Srinagar: In an image that the photographers describe as a “dream”, the endangered and rarely-sighted Himalayan Serow, a goat-antelope, has been captured for the first time on camera in a Kashmir forest. Two friends, both locals, came across the impressive creature during a random trek in the Zaberwan mountains this Monday.
Himalayan Serow (Capricornis Thar) is native to the eastern Himalayas and eastern and southeastern Bangladesh. It is also distributed through Nepal, northern India including Sikkim, Tibet, and western Myanmar.
The Himalayan Serow is usually found in two forms – red and dark. The dark form is found in the southern slopes of Himalayas from Jammu & Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan. The enigmatic red form is found in the hills of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Nagaland.
An inhabitant of thickly-forested gorges, broad-leaved valleys, and sub-alpine shrub lands with dense cover and boulder-strewn hills at an altitude of 3,000 meters, it has an appearance of a goat with long, donkey like ears. It has little horns and a habit of standing with forelegs stretched on each side.
The Himalayan Serow’s most prominent feature is its three-colour coat: black-red-white – overall blackish above, turning to rusty red on flanks, hindquarters, and upper legs, and whitish on lower legs.
In Jammu and Kashmir the goat is very rarely sighted, that too only in the protected areas of Dachigam National Park and Overa-Aru Wildlife Sanctuary. Locally known as Halj or Ream, it has been never photographed before in the wild in Kashmir. Most of the photographs available are either from Bhutan or Uttarakhand or from wildlife captivities.
Now, for the first time in the valley, the goat has been photographed – in Srinagar’s Brein-Nishat Wildlife Conservation Reserve – on Monday by two local friends, Sheikh Riyaz and Mudassir Manzoor, while they were on a hike in Zaberwan mountain range.
On Monday morning the duo went for their hike and around afternoon, after having lunch, decided to cross a ridge before returning back. When they were on the ridge, they noticed some falling rocks.
“I saw something moving in the grassland. I took out my binoculars and saw this beautiful but shy goat there, eating grass. It came out on a cliff in the open. I shouted at my friend to confirm its identification,” said a visibly exited Riyaz, a wildlife enthusiast and photographer.
“After he confirmed, we went close and took its photographs. Within no time it disappeared in the grass again. It was like it came out for us, then went back. It was like a dream,” Riyaz said with a smile.
He said that he has seen various rare wild animals including Hangul but has been looking for the Serow for the past ten years, ever since he came to know about it.
The non-availability of any scientific data or other study or research in the department of wildlife about this goat makes it “mysterious” in Kashmir, and with the Hangul, the Kashmiri Red Deer, occupying centre stage in conservation policy, the Serow has remained “elusive” and “unknown” to people of the state.
Mudassir Manzoor, a passionate wildlife photographer, has been travelling the mountains and forests of Jammu and Kashmir for twelve years and it was he who identified the Serow.
“I had photographed almost every wild species in all three divisions of the state, including the 14-pointer Hangul, but this goat has given me the toughest time. I have toiled very hard in Dachigam National Park and Overa Wildlife Sanctuary to sight and click it but I had never thought I would find it in my backyard mountain range,” an elated Mudassir said.
“It was a lucky day for us as we also sighted birds of prey like Northern Goshawk, Himalayan Buzzard, Oriental Honey Buzzard and Common Kestrel. It is a huge achievement for both of us to sight the Serow and, more importantly, to photograph it,” he said proudly.
The goat is listed as ‘Near Threatened’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. The population is considered to be declining due to habitat loss and hunting for meat. It is also listed in Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species Appendix 1, which includes species that are threatened with extinction and/ or may be affected by trade.
In Jammu Kashmir Wildlife Protection Act, the goat comes in Schedule 1, which includes the flagship mammals Hangul, Kashmir Markhor and Snow Leopard, all threatened species.
According to Dr Zaffar Rayees Mir, Wildlife Biologist and National Post Doctoral Fellow in the Division of Wildlife Science, Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST), the photograph is the “first one” to be taken manually during daytime.
“The goat was once captured incidentally in a camera trap set for Black Bear by researchers of Wildlife Institute of India at Dachigam National Park. Up to that year there was no scientific evidence of the goats’ presence in the valley,” Mir said.
“Although there were local anecdotes about its sighting but there was no scientific proof. The goat is very shy and elusive which makes its sighting almost impossible. So, yes, this picture is the first photographic evidence of this goat,” he said.
“Due to lack of data, there is no conservation plan to safeguard this rare and threatened wild goat,” he added.
Intesar Suhail, Wildlife Warden South Kashmir, and a wildlife photographer himself, told Kashmir Reader that he has seen the photograph and it is of the Himalayan Serow.
“Yes, the photograph is of the Himalayan Serow. It is a rare achievement to capture the goat in the wild. As it inhabits dense forest areas, it is very rare to sight and photograph it,” Suhail said.
“Apart from the one automatic photo from the camera trap, it came to my notice that some foreigner had clicked it somewhere, but we have not seen the photo and cannot confirm that. So, this makes it the first photograph,” he said. “It is a big achievement particularly when it is done by local boys.”