Species Recovery Program for Snow Leopards etc. in Jammu & Kashmir

  Jammu , Feb 28, 2010 Jammu and Kashmir government has launched Species Recovery Programme (SRP) for the endangered snow leopards, Markhor and Kashmiri stags to prevent their extinction.

“Jammu and Kashmir Government’s forest department has launched centre aided SRP for three species- snow leopard, Hangul (Kashmiri stags) and Markhor- for reversing the extinction process of such species in J-K,” Forest Minister Mian Altaf Said here.

“In year 2009, the estimated population of Hungul has been recorded at 175 only,” the Minister said.

He said that a breeding centre for Hangul is being established at Shikargah Tral in Kashmir.

“The project, being funded by Central Zoo Authority of India, Dehradun, has been approved by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India,” Altaf said.

It is being funded under the species recovery Programme of centrally sponsored scheme ‘Integrated Development of Wild life Habitats’, he said.

Five National Parks and 13 Wildlife sanctuaries are presently being controlled and looked after by the State Wildlife Protection Department, he said.

Three species Hangul, Markhor and snow Leopard are specifically covered under Species Recovery Programme (SRP), he said. 

Filed At: Feb 28, 2010 17:24 IST ,  Edited At: Feb 28, 2010 17:24 IST


Snow leopard cub rescued from Kashmir



Monday, February 15, 2010 15:01 ISTBotengu (Kashmir): Wildlife wardens assisted by forest rangers rescued a three-month old snow leopard cub after it had strayed into a human habitation at Botengu village from Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday. “The cub was hiding in the kitchen of the house. We didn’t tranquillise it but we relied on certain medicines to cow it down,” said Mohammed Ashraf Khan, a wildlife warden.
The animal was later taken to the office of the Divisional Conservator of Forests where veterinarians examined it.
After the vets declared it as a healthy cub, the rangers relocated at to the near by jungle.
Locals hailed the prompt action taken by the wildlife department.
“Wildlife officials did a fantastic job…the cub strayed into the locality from the nearby area…we are happy after the forest officials captured it,” said Sabzaar Khan, a resident.
India has the third-largest population of these spotted wild cats after China and Mongolia — of which around half are inhabited in Kashmir. (ANI)

Snow leopard tracks possibly found in Kashmir ski area

The call of Kashmir

How this troubled corner of the Himalayas has gone from war zone to ultimate ski destination

Wow, life really can be a bummer. It’s 14 January and I’m sitting on the Heathrow Express, reading in the paper that Scotland is buried under snow, its ski resorts rejoicing in the best conditions for a decade. Meanwhile, Scandinavia has epic amounts of powder, the Alps are having a superb month and there’s so much of the white stuff in London that people are skiing on Hampstead Heath. And this is the year I choose to go all the way to India, to ski in the Himalayas where, for the first time in 15 years, there’s no snow.Well almost none. At the airport Jon, the photographer, fills me in on the grim situation. Bizarre as it seems, the Highlands’ gain seems to have been the Himalayas’ loss – the same dominant northerly weather system that brought the Arctic cold to Britain has meant India‘s peaks have been getting dry north winds from across parched expanses of Russia and the ‘Stans, instead of wet snow-packed clouds from the Arabian Sea. I succeed in being philosophical about this for about eight minutes, then drown my sorrows courtesy of Qatar Airways to such an extent that the inflight showing of Gavin & Stacey has me sobbing my eyes out.Twenty hours later, I emerge from Srinagar airport, blinking in the bright sunshine. Even without the hangover, the scene would be surreal. Before me is a huge billboard that says “Welcome to Kashmir, Paradise on Earth” above a scene of lakes and snow-capped mountains so pretty it would have you humming jolly ditties about lonely goatherds, were it not for the fact that beneath the poster is a machine gun emplacement, from which Indian army commandos peer through camouflage netting. More soldiers are on patrol outside the arrivals hall, toting machine guns and looking on as our group, a dozen skiers in bright puffa jackets, sunglasses and luminous bobble hats, wander out and start to hoist skis onto the roofs of taxis.It’s a sight the soldiers are getting increasingly used to. A couple of years ago stories about Kashmir started to spread through the ski bars of the Alps, rumours of a powder paradise, where a metre of fresh, light snow falls like clockwork every week throughout the winter. And could there be a more compelling subject for a traveller’s tale? Kashmir has been romanticised by everyone from the 16th-century Mogul emperor Jahangir (who, when asked on his deathbed if he wanted anything, whispered “Kashmir, only Kashmir”) to Salman Rushdie (who spoke of “the lush valleys, the lakes, the streams, the saffron meadows – the intense physical beauty and culture of enormous harmony”) and Led Zepellin (“Ooh my baby, let me take you there”).Add the spice of danger, the years of violent border disputes between India and Pakistan that have kept it off limits, and you have the delicious prospect of a beautiful forbidden valley at the edge of the world’s highest mountains. Compare that with the familiar, never-changing Alpine round of chalets and fondues, lift queues and après-ski, and it’s little surprise that keen skiers weary of St Anton and Val d’Isère are making the long pilgrimage here.Our procession of jeeps with skis and snowboards piled on the roofs leaves the airport through multiple army checkpoints, swerving around barbed wire-encrusted barricades and then heads out through the dusty, grey, dirt-poor villages. We feel like some over-privileged colonial-era hunting party, pursuing not big game but our prized powder snow.An hour-and-a-half later we arrive at Gulmarg, India‘s leading ski resort, and the feeling of returning to the days of the Raj only intensifies. Sitting on a plateau at 2,600m, Gulmarg grew up as a hill station in the 19th century, when British civil servants and soldiers would come up to escape the summer heat, hunt and play golf. By the early 20th century there were three golf courses here, including one for women only, and in the middle of the fairways was St Mary’s Anglican church, which still stands today.“Here the happy fugitive from the sweltering heat of the lower regions will find a climate as glorious as the scenery – he can enjoy the best of polo and golf, picnics and scrambles on foot or on horseback, coming home to wind up the happy day with a cheery dinner and game of bridge,” wrote one visitor, a Major TR Swinburne, in 1907.We are staying at the Hotel Highlands Park, opened in 1966 by retired cavalry officer and golf fanatic Major Benjie Nedou. Though it is now owned by his granddaughter and her husband, who gave up legal and banking careers in London to return to Kashmir, Benjie would still feel very much at home. In the dining room hangs the bear that he shot after it attacked someone in the village, a sign by the lounge politely asks guests to leave weapons at the door, while the wood-panelled walls are covered in watercolours of St Andrews and plaques, medals and pendants presented by his friends in various Indian and British regiments (plus, strangely, one from Oldham Rotary Club).Today, though, the lounge is filled with ski bums, not top brass. Around the fireplace there are dreadlocks, baseball caps, and big North Face down jackets. They’re peering into laptops, poring over the latest weather forecasts. And no one is looking very happy.Next morning I’m woken by a rustle in the bedroom. It’s Ahmed and Mushtaq, who tiptoe in to leave a tray of sweet milky chai and stoke up the bukhari, the wood-burning stove in the corner of the room. The hotel is made up of several wooden cottages scattered along a ridge, each with a few rooms, and each with a couple of staff who are modelled on the army officer’s batman, right down to the olive green and burgundy wool uniforms.
It’s a brilliant morning and monkeys are playing on the grass terraces just beyond our verandah. To the right, above the forest, the summit of Mount Apharwat is sparkling in the early sun. Even Ahmed telling us that there is usually snow up to the eaves at this time of year, and that the hotel has to keep a team of five on round-the-clock shovelling duties to keep the paths clear, can’t dent our spirits.And so we’re off to see Gulmarg’s main claim to fame – its ski lifts. Well actually, its ski lift. Gulmarg has only one serious lift (the other three are tiny, ancient drag lifts for beginners). Building work for the main lift, the Gulmarg Gondola, began as far back as 1989, but after a major escalation in violence Gulmarg effectively shut down for almost a decade and construction was put on hold. The gondola was finally completed in 2005, taking skiers up to 3,979m, just below the summit of Apharwat, making it the world’s highest ski lift. (There are two higher lifts in China but neither is in an ski resort, while higher lifts in Venezuela and Bolivia have shut down.)The locals are, unsurprisingly, proud of this fact and around the resort are posters showing the lift with catchlines like “Gulmarg Gondola – a tryst with nature”, “Gulmarg Gondola – a step closer to heaven”, and “Gulmarg Gondola – a masterpiece of French engineering”. The reality is a little less awe-inspiring. The gondola is French-built, made by lift company Poma, but given the 16-year construction period, it isn’t what you’d call state of the art. As we queue up inside, the signs become more prosaic (“spitting or scratching inside the gondola is strictly prohibited”) and a man scrambling in the machinery above our heads opens the doors of each cabin with a kick. The racks are too small for today’s fatter skis, so we have to stick them half in, half out of the cabins, which means the doors can’t close properly. The lift also breaks down regularly, doesn’t open much before 10am, and won’t run in high winds. We make a few nervous gags about it getting us a bit too close to heaven and decide not to think about it too much.On the upside, it is cheap – 150 rupees (£2) up to the mid-station, 250 rupees to the top – and as we ride up, we can see there is some snow around. Nick Parks, our British guide, explains that so far in this freakish winter there have been only two snowfalls, one in November and one on New Year’s Day, dropping a total of about 90cm. This is a monumental challenge to my positive mental attitude. On one hand we are going to be able to ski, it’s sunny, we’re in India, I haven’t got ill yet and we’ve seen a monkey. On the other, there is less than half the snow here than they have in the Cairngorms!Disembarking at the top station (which seems to be made largely from corrugated iron) we see our first, fabulous Himalayan panorama. Here, above the haze that hangs in the valley, we spin around to take in the chain of peaks that stretches around the horizon, from Pakistan into India and north to China, with Nanga Parbat, the world’s ninth-highest peak, dominating the view.We take a few runs, and though the snow is old and crusty rather than the fabled powder we’ve come searching for, we can quickly see the potential of the place. Apharwat is a big, wide, whale-backed mountain, with a dozen or so ridges coming off the front face at right angles, like the teeth of a comb. The top lift station is bang in the middle and so from it you can traverse left or right along the top, and choose to ride any of the ridges or drop into any of the bowls and gullies between them. Only a small central section is avalanche-controlled, patrolled and prepared; the rest of the mountain is off-piste. Glass half full: this is an amazing place, the perfect skiers’ mountain, and in a normal year you could spend all week lapping the lift and riding every gully in a glorious frenzy of powder. Glass half empty: it’s not a normal year.Thankfully, Nick has a plan. At lunch in the Kongdori restaurant at the gondola mid-station (my first curry above 3,000m), he explains that instead of repeatedly taking the lift and skiing the front side of Apharwat, we’ll head over the top and explore the back, looking for unskied routes, hunting out stashes of powder, and attaching sticky skins to our skis so we can climb up slopes and press out into the wilderness.On day two we put the plan into action. From the lift we climb for 40 minutes to the summit of Apharwat, at 4,124m, ski down into a deserted valley, then trek up to another col, first on foot, clambering up through bushes, then on skis. From the top we can make out a strange, distant line in the snow, stretching away across every mountain we can see – the barricades that mark the start of the demilitarized zone before the “line of control”, India and Pakistan‘s disputed border.From here we begin our descent, first on open slopes, then into glades of paperbark trees, a type of pink-tinged birch. No one has been this way for at least three weeks – the snow is untouched, in places hard and icy, and in others deliciously powdery. Then the paperbarks start to blend into the forest of Himalayan pines, colossal trees shooting straight up for 30m or more. The trees are so old and tall they seem to suck up the sound as well as the light, and we dart through them shouting at each other so as not to get lost.Then suddenly we pop out, back into the sunlight on an open slope which Nick calls Snow Leopard Couloir because of the animal’s tracks he’s seen in the snow there. (We never manage to spot one, but we do encounter its more common relative, the Himalayan Leopard – two of them skinned on the walls of the Highlands Park, one alive, seen by some of our group in the lights of a taxi at night.)The snow in the couloir is a delight, turned sugary because it has sat untouched on the hill for so long, and we whoop as we ski down it, stopping occasionally to take photos, before we eventually reach a snow-covered road in a forgotten side valley. It’s a military track off-limits to the public, used by soldiers heading for their border look-out posts. As we take off our skis to begin the hour-long walk back to town, there’s a distant rumbling and a khaki truck lumbers around the corner, the three soldiers in the cab looking bemused at the skiers standing in the road before them. It’s as if a wormhole has opened up between the frivolous slopes of Courchevel a
nd this troubled corner of Asia, which Bill Clinton once dubbed “the most dangerous place in the world”.
I’m not sure whether we should ignore them, run away or just smile, but Imtiyaz, a local who’s come with us for the day, flags them down with a winning smile and pleads for a lift. The driver looks unsure, but then, with a wobble of the head, breaks into a huge smile, and we run round the back and clamber inside. We have done only one run in the whole day, but it’s been more memorable than any day’s skiing I’ve ever had.“There’s no polish here, this is a wild mountain,” says Yaseen Khan, 54, owner of the Kashmir Alpine Ski Shop, a 12ft-square Aladdin’s Cave that is the de facto hub of the resort. Inside it’s dark but the walls are lined with ski gear, some ancient and battered hand-me-downs, others surprisingly new. In the back, Yaseen’s son is repairing my skis by melting plastic onto them with a candle, while his father discusses how the resort’s prospects have ebbed and flowed according to the intensity of India‘s border disputes with Pakistan and China, and the activity of Kashmir‘s insurgents and terrorists.Now, after four years of relative calm, some are daring to dream about a new golden era for the resort. Plans for a second gondola are advanced, and a group of New Zealanders are planning to start a heli-skiing operation here next winter, catapulting Gulmarg into a new league, where the super-rich will pay more than €6,000 a week to avoid the temperamental gondola and the skinning uphill.Yaseen is not keen. “If heliskiing comes it will be hell – far too much noise. People come here because it is so natural, so wild, and it should stay like that.”So is it safe? The Foreign Office says no, warning against travel to “rural areas” of Kashmir, and its website lists numerous clashes in Srinagar between protestors, insurgents and the police.Of course, everywhere “feels” safe until you get into trouble, but it’s hard to imagine much harm coming to a tourist in Gulmarg, high up on its secluded plateau. In fact, it is one of the most relaxed, convivial places I’ve ever been in India. There are no beggars, hawkers, or hassle. Indian and Western tourists mix, and the ski patrol and avalanche forecast team is a happy international blend of Canadians, Kiwis and Indians. Even the soldiers from the big army base on the edge of the village look like they are having fun, as they have their first faltering goes on the nursery slopes.And so the week continues, in some ways like a normal ski holiday, in others totally different. The sunset stroll is accompanied by the call to prayer, we eat curry, not raclette, every night, we spot bear and leopard tracks in the snow, ski past monkeys and watch huge birds of prey circling. One afternoon, we ski down to find the village full of Indian tourists from Gujarat coming up to see snow for the first time. Dressed in rented fur coats, they sledge along the paths, screaming with glee, then make each of us pose with them for photographs. But the biggest difference, the strangest thing of all, is the sense of space, the lack of people. On this vast mountain, there are perhaps 50 skiers per day, and as we push out into distant corners of the range, we only ever catch glimpses of them.“This is the worst year I have ever seen here, but, you know, it makes you change your rythym, adapt,” says John Falkiner, a guide from Verbier who first came here in 1989. “Places like Chamonix and Verbier are getting ridiculous these days. There are so many people you just feel like another number.“Here you get to know everyone else on the mountain – you’ll probably play backgammon with them in the bar. It reminds me of growing up in Australia and going to the local ski club. It’s not about ripping up as much powder as possible – the skiing is just the vehicle that lets us experience this exotic place.”And so we convince ourselves to stop yearning for snow, to forget about the long runs down to the valley-bottom villages of Drang and Babareshi that are impossible because of the snow drought, and we start to relish the trip. The group bonds, we relax, we take après-ski tea with Yaseen, chat with Ahmed and Mushtaq, and have the most interesting, unusual, fabulous ski trip. Perhaps the glass really is half full after all.And then, literally as we get into the taxi to start the long journey back to Srinagar, Delhi and London, it starts to snow. Big, heavy, Himalayan snow flakes. Positive thinking flies out the window. Life really can be a bummer.• Mountain Tracks (020 8123 2978; mountaintracks.co.uk) offers skiing adventures around the world. Its 10-day Kashmir trip costs £1,525, including half-board accommodation at the Hotel Highlands Park, seven days’ skiing with a guide, lift pass, transfers and flights from Delhi to Srinagar. Qatar Airways (0870 389 8090; qatarairways.com/uk) flies to Delhi via Doha, with four flights a day from Heathrow, and daily flights from Gatwick and Manchester, from £348 return.http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2010/jan/31/ski-kashmir-gulmarg?page=all

Project launched to save endangered snow leopard (India)


Project launched to save endangered snow leopard


Srinagar, Dec 31: The State Government has started work on an ambitious project to save the existing population of the endangered Snow Leopard in its bastion, the higher reaches of Ladakh with focus on its habitat improvement. After receiving financial assistance from the Centre, the wildlife authorities have started work on the ‘Project Snow leopard’ in Ladakh. The project will span 3500 sq kms including Hemis High Altitude National Park in Ladakh. Pertinently snow leopards are mostly found in mountainous regions of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. Poached for its attractive fur, organs and bones, just 4500 to 7000 snow leopards left in the world and India is home to approximately 400 to 600 of them. However as sixty percent of snow leopards have been found in Ladakh region, it has been included in the Species Recovery Programme being funded through the umbrella scheme ‘Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats’. “We have completed micro-planning and identified the areas with huge concentration of leopards in Ladakh. Besides we have started the process to develop infrastructure and capacity building of staff,” wildlife warden Ladakh, Saleem-ul-Haq, told Greater Kashmir. He said involvement of locals in the project, however, was imperative for its success. He said the department has approached wildlife experts from outside who will raise awareness about the leopard among the locals and the wildlife staff. Officials said hundreds of tourists visit Ladakh only to see the snow leopard. “To cash on this aspect, the project has kept a provision for eco-tourism wherein the locals will host the tourists in their houses. This will serve dual purpose of promoting tourism and snow leopard conservation through community participation,” he said. However, he maintained that leopards had no threat of poaching in Ladakh. “People here have strong religious beliefs and love for the wild animals. The only problem is that the leopards kill their livestock. We will stress on mitigating attacks on livestock,” he said. The authorities plan to install special trap cameras in highly concentrated areas of the snow leopard. “The special cameras will record the leopards’ movement and help the scientists to understand their behaviour in their natural habitat,” he said and added this will help in long-term conservation measures. Haq said freezing temperate was the only bottleneck for the project’s speedy implementation. The project includes developing grazing and management policies along with promotion of conservation and education awareness initiatives. Besides construction of Nature interpretation Centre, the project endeavours procurement of high resolution digital cameras, survey and census gadgets and equipments for handling human-wild animal conflicts. “One of the threats to the snow leopard is drastic decrease of its ungulate preys including wild sheep and goats. The project includes compensation packages for livestock depletion. It is mandatory to preserve the natural habitat of snow leopard for its conservation,” said Tahir Shawl a wildlife warden, who has worked extensively on the snow leopard. Pertinently the Project Snow Leopard was launched in January this year. It is being undertaken in five Himalayan states including Jammu and Kashmir with the support from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the Mysore based Nature Conservation Foundation. The Ministry of Environment and Forests has sanctioned Rs 1.26 crore for the project. Importantly the Project Snow Leopard will be treated on a par with other flagship species programmes of the country such as Project Tiger and Project Elephant.


Foreign Policy: A Beary Good Surprise In Kashmir

November 18, 2009 Kashmir are one group that is pleased by all the conflict there. Authorities estimate that their population has gone from 800 in 1990 to 3,000 now. They (and other endangered species in the area, presumably) are benefiting it seems from lingering fear of violence, which stops poachers and hunters, as well as the dearth of hunting rifles after the Indian authorities confiscated them as an attempt to quell the separatist revolt that started twenty years ago. press reports worried about the impact the army and paramilitary troops deployed in the area has on endangered species such as the Snow Leopard. And others are talking about a “man-animal conflict” across the region, with some articles talking about 5 deaths and 80 humans injured this year. One bear even joined the human conflict and killed a couple of militants earlier this month. Not that the humans are staying above the fray, as one bear found out when he was burnt to death by a frenzied Kashmir mob in 2006.80 percent of the armed conflicts between 1950-2000 took place in these areas important to maintaining plant and animal diversity. Detrimental effects on population and habitat, such as those suffered by the DRC’s gorilla population are well known.Kashmir bear evidence and the Korean DMZ, seems to be that when conflict pauses, the animals benefit as well as the humans. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120529712

Capturing the elusive cat

Ashwin Aghor / DNASunday, June 21, 2009 2:50 ISThttp://www.dnaindia.com/scitech/report_capturingMumbai: When Aishwarya Maheshwari saw a sudden cloud of dust rising along the slopes of the mountains he was surveying in the Kargil and Drass sector of Jammu & Kashmir, his hands immediately reached for the binoculars. What he saw made him tremble and smile in anticipation.He had spotted the snow leopard, one of the world’s most elusive creatures, which was giving chase to a herd of Asiatic Ibex, a species of mountain goats. “Unfortunately the memory of the 1999 conflict has overshadowed the region’s rich wildlife. It is here that one of world’s most elusive creatures, the snow leopard, roams wild and free,” said Maheshwari who is a researcher with WWF-India. During his interaction with locals, Maheshwari also learnt about the tremendous decline in wildlife sightings, post the 1999 war. So much so that even the common resident birds had disappeared.“This is the first photographic evidence of snow leopard in Kargil and Drass sector of Jammu and Kashmir. Though locals claim to have seen the animal, there was no evidence of presence of the big cat,” said Ameen Ahmed, senior communications manager, WWF-India, adding that there has been no study of wildlife done in this violence hit area. Maheshwari, in fact, is part of the WWF team that’s carrying out a base line study of wildlife in Kargil and Drass sectors. On June 13, Maheshwari was observing the hills at Kanji village, located 3850 meter above sea level, and 70 km from Kargil town. He was on my way up with three field assistants. Four km into the trek, they came across a herd of Asiatic Ibex, species of mountain goat and pug marks and scat of what looked like a carnivore.“Soon, a huge cloud of dust rose from where the Ibex were grazing. The view through my binoculars suddenly became hazy. All I could see was the wild goats running helter-skelter, in almost every direction. I desperately panned my binoculars in all directions. But, the dust that made it difficult to see anything clearly,” Maheshwari recalled.Soon, amidst the confusion, he saw a snow leopard. But after the failed attempt, the snow leopard went to a cliff.The snow leopard stayed put in front of the group for seven minutes. “As it was barely 300-400 meter away, I was tempted to go closer and capture the animal on camera. At the end of the shortest seven minutes of my life, it got up and went to the other side of the hill, out of our sight,” Maheshwari said. Early next morning, fresh scat and unclear pug marks were found on the same path. Maheshwari climbed the same hill, which he had ascended the evening before. But the snow leopard had disappeared.

Wildlife – Kashmir’s Other Conflict

ENVIRONMENT-INDIA: Wildlife – Kashmir‘s Other Conflict
By Athar Parvaiz

SRINAGAR, Feb 5 (IPS) – Decades of separatist militancy in Indian Kashmir and the massive response to it by the armed forces have taken a toll on human life. But, what is less known is the fact that this and other human activity have exacerbated dangers posed to the state’s wildlife.

“Human-animal conflicts have assumed alarming proportions in the region,’’ Asghar Inayati, regional wildlife warden, told IPS.

“Every now and then we receive reports of attacks by wild animals causing death, injuries (sometimes serious) to human beings and livestock. Over the last three years 49 people and 404 animals have died in these conflicts,” Inayati said.

But, in that period, more than 200 wild animals were also rescued and released into the wild by staff of the wildlife department who intervened in potential conflict situations.

“Animals are often get killed, captured or are harmed in retaliation and these conflicts are a major threat to the continued survival of many species,” A. K. Srivastava, chief wildlife warden of the region, reported to the government recently.

In the winter of 2006 a frenzied mob burnt a bear to death in a hamlet of Kashmir‘s Tral township. Over the last few years there have been many such incidents where people have tried to capture the animals or kill them.

This despite the fact that killing the Asian black bear, which has been declared an endangered species under the Indian Wildlife Act, carries a prison sentence of 2-6 years.

Srivastava believes that the steadily decreasing forest cover, a result of legal and illegal logging operations and human encroachments into the forest, is a direct cause for increasing encounters between humans and animals.

Since the start of the armed insurgency in Kashmir in 1989, the central government has massively boosted the presence of army and paramilitary forces which are mostly deployed in the forest areas, particularly along the fenced Line of Control (LoC) that divides Indian Kashmir from the Pakistan-administered part of the territory.

“The conflict between the military and the militants in Kashmir is indirectly contributing to the increase in the number of man-animal conflicts,’’ a forest official who cannot be identified because of briefing rules told IPS.

“Due to human movement in the forests and the fencing of the LoC, the natural habitat of the wild animals has got disturbed; this is one of the reasons that they stray into human settlements,’’ he said.

Unofficial figures put the number of army and paramilitary troops deployed in the state at around one million, but the government disputes this figure saying it is “far smaller than that’’.

The army and paramilitary have set up camps in the forest areas where they believe militants often take refuge. “Presently there are over 671 security camps in Kashmir which occupy more than 90,000 acres of land,” says rights activist Gautam Navlakha.

Following a ceasefire agreement with Pakistan in 2003, India erected a patrolled, security fence along the 742-km-long LoC.

India accuses Pakistan of training Kashmiri militants on its side of the LoC and pushing them into Indian Kashmir. “The fence may have stopped the militants from crossing over to this side of LoC, but it has had an impact on the natural habitat of wild animals in the process,” says the forest official.

“There are several other factors also responsible for increasing incidents of conflict between wild animals and humans. These include shrinkage of habitat due to expanding human population, livestock and developmental activities, changes in the land-use pattern, decline in the natural prey base, climate change and urbanisation,” says Abdul Rouf Zargar, a wildlife warden.

According to Zargar, wild animals endangered by conflict with humans include the Asiatic Black Bear, Common Leopard, Rhesus Monkey and Langur.

Kashmir is home to several animal species that are listed as endangered like the Kashmiri red stag called ‘Hangul’ and the Snow Leopard (also called ounce). Hanguls were once a major attraction in the mountain-ringed forests of Dachigam near Srinagar, summer capital of Kashmir.

The Hangul is the only surviving sub-species of the red deer family in the world, and after its population declined to about 150, the wildlife department began, this year, a programme of captive breeding to save it from extinction.

Efforts by the wildlife department to save the Snow Leopard, listed as ‘endangered’ in the IUCN (International Conservation Union) red list of threatened animals, include helping sheep and goat farmers to build better barricades and shelters for livestock.

While the Snow Leopard rarely attacks humans, its predatory habits lead them into livestock shelters, entering through ventilators or broken doors and windows. Here they are often trapped and killed.

Wildlife authorities have issued advisories to the citizens to try and minimise chances of conflict with the wild animals and have supplemented it with a number of guidelines for them to follow.

“We cannot stop these incidents entirely, but we are making efforts to minimise them,” says Inayati. “We have taken a number of measures like the constitution of coordination committees, comprehensive management plan for handling the conflicts, and research studies on conflicts and animals involved.”

Recently, the wildlife department began a programme of studying the Asiatic Black Bear’s home ranges, habitat use, breeding nature and behavioural traits. “We fixed radio collars around the neck of the bears and tracked theri movements,‘’ says Intisar Suhail, wildlife warden in central Kashmir.

“We captured one aggressive bear a couple of months ago and kept it under semi-captivity at Dachigam National Park. We released it to study its behavioural pattern of this animal using the radio collar and then recaptured it when it started attacking humans again,” Suhail told IPS.

“Now we will subject him to the ‘aversion technique’ by which animals are subjected to unpleasant stimulus so that it avoids human populations and stays in the forest areas,’’ he said.


Leopard killed in Kashmir

Published: January 27,2009

Srinagar, Jan 27: Following heavy snowfall in the upper reaches of Kashmir, the wild animals are moving to the plains, leading to incidents of man-animal conflict. In one recent instance, a leopard was killed by people after sighting it in a village in Kashmir.A police official said that a villager was injured when a wild leopard attacked him near his residence at Loridora, Chandoosa in North Kashmir. “As people came to know about the incident, they chased the animal and hurling stones and bricks at it. Later, they managed to catch the leopard and killed it,” the official said.

A few weeks back, another leopard was killed in the same manner by villagers in Kashmir.

The man-animal conflicts are increasing as the upper reaches and mountains across Kashmir have witnessed heavy snowfall, forcing the wild animals to move towards human habitations. “Leopards, bears and their cubs, foxes and jackals have been seen roaming near human habitations near the forest area in Kashmir and scores of people have been killed in the wild animal attacks. In retaliatory action, some animals have also been killed,” an official from the Wild Life Department said.

He said that the people living close to forest area have been advised to avoid coming out in the open after dark as the movement of wild animals in human habitations will not cease unless the snow melts in the upper reaches.

Fayaz Wani reports on life in Srinagar, Kashmir.