In Central Kashmir, Rodent Porcupine Is Devastating Orchards

by Zakia Qurashi

SRINAGAR: The surge in porcupine population in the karewas belts of Budgam and Pulwama and the adjoining areas has created a state of panic among farmers. These large rodents with spines or quills peel off the bark from the trunks of the trees and leave them exposed. Farmers have complained that these creatures are damaging the apple orchards. Even at some places, they have also damaged some almond trees and saffron fields.

Food shortage and the increased population of porcupines have led rodent species to start eating apple and almond orchards. This photograph of an almond orchard in Pulwama explains the costs. The trend that was always at a very small scale witnessed an upsurge in the last two winters. Pic: Social Media

Qayoom Ahmad Dar, an orchardist from Zaloosa area of Budgam lamented the damage caused to the trees. He owns 28 kanals of orchard land. “Last year they also damaged the crop but this year the damage is immense. There has been an increase in the population of these rodents,” he said. “Due to snow, we have been unable to keep a proper check on these rodents.”

Another farmer, Ali Mohammad, resident of Chrar i Sharief Budgam, said that it used to destroy only almond trees but now it attacks apple trees and other crops as well.

“The majority of the land is under saffron cultivation but this rodent has destroyed everything by digging holes and eating corms. They even uproot the vegetables from the soil.”

Dr Aaqib Hussain, a wildlife researcher said that these rodents are often seen in winters. “Due to the scarcity of food during winters, they are forced to venture out of their home range in search of food. That is why people are sighting them more.”

Hussain said that they are barely visible in summers and are mainly active in the Awantipora, Budgam and Pulwama belts. “Its favourite food is almond. It eats the bark of the tree. In the Quil area, these rodents have caused extensive damage.”

Porcupines, open-source details suggest are large rodents with coats of sharp spines or guard hairs that protect them against predation. With more than 25 years of average age, these rodents are the major survivors in the wild food chain. In Jammu and Kashmir, like most of South Asia, they do not have use for human life.

What is interesting is that these porcupines love eating the hugely nutritious inner tree bark and for that, they remove the bark thus weakening the plant that takes not less than a decade to come to fruition.

Many farmers that Kashmir Life spoke to expressed disappointment against the Horticulture Department for “not providing any assistance”. But, Director Horticulture, Aijaz Bhat said that they are in continuous touch with the farmers and are creating awareness about these attacks. “We have already advised farmers to cover the trunks of trees with jute bags or use pepper spray or paint to protect their trees from these porcupines. We’ll create more awareness about it and provide them all the practical remedial measures to combat this,” Bhat said.

Chief Horticulture Officer Pulwama, Mukesh Kumar said that last year they received various complaints of porcupine attacks. He said that they had made an assessment of the damage done last year but are yet to do it this year. “We visited the areas and made a list of farmers whose orchards were damaged. We also organized camps in the karewas belt of Pulwama to create awareness.”

Karewas are high tablelands and mostly located in Budgam and parts of Pulwama. Usually almonds and saffron used to be grown in these vast swathes of lands.

Kumar said that they generally advise people to cover the trees with jute and gunny bags or mesh so that the porcupines cannot attack them.

“Also, there are some rodent repellents that can be used to avoid the attacks. We have also taken up the matter with the Wildlife Department to intervene in this regard,” Kumar said. “It is illegal under Wildlife Act to kill these animals. They have installed some cages to capture these animals as well. But they have to ultimately release them in the wild. Their management is a bit difficult.”

The officer said, since there was a lot of snowfall last year, porcupines ran out of food. So, they caused greater damage to the trees. “In the Karewa belts that are bordering Budgam district, the incidents of these rodents causing damage has been a wee bit low.”

Meanwhile, Regional Wildlife Warden, Raashid Naqash said that it does not fall in their mandate. “When somebody approaches us, we tell them only do’s and don’ts.”

The porcupine attacks on the orchards has been at a very low scale for years but in the last few years, the incidents and costs have alarmingly gone up.

 

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