Insurgency Benefits Kashmir Wildlife
12 December 2006
Jammu: The wildlife population in Indian-administered Kashmir has undergone a 'manifold' increase as a result of the separatist militancy that first broke out there in the late 1980s. The Chief Wildlife Warden for Jammu and Kashmir, Naseer Ahmad Kitchloo says the average increase in population of indigenous animals and birds specific to the area is 20-60%. The reasons, he says, are simple. 'The government asked the locals to deposit their arms with their respective police station when militancy started,' he said. 'This was done to prevent the misuse of weapons and identify illegal ones. It meant that local hunters thus had no weapons.' And there is another, more important reason behind the dramatic increase in wildlife, the chief wildlife warden says. 'No one dares to venture deep into the forests these days,' he said, 'for fear of being caught in exchanges between militants and the security forces'. As a result, 'poaching of wildlife has almost halted for all these years', he said. And that is good news for endangered animals like the leopard, the snow leopard, the hangul (a stag found only in Kashmir which is closely related to the reindeer) and spotted deer, as well as for numerous species of birds. Mr Kitchloo said that the 'manifold increase in the number of animals like leopards and bears is creating problems for people who have been attacked'. He said that there had been a number of cases of leopards and bears maiming villagers in remote areas. 'Risen enormously' The official has no problem providing figures to back up his claims. Before the insurgency, he says that the hangul population was between 100 and 120 in 1990. He says that in 2006 the number is estimated to be over 250. Mr Kitchloo said that although physical counting of these animals was not possible, the figures were compiled using 'scientific methods'. Similarly the population of Himalayan black bear was between 700 to 800 in 1990, whereas today it stands between 2,500 and 3,000. He said that the number of leopards has also 'risen enormously during this time'. A similar story applies to the musk deer, a rare animal, with between 2,000 and 2,500 believed to be alive today, compared with an estimate of between 250 and 300 in 1990. 'Encouraging factor' Likewise, the rare Pirpanjal markhor goat - specific to the Pirpanjal mountain range - numbered between 100 and 150 in 1990. Now the numbers are estimated to be between 240-300. 'This animal is a sought after trophy in many European countries that can fetch a minimum of $100,000,' Mr Kitchloo said. He stated that although bird counts were always a difficult task, 'rare and indigenous species like the black partridge and the pheasant have increased by a minimum of 50% since 1990'. Officials lay great emphasis on the fact that 'all the security forces serving an anti-militancy role in the state - the army, paramilitary forces and state police - are under strict instructions against wildlife poaching'. But they do not rule out stray incidents 'happening and going unnoticed'. Mr Kitchloo said that the increase in wildlife was an 'encouraging factor' for everyone in Kashmir. 'It is an economy generator and a renewable resource,' he said, 'and as far as Jammu and Kashmir is concerned, it can only end up attracting tourists as well.'