Centre approves plan to save Kashmiri deer

17 April 2008
The Indian Express
Toufiq Rashid

SRINAGAR: The Centre has approved the Jammu and Kashmir government’s plan to save the nearly extinct Kashmiri red deer, hangul, through captive breeding. This, experts say, is one of the last steps to save the animal, which, according to the 2006 census, now numbers 153. As part of the plan, prepared in consultation with the Wildlife Institute of India, five pairs of hangul will be put in enclosures during the breeding season. The fawn born this way will gradually be released in the wild. The department had submitted a plan worth Rs 8.6 crore on the lines of Project Tiger. The plan was approved by the Union ministry of environment and forests and will be funded by the National Zoo Authority. “The species is on the verge of extinction and this is a long-term plan for its conservation,” said Farooq Geelani, regional wildlife warden, Jammu and Kashmir. The programme aims to increase the animal’s population in the Dachigam sanctuary and also expand the sanctuary to include adjoining land so that the deer’s movement is not restricted. The deer will be bred outside their natural habitat Dachigam—at the Shikargah conservation reserve in Tral, about 45 km from Srinagar. “The deer will be kept in semi-wild conditions in an enclosure, with proper monitoring. Shikargarh is being seen as the next habitat for the hangul. We also want to control the factors endangering the species in Dachigam,” said Rashid Naqash, wildlife warden in charge of Dachigam. This technique has been used with great success for many species across the world. A wide variety of life-forms in the 1970s, ranging from birds (pink pigeon) to mammals (pygmy hog), reptiles (Round Island boa) to amphibians (poison arrow frogs) have been saved through captive breeding. There are, however, concerns over the technique. If the number of animals involved is too small, in-breeding may occur due to the reduced gene pool. This may, in turn, lead to a loss of immunity to disease and other problems. Over a number of generations, in-bred populations can, however, regain “normal” genetic diversity.