What is Project Hangul?
Hangul or Kashmir Stag is the only surviving subspecies of Elk (Cervus Canadensis) which is native to Kashmir. At the beginning of the 20th century, it existed in thousands and lived in groups of 2 to 18 in dense riverine forests in high valleys and mountains of Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. Over the years, their habitat was destroyed and they are now one of the critically endangered species.
Conservation Status: Critically Endangered (IUCN 3.1)
Hangul is a state animal of Jammu and Kashmir.
Kashmir Stag: Appearance of Hangul
Hangul has a light rump patch on the body while the inner sides of the buttocks are greyish white. Its coat colour is brown with speckling to the hair.
The male species are bestowed with magnificent antlers with 11 to 16 points and long hair on their necks while their female counterparts have none of these features. Kashmir Stag changes their brownish fur with seasons and age.
Hangul: Subspecies of Elk
Hangul was earlier believed to be a subspecies of Red Deer (Cervus elaphus), however, a number of mitochondrial DNA genetic studies that it is a part of the Asian clade of the Elk (Cervus Canadensis). The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) includes it in the Central Asian Red Deer (Cervus hanglu) group.
Kashmir Stag: Critically Endangered Hangul
In the 1940s, Hangul's population was between 3000 and 5000, but overgrazing by domestic livestock and poaching led to its habitat destruction.
As per a former wildlife official Mohammad Qasim Wani, at the time of Independence, there were around 3,000 Hangul in Kulgam and Pahalgam in South Kashmir and Uri, Lolab, Kupwara, Gurez, Teetwal, and other places in western and northern parts of the valley. He further laments that the animal became a victim of poachers' greed and indiscriminate killings for sport have led it to the verge of extinction.
In the early 1970s, the first-ever census of the Hangul was carried by IUCN and there were only 170 Hangul at that time, sounding alarm bells. Soon after the census, various initiatives were carried out by the State Government of Jammu and Kashmir to save the animal from extinction. As per 2019 census, there are only 237 Hanguls (sex ratio of 15.5 males per 100 females and 15.5 fawns per 100 females).
Projects for the conservation of Hangul
In the 1970s, the Government of Jammu and Kashmir along with the support of IUCN and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) prepared a project for the protection of the habitat of Hangul or the Kashmir stag.
The project for the conservation and protection of Kashmir Stag came to be known as project Hangul and its population increased to 340 by the year 1980. The Rs. 1.677 crore five-year project included artificial breeding of the highly endangered Stag along with other measures for its protection and conservation.
Hangul Conservation Project
In the year 2010, the Wildlife Conservation Fund was established with the aim of protecting wildlife and wilderness in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir, starting with the conservation of Hangul. It was to be achieved via community support, awareness and management of wildlife. It also aimed at changing attitude towards nature and promote harmony between humans and animals.
Hangul Conservation Project was launched by Wildlife Conservation Fund. WCF aims at resolving issues related to various species of Hangul in Kashmir, particularly in the Dachigam National Park.
It is to be noted that the project was failed to achieve the desired objectives as locals did not participate in the project. Also, the project was confined around Dagwan, in a radius of 10 kms. Further, the establishment of cement factories was allowed by the government departments around the Dachigam National Park, disturbing wildlife.