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Hangul (english translation)

A deer struggles for survival    

The hangul has been seen as a subspecies of the widespread red deer and therefore remained a taxon hardly known by many conservationists. Indian conservationists try to gain more attention and support for their critically endangered deer.

      The last hanguls live in Dachigam landscape near the city of Srinagar in Indian controlled Kashmir. They appear of comparatively slight build, ranging the woods of Dachigam National Park and spending summers on the upper meadows which offer them food. The expansive antlers of a buck, facing the photographer with its dark eyes, shows the bending after the third tine which is characteristic for the more ancient Asian red deer. Even the summer temperatures remain cool in Dachigam. The park, with its mountain landscape resembling the European equivalent, lies at some altitude in the Himalayas. It stretches from around 1700 meters in the wooded valleys up to 4300 meters above sea level into the lofty mountains.
      According to the most recent population estimates about 150 to 200 individuals of the critically endangered hangul or Kashmir stag still occur, explains wildlife biologist Dr. Samina Amin Charoo, Research Director at the Department of Wildlife Conservation, Jammu and Kashmir. The deer are largely confined to the 141 square kilometer Dachigam National Park, and a few occurrences of individual deer exist in neighboring areas.
      The surrounding settlements of the city of Srinagar have been sprawling into the central valley of the national park. Also the deer's habitats outside the park are threatened by construction and other human-related disturbances. Infrastructures such as some cement factories have settled at the park boundary. Thus, the animals find only a few corridors to reach other areas. "The loss and fragmentation of habitats are apparently a major source of risk," says Samina Charoo.
      Once the hangul occurred in a much larger area and the extensive habitat allowed the animals to move freely between different valleys. Today's population in Dachigam National Park is genetically depleted by inbreeding. The reproductive rates are generally low and the survival rates of the fawns as well. In addition, an imbalance in the sex ratio has been asserted. Relatively fewer bucks and fawns were counted than would be expected in a natural deer population.
       Nomadic shepherds with thousands of animals use the summer habitat of the hanguls, where the hinds also give birth to their fawns, and put massive pressure on their local grazing grounds. Fawns were killed by shepherds herding dogs. "Problem bears" and "problem leopards", which had to be caught in populated areas, were released in the national park (a practice that according to Dr. Charoo has been stopped) and so increased the number of predators. Though above all, poachers are an additional burden on the small stock.
Asian relative of red deer

    In the past, the hangul was classified as a subspecies of the widespread red deer, which is why its critical threat status has been barely noticed outside of India. The Kashmir stag wasn’t even mentioned on the internationally important Red List of Endangered Species issued by the World Conservation Union IUCN. The list stated simply "least concern" for the very common red deer. Indian biologists around the geneticist Dr. Mukesh Thakur finally urged to revise this assessment.
      Recent genetic analyzes support the assumption that the hangul is not as closely related to the red deer. Rather, it forms a separate lineage with two other Asian subspecies, the Bucharah and the Yarkand deer. The latter two are Central Asian lowland inhabitants and live mainly in so-called Tugai forests along waters in dry semi-desert or desert areas, a today endangered vegetation form of alluvial forest, bushes and reeds.
      Indeed, last year the concerned conservationists reached that the new classification was included in the IUCN list, although the taxonomic situation would need to be further analyzed in detail. Also, the Indian hangul has received a separate assessment on the list as a infra-specific taxon: Its status is now well documented and it is clearly "critically endangered".
      Dr. Mukesh Thakur hopes that the inclusion of hangul on the Red List will "help to gain international attention for the conservation of this subspecies." If the hangul were "only" a subspecies of the common red deer and would remain ignored on the Red List, this would be far more difficult. Through the efforts of Indian biologists, there are repeatedly reports about the critically endangered deer in Kashmir itself as well as in other Indian media. Last but not least, the Kashmir stag is known as the state animal of Jammu and Kashmir. The recent construction of a breeding station raises further hope for the hangul, which happens to live in a troubled area of the world.

Published (in german) in Tierwelt, Nr. 8, 22. Feb. 2018

© Text E. Wullschleger Schättin

© Pictures Dr. Lalit Sharma


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