With snow draping the upper reaches of the valley white, hilly creatures have started moving toward lower reaches. In Dachigam National Park, the lower terrain is dotted with otherwise spotless fauna. Bilal Bahadur lenses ‘inside out’ the protected area.
Dachigam National Park is located 22 km from the summer capital Srinagar. It covers an area of 141 sq km. The name of the park literally stands for “ten villages” which could be in memory of the ten villages that were relocated for its formation.
The park has been a protected area since 1910, first under the care of the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir and later under the observation of the concerned government authorities. It was initially created to ensure clean drinking water supply for the city of Srinagar. It was finally upgraded and declared a National Park in the year 1981.
Himalayan Grey Langur is one of the creatures inside Dachigam.
Gray langurs sleep during the night in trees but also on man-made structures like towers and electric poles when in human settlements. When resting in trees, they generally prefer the highest branches.
Apart from Langur, Dachigam houses Musk deer, Leopard, Himalayan Serow, Leopard Cat, Himalayan Black Bear, Himalayan Brown Bear, Jackal, Hill Fox, Himalayan Weasel, Yellow-throated Marten, Jungle Cat and Long-tailed Marmot.
Winters can be dead chilly here. The temperature touches as low as 2 degree centigrade. Dachigam remains closed during the months between January and April.
The Kashmir stag, also called hangul has a light rump patch without including the tail. Its coat color is brown with a speckling to the hairs. The inner sides of the buttocks are grayish white, followed by a line on the inner sides of the thighs and black on the upper side of the tail. Each antler consists of five tines. The beam is strongly curved inward, while the brow and bez tines are usually close together and above the burr.
Many precautions have been taken to protect the flora and fauna in Dachigam National Park. The Wildlife Institute of India and Jammu & Kashmir Wildlife Protection Department have a proposal about GPS tracking system to be implemented on Hangul for its protection.
Kashmir Stag is listed as critically endangered by IUCN as population is counted 160 mature individuals in the 2008 census. Hangul’s population touched at 175 in March 2009 and 218 in March 2011.
Nazir Malik, Nature Guide in Dachigam says Hangul population has risen by 9% since last census. “After every two years, a census is done on [Hangul] population. We have already done 2013 census but findings are still awaited.”
Hangul lives in groups of two to 18 individuals in dense riverine forests, high valleys, and mountains of the Kashmir valley and northern Chamba in Himachal Pradesh.
Himalayan Black Bear are visible in the lower reaches from spring to autumn and hibernate in winter.
Hangul once numbered from about 5,000 animals in the beginning of the 20th century. Unfortunately, they were threatened, due to habitat destruction, over-grazing by domestic livestock, and poaching. This dwindled to as low as 150 animals by 1970. However, the state of Jammu & Kashmir, along with the IUCN and the WWF prepared a project for the protection of these animals. It became known as Project Hangul. This brought great results and the population increased to over 340 by 1980.