2009 / 11:24 AM / 11 years ago

Endangered Kashmir deer in comeback as violence dips

DACHIGAM, India (Reuters) - An endangered species of red deer found only in Kashmir has made a rapid comeback in the past year due to a decline in violence and conservation efforts, wildlife officials said on Tuesday.

Kashmiri red deers "Hangul" are seen in the Dachigam Wildlife sanctuary on the outskirts of Srinagar in this undated handout photo. The hangul, an endangered species of red deer found only in Kashmir, has made a rapid comeback in the past year due to a decline in violence and conservation efforts, wildlife officials said on August 4, 2009. REUTERS/Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Department/Handout

The population of the hangul, also known as the Kashmir stag, is now estimated to be between 201 and 234, against 117-180 in March 2008, according to a census.

An anti-India insurgency that broke out two decades ago in the disputed Himalayan region ruined the habitat of the red deer, killed for its meat by both rebels and security forces. The deer were estimated to number around 900 when fighting first erupted.

Wildlife guards say poachers also killed the deer for its meat and antlers, which fetch high black market prices. Worst hit were its chief breeding ground in the upper reaches of Dachigam Sanctuary near Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir.

“In the early 90s, Dachigam was a den of militants and later security forces moved into areas where the hangul used to graze, making its life hell,” said wildlife ranger Imtiyaz Ahmad Mali.

“We dared not move into these areas then. But now it is near peaceful and poaching has also stopped.”

The census has also shown improvement in the female-fawn ratio, a sign for a sustained population growth in future.

“The improvement in the situation resulted in effective implementation of conservation plans and cooperation from environmentalists and the local community,” Raashid Naqash, central Kashmir’s wildlife warden, told Reuters.

Environmentalists have long accused the state government of neglecting the region’s environment and wildlife while battling the separatist revolt and say the red deer’s survival depends primarily on political will.

“We will not let the hangul go extinct,” Omar Abdullah, the state’s chief minister told reporters last month. (Editing by Bappa Majumdar and by Ron Popeski)

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