By Khursheed Ahmed
The Kashmir Red Deer, popularly known as Hangul, is set to be declared a separate species. Hangul, the state animal of Jammu & Kashmir, is a relative of the European Red Deer and till now was biologically classified its sub-species. Recent scientific research, however, has provided sufficient grounds for the deer to be recognized as a separate species in itself. Disclosing this development, Dr. Khursheed Ahmad, Assistant Professor-cum- Scientist In Charge Centre for Mountain Wildlife Sciences, Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences & Technology of Kashmir (SKUAST-K) stated that ‘the species status to Hangul was long overdue and was being pursued since 2009, from the time the first International Conference on Hangul and other endangered deer species were organized by Dr. Khursheed Ahmad at SKUAST-Kashmir with due support and applauds from IUCN’.
The species status to Hangul under Terim Red deer (Cervus hanglu) with three sub species has now been considered under this year’s re-assessment of the species by the IUCN. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources or the IUCN is the global organization working in the field of nature conservation and is involved in data gathering, analysis and research on wild fauna and flora.
The IUCN regularly assesses the conservation and taxonomic status of the species worldwide and publishes it in the ‘Red List’ which is regularly updated. Dr. Khursheed, who has studied Hangul extensively since 2000 and is currently heading a Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India funded field research project on the ecology and biology of the animal using latest techniques of GPS-Satellite Telemetry undergoing in Dachigam National Park, has a number of publications on Hangul to his credit including one in the IUCN’s Deer Specialist Group (DSG) Newsletter wherein he had highlighted the ecology and management oriented conservation issues of this rare sub species and had sought International conservation support particularly from the IUCN and DSG and need for assessment of this subspecies in the appropriate threat category by the IUCN Red list are necessary to perpetuate the effective population recovery and long term conservation of Hangul.
Dr. Khursheed and his team members from Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, again recently came up with a landmark scientific publication on Hangul entitled ‘Resolving the phylogenetic status and taxonomic relationships of the Hangul (Cervuselaphus hanglu) in the family Cervidae, which was published in the reputed international Journal, ‘Mitochondrial DNA Part A’. The paper on the basis of genetic and molecular data had advocated a separate species status for Hangul.
According to Dr. Khursheed, who is also being involved in the Global IUCN assessments, ‘Hangul, as per the re-assessment, will now scientifically be grouped under Tarim Red deer Cervus hanglu instead of Cervus elaphus hanglu as it was till now’. In fact, two other varieties of Red Deer from Yarkand and Bukhara in the Central Asia have also been re-christened after Hangul. The Yarkand Deer will now be re-named as Cervus hanglu yarkandensis and the Bukhara Deer as Cervus hanglu bactrianus.
Hangul, once distributed widely across Kashmir and neighboring Himachal Pradesh, is now virtually restricted to the 140 odd square kilometers of Dachigam National Park and a few forest pockets in Shikargah-Overa in the south and Surfrao-Akhal and Naranag-Wangath in Ganderbal in the North. The recent census by the Jammu & Kashmir Wildlife Protection Department has put the numbers at 186 and the experts attribute the decline to factors like habitat fragmentation, poaching, human disturbance and illegal grazing in its summer grounds to female biased sex ratio and low fawn to female ratio.
Amidst such a dismal state of affairs, the ‘elevation’ of Hangul to the species level may bring some cheer to the hapless deer. Elaborating on the significance of the elevation of Hangul from a sub-species to the species level, Dr. Khursheed added, ‘The taxonomical revision of Hangul, once done officially by the IUCN, will be followed by a revised population assessment of the species and will finally lead to its listing in the suitable category most probably as Near threatened if not endangered in the Red List’. It may be mentioned that, at present, Hangul in spite of its dwindling numbers, is listed alongside the flourishing European Red Deer under the ‘Least Concern’ category. With the separate species status, Hangul, with its present population dwindling will be assigned a ‘critically endangered’ category by the IUCN, which will help in effective advocacy of its conservation cause”.
CORRIGENDUM: ‘Separate Species Status is Good News for Kashmir’s Hangul’ was unfortunately attributed to Mr. Rashid Naqash. The actual correspondent author of the oped is Mr. Khursheed Ahmed who is a scientist at the Centre for Mountain Wild Life Science, SKUAST. Mr. Khursheed can be reached at: [email protected]. Further, the last passage of the op-ed is attributed to Mr. Rashid Naqash