SHOPIAN: The highly endangered mountain goat, Markhor, has recently been spotted in the Hirpora wildlife sanctuary, where the Markhor population had declined to a handful due to laying of power lines and construction of a road through the sanctuary.
A total of five Markhors at two different places were spotted inside the sanctuary this month, raising hopes that the Markhor may yet see a revival in these forests of the Pir Panjal mountain range.
According to the official census of the wildlife department, there has been a huge decline in the population of Markhor and several other animals in the Hirpora sanctuary. As per the census, the Markhor population dropped from 75 in 2003-04 to 35 in 2013-14. Experts have blamed violation of the sanctuary’s limits and invasive activities by humans for the decline in numbers.
Environmentalist Aabid Saqi told Kashmir Reader that the increase in Markhor numbers would boost the natural food chain, leading to less cases of wild animals coming near human habitations. He also called for strict action against violators of the sanctuary’s limits.
A researcher from the Wildlife Trust of India said that three Markhors were spotted in Yangnad area while two were seen in Sathran-Zaznad (23 kilometers from Shopian). He added that several other animals were spotted in the winter, which include the Musk Deer, Brown Bear, Tibetan Wolf, Red Fox, and Common Leopard. He said that it was alarming that the Brown Bear was spotted in the lower areas (near Hirpora), which clearly shows that their food and shelter has been disturbed by human interference.
Sources in the wildlife department said that violations like blasting for the purpose of laying towers and denuding of the green slopes by different contracting agencies have wreaked massive destruction in the sanctuary. An expert said that the construction of the Mughal Road divided the sanctuary into two parts. He added that animals are very sensitive and don’t even cross the road because of its macadamisation (charcoal coating).
According to official records, contracting agencies were allowed to work only after they signed all the terms and conditions of the wildlife protection department. But almost all the conditions were violated by the agencies in their work. For example, the contract for construction of Mughal Road was given to Hindustan Construction Corporation. The contract stipulated that no damage be caused to the surroundings, but the construction agency threw raw material on river banks, didn’t raise roadside bunds which led to soil erosion and pollution in the sanctuary, and conducted blasting. Similarly, STERLITE and TATA companies took the contract after signing that they will make maximum use of manual labour, but constructed roads using heavy machinery and blasting in the core area of the sanctuary.
Wildlife experts said that some damage was also caused by villagers who grazed their cattle and sheep in the sanctuary areas.
The Hirpora sanctuary is spread over 341 square kilometers in south Kashmir’s Shopian district. It is home to dozens of endangered animals like the Markhor, Himalayan Brown Bear, Himalayan Black Bear, Musk Deer, Leopard, Tibetan Wolf, and Himalayan Palm Civet. Some 130 species of birds, including the Spotted Forktail, Western Tragopan, Rufous-Breasted Accentor, White-Capped Redstart, Grey Waigtail, and several others are found in the sanctuary.
The Hirpora sanctuary is also considered the home of several life-saving herbs including the Jogi-Badshah, considered the crown jewel of medicinal herbs.
The Wildlife Warden of Shopian and Pulwama Division said that the department is working hard to stop violations in the wildlife sanctuary. “Recently, several animals were spotted by our team, which is a positive sign, but we can’t say that there is a rise in number of these animals before a proper census,” she said.
The Hirpora sanctuary is also a major, rather the lone source of water, for the twin districts of Shopian and Pulwama.