Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wildlife in Kashmir


Once upon a time (this is not really a fairy story) Kashmir was one of the great places to visit. During the era of the British Raj it was a major tourist destination and for the avid fisherman the state offered some of the very best fishing in the world. It has been assort of pipe-dream for me to dip a line in those waters, but for twenty or more years it has been no more than a pipe-dream as Kashmir is also the core of the long-standing border dispute between India and Pakistan.

There is one possible benefit to the near-war status of the region where it is estimated that since the 1989 full-blown rebellion against Indian rule blew up over 47,000 people have been killed. Hunters and poachers have hardly dared to set foot in the region.

If two recent reports are anything to go by wildlife in general and Himalayan black bears in particular may have had some measure of protection.

In a Reuters report of Nov 17th by Sheikh Mushtaq that you can find here it seems as if several wildlife species have shown marked increases in population size. Mushtaq quotes Kashmir's wildlife warden, Rashid Naqash as stating that
“Rare birds like the black partridge and pheasant have increased in thousands while more Asiatic black bear, leopards, musk deer and hangul, a rare red deer, now roam the disputed Himalayan region's pine forests.”
Most spectacular is the claim that the population of black bears has jumped from 700-800 to something over 2,500 in twenty years. This would mean that the population has increased by 7% a year.
A more focused report available here comes from Yahoo news and also quotes Rashid Naqash. In this case he is reported to have said that only 300 of the bears inhabit the region. He also told the reporter that three bears have been fitted with GPS collars and that three more are to be collared soon.
"This is the first time in India that Himalayan black bears have been fitted with a GPS collar."

Naqash is also quoted as saying that the collars could also help prevent bear attacks in the region, which are certainly a serious threat to the local villagers. Wild bears have killed more than two dozen people in the past four years and left 150 injured. For those who love nature stories told with the utmost skill this account is very reminiscent of the wonderful stories of naturalist Jim Corbett. If you don’t know them, try & find one such as Maneaters of Kumaon ( and give it a read. I was hooked at once and have all his writings.

Naqash also made a claim that seems to be more hope than reality when he stated
"We can always monitor their movements and sound an alert once they start moving towards the human habitations."
While three, or even six bears may be monitored, what about the 294 others or, if
Mushtaq’s numbers are to be believed it would be another 2494!

Something seems to smack of the fairy story element, or maybe the editors have made a mess of what would seem to be an encouraging report.


Unknown said...

Seems funny! But unfortunately it is true, let me tell you I am working in the field of wildlife conservation in a troubled state for the last 18 years and things are not that cozy to work here as you find them at a place you work in. we have seen many ups and downs in the field of conservation so do i know very well, that three collard bears can't help resolve conflict however, being captured from a troubled and conflict areas, are certain to return once released, and proper monitoring system in place will let us know the movement patterns of these particular animals. Let me add here Dachigam National Park here in Kashmir is now being recognized as a fairly high density area for Black bears and research studies have established 2 Bears/Sq.Km in the park which is covering an area of 141 Sq.Kms.
May be this looks funny to you, but let me inform you that during last two decades there is a substantial increase in numbers of some Wildlife Species especially Black bears, Common Leopards, Chakur partridges Etc. This is however not the case with Hangul (a Red Deer Species) which is showing a declining trend.
You seem really over excited about the report you have gone through, but really if concerned please do plan a visit to this part of the world, you will find many other interesting facts to learn all about.
I hold the name of Jim Corbett with all respect and do believe him a pioneer of Wildlife Conservation in India.
Rashid Naqash
Wildlife Warden
Department of Wildlife Protection
Jammu and Kashmir Government

Jerry Haigh said...

Great to hear from you Rashid, or is that more correctly Daniyal?

I am delighted that the report about increasing wildlife populations is substantially true, although the drop in Hangul numbers of obviously a concern. With the kind of bear densities you mention I do wonder if they may even be feeding on Hangul . We know that black and grizzly bears prey heavily on moose (Alces alces) in Canada and Alaska, and the bets known of these accounts comes form the island of Newfoundland. When we visited last year we saw a fascinating National Geographic video of moose on the island that included information about bear predation on even adult moose weighing up to 450 kg!

I have worked on all three of Canada's bears and spent several field seasons in the Arctic, so bears are a favourite animal of mine.

I will be in India in January, but in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, so a visit to Kashmir is not on, but in the future? Who knows?

Keep up the good work.

Adil said...

Thanks Mr Jerry. You have given me a chance to comment on the subject as under:
The excuse made by Mr Naqash is now obsolete one. It seems he is still trying to cover-up every thing under the phrase “troubled state”. It has been observed that while holding the charge of Dachigam National Park, he has been taking support of media by issuing ill conceived and manipulated media reports to keep himself in lime light, for some obvious reasons. Despite the fact that neither he has been authorized as spokesperson of the Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Protection Department by Chief Wildlife Warden nor he has been a scientist, who has made some significant studies on the problems which he shares as hunter tales with the press, he expects the world conservation community could be befooled by his fraud statements.

Every now and then, Mr Naqash attempts to use phrases like “troubled state” “Militancy” etc. to cover-up his careless management practices, which he has been fallowing for years together in the area. Till now, the vested interest he has developed in his area of operation is never ending one. For the last several years, Mr. Naqash has been giving some irresponsible media briefings about increased Hangul (Kashmir Stag) population in Dachigam National Park, which is last abode of this species, only to justify his posting and continuation as Wildlife Warden in Dachigam National Park. Unfortunately, the result of such irresponsible media briefings has been a negative type of feed back which the IUCN (International union for Conservation of Nature and Natural resources) has reportedly received on the conservation status of Hangul (Kashmir Stag). Because, it has been learned that despite the relic presence (not more than 100 heads) of hangul in Dachigam National Park and in its other adjacent areas, which currently form the hangul’s present range, IUCN has excluded hangul (Kashmir Stag) from its Red Data Book list.

Similarly, the black bear collaring program run by Wildlife Institute of India Dehradun through its two Research Assistants for studying ecology of resident black bears of Dachigam National Park, is now being used outside their study program to collar rescued black bears from outside Dachigam National Park, just to have an easy access to bears. These rescued bears are subjected to inhumane ill-treatments by keeping them confined for months together in small cages. During the confinement period the ill fated animals are subjected to every such treatment, ranging from starvation for days together to beating them to their pulp, till they are handled easily for fixing of tracking collars. So far many such black bears have died under their custody, which they have destroyed without reporting to higher authorities or referring these dead animals for routine medical examination or postmortem by any veterinarian.


Jerry Haigh said...

A man named Adil has sent a lengthy comment about the bears and Hangul. I will not allow this to be published until he identifies himself and tells us for whom he works.
Over to you Adil.

Anonymous said...

Back to Jerry,
I am a citizen of Jammu and Kashmir Sate, presently pursuing my studies as a postgraduate student outside J&K. I am not working for anybody but, since I am an animal welfare activist, I keep on visiting such places frequently where animal abuse is suspected to be taking place. I collect information on such issues, for my own use as a scholar, besides, sharing the same with the people who feel concerned about animal abuses.

Dr. Mir M. Mansoor said...

Hi Dr. Jerry,
It is Dr. Mir Mansoor this side. I am working as Chief Wildlife Biologist & Vet. in J&K State Wildlife Protection Department, the same organization where Mr. Naqash is working as a Wildlife Warden.
Completing my 26th year of service in this organization and having access to all protected areas of Jammu and Kashmir state during these years as a veterinary biologist, I don’t agree with Mr Naqash on his claim which he has made by saying “During last two decades there is a substantial increase in numbers of some Wildlife Species especially Black bears, Common Leopards, Chakur partridges etc” in Jammu and Kashmir. I will like to have a different opinion on this issue by saying that encroachments and biotic interference have tremendously increased in the wildlife habitats both within and outside protected areas during the last two decades of political turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir State. This has narrowed down the interface between the opportunistic wildlife species (e.g. common leopards and black bears) and humans, thereby, resulting in the present man-wild animal conflict situation. Since, the phenomenon has been a global one, especially in the areas where human population density is comparatively more, hence attempting to address the problem by using hit and trial methods, as is being done presently, may not work. With regard to Mr Naqash’s claim that Dachigam National Park is now being recognized as a fairly high density area for Black bears and as substantiated by WII researchers in their study (2 Bears/Sq.Km), Mr Naqash would be the right person to reply a simple question that “How many stray black bears rescued from different areas of Kashmir valley have been so far stocked in Dachigam National Park since the year 2000?” In my knowledge, the initial rate of bear stocking was 3-5 animal per year till 2004 then it increased to 10-12, and the graph curve is likely to become further steeper in coming years, if present situation continues. It is not only this man induced increase in black bear density of the national park, which matters, but it is the total ecology of the national park landscape which is undergoing a drastic change, that too, definitely not for good.
Regarding GPS collaring of black bears by WII researchers, as far my knowledge is concerned, the said collaring program is part of the study titled “Ecology of Asiatic Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus) at Dachigam National Park”. The objective of this GPS collaring, as I could understand, was to monitor movement of resident Black Bears of Dachigam National Park to ascertain the extent, these bears contribute in man-animal conflict situations in the adjoining human habitations of Dachigam National Park. But, Mr Naqash’s statement "We can always monitor their movements and sound an alert once they start moving towards the human habitations" makes this program more afloat and less target oriented, for which he has to give a one more thought.

Besides, the way the rescued black bears (from outside the Dachigam National Park) are being treated after capture and then collared and released inside the national park raises many eyebrows. Because animal research and welfare need to go side by side, otherwise, the importance of such research projects will be limited to getting degrees awarded, that too, after paying the price of precious animal lives.

Dr Mir Mansoor

Jerry Haigh said...

Thank you Dr. Mansoor for your clarification. This is obviously a complex issue. The animal welfare matter is also a major item.

Unknown said...

Dear Dr. Jerry Haigh
Thanks for allowing me to comment on the issues of rise in wildlife population in J & K.
I would like to add her that in contrast to the remarks made of increasing population of wildlif in J & K as reported by many wildlife managers of the state like Mr. Rashid Naqash I have a simple question to ask them as how do they justify their statements. Do they have any data to suggest that the populations have increased and to what data they are interpolating the increase in the recent decades. As far as my knowlege and literature review goes, there are no past reports of any population census having been carried out in J & K and neither any wildlife population census has been carried out during the recent years except annual population census of Hangul which also suggests a drastic decline in the Hangul population from 2004 to 2006
My Ph.D work on Ecology of Hangul from 2001 to 2006 also suggests a drastic decline of the Hangul population during recent years and the reasons for the same being the low sex ratio and male to female ratio, low fawning and and rate of fawn servival besides heavy predation by Common leopard and Asiatic Black Bear. I would request the wildlife managers to concentrate on addressing the said issues instead of claiming increase in the population as a response to their management.


Dr. Khursheed Ahmad
Assistant Prof. & Scientist Wildlife Management
Faculty of Veterinary Sciences & Animal Husbandry
S.K. Agricultural University Kashmir

Jerry Haigh said...

Many thanks Dr. Ahmad,
You raise a central point about wildlife management in general. Estimates of populations are just that, and pretty useless without prior census figures. There is huge pressure on wardens to show due diligence by reporting increases in populations, so this they are seen to be doing a "good job" .
The reality is that there are biological events like the ones that you describe and probably much more importantly there is the subject of bushmeat. Hungry people need to eat. Hangul are no doubt as tasty as other cervids. I addressed a significant amount of discussion to the subject of bushmeat in "The Trouble WIth Lions" , where I mainly focused on Africa, but I doubt the situation is any different in India.
Of course it has taken a very long time for this somewhat taboo subject to emerge from the hidden recesses of the mind, so maybe it has not been in Indian the spotlight yet.