Fading Glory

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With its reddish-brown coat and spiraled curved horns, the Markhor is quite unforgettable. But as Javaid Naikoo reports, the animal might be out of sight much sooner than experts fear.

The majestic, large wild Himalayan goat called the Markhor (Capra falconeri) is found in parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Central Asia and Kashmir. But today, the animal is classified as endangered, with fewer than 2500 left across the world. In Kashmir, the Markhor has become the victim of poachers, disturbed by changes in its habitation and disregard from concerned agencies. Today, the total number of Markhors in Kashmir is a meager 350.

According to the researchers and ecologists, the world’s largest goat in size and weight, the Kashmiri Markhor is facing several threats to its existence in Pir Panjaal Mountains of Kashmir.

Habitat Destruction

According to wildlife officials, cutting down forests is shrinking the roaming space of wild animals like Markhor. “As long as this wild goat is restricted to small fragmented patches and its living space is threatened in jungles, there are minimal chances of its survival in the area,” says Intesar Suhail, wildlife warden.

He added that the livestock population fragmentation is another threat related to their existence in the Pir Panjaal.

Ecologists believe sharing grazing fields during the summers with flocks of sheep, goat, buffalo and horses of Gujars and Bakerwals in the upper reaches of Pir Panjaal over the years has turned out to be a major threat to the habitat of Pir Panjaal Markhor.

According to ecologist Dr Ifshan Dewaan, in addition to their habitat protection, proper medical care like appropriate vaccinations, sufficient and trained staff to look after this wild goat has become need of the hour.

Though no data regarding the poaching of the wild goat is available with the authorities, wildlife officials term poaching as one of the major threats to the survival of Markhor in Kashmir.

Underdeveloped sanctuaries

Independent studies on Markhor in Kashmir reveal that the sanctuaries proposed for the preserving Markhor are not up to the mark as these lack adequate natural environment to develop the Markhor population.

Considering the present situation of the wildlife sanctuaries of Kashmir as inadequate, chairman of the NGO Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) for Kashmir region, Suhail Ahmad, says that Pir Panjaal Markhor require proper infrastructure in the sanctuaries and implementation of laws meant for preservation of wild animals like Kashmiri Markhor.

Sharing details of work carried out by WTI in Kashmir, Riyaz Ahmad says for the first time, WTI has succeeded in finding population of Markhor in Poonch-Rajouri areas of Kashmir also in 2011.

Quoting the example of a female Markhor’s quest for finding a quiet place for giving birth to her babies, he said that with the construction of Mughal Road, bypassing Hirpura-Shopian wildlife sanctuary, this area is no longer a favorable place for Markhor population.

The notified sanctuaries of Markhor in the state include Tatakuti wildlife sanctuary in Shopian, Lachipora wildlife sanctuary in Baramullah, Kazinag national park and a recently proposed Poonch-Rajouri wildlife sanctuary.

However, according to ecologists and researchers, the current status of wildlife sanctuaries across Kashmir does not stand up to the mark with the fundamentals mentioned in the Wildlife Protection Act of India of 1972.

The act prohibits hunting of wild animals, guarantees a naturally blessed area for wild animals, besides providing for ensuring keeping a record of yearly progress of wildlife and securing species. However, these and similar other guidelines are completely violated in Kashmir, say experts.

In 2007, the state government took an initiative to protect different wildlife species under the “species recovery program” with a fund of Rs 17 crore. In addition to other rescue measures, the programme includes habitat improvement for wild animals like Markhor, plantation in specific areas to provide a natural jungle like environment to wild animals, soil conservation measures and periodic surveys to notice the dangers and improvements among wildlife species.

However, until now officials have never launched any medical camp to give the Markhors any sort of vaccination or other related medical treatments in Kashmir.

Wildlife experts maintain that Kashmiri Markhor prefer to eat shrubs, conifer leaves and other foods found in the jungles during the summer in more quantity to gain fat in order to compensate for the harsh winters when there is dearth of food in these areas.

However, they consider that wildlife sanctuaries like Hirpora-Shopian looted by jungle smugglers over the years cannot be considered a natural habitat for developing Markhor population in Kashmir.

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