Hangul, commonly known as Kashmir Stag is a subspecies of the elk. It is a critically endangered animal found in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir. It had a population of around 5000 in the mid-1900s but the population has decreased at a drastic rate due to overgrazing by domestic animals, poaching, habitat destruction. According to the IUCN, there were only 240(approx.) Hangul left in 2019.
The Hangul has a brown reindeer type of look and has a small tail, it has a beige color on the below and inner legs at the rear end of the animal. It also has a horn tilted slightly inward with 4-6 tines.
Distribution and Living:-
The Kashmir Stag is currently it is being protected in the Dachigam National Park, Rajparian Wildlife Sanctuary, Sind Valley, Forest covered areas of Kishtwar and Bhaderwah, and neighboring areas of Aru. This animal lives in herds of 15 - 18 Hanguls in dense forests, hills, and mountains. The hangul is restricted to a very small habitat at present. The best sighting can be done in the Dachigam National Park which is in the Indian Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The society of Kashmir stag is matriarchal. The main predators of the hangul are the snow leopard, the Indian leopard, the Indian wild dog(dhole), and the Himalayan Black Bear.
Since the mid- 1900's the population is on a steady decreasing leading on to a count of 150- 200 by the late 1970s, the cause behind the decrease was the overgrazing by domestic animals, poaching, habitat destruction, pollution, friendly fire. A research conducted found an extremely low population of the animals and also loss of breeding areas, higher areas of Dachigam. These areas are mostly occupied by wild dogs or Shepards.
The Hangul conserved in Dachigam national park of an area of 140km² at the foothills of the Himalayas near the city of Srinagar, India. Being protected for about 50 years with a population increase from 150 to 240 in the last few years. The IUCN, WWF India, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change have played a key role in helping save the animal from extinction. Currently, the animal has also found a migratory route through the Sind valley and is no longer confined to the walls of the national park. The Hangul is given the least concern status by the Encyclopedia of Life as its population is increasing.
The Project Hangul had started in 1970 by the Kashmir government with the help of WWF. Many factors are responsible for the failure of this project. No local people were participating in the project. It was carried without the involvement of local communities such as Gujjars, Bakarwals, Nambardars, Chowkidars, and Patwaris. The project was confined focus around Dagwan, in a radius of 10 km crying foul of Sheep breeding Farm.
The government departments allowed the establishing of Cement factories around Dachigam National Park. They disturbed the wild areas. There was illegal and reckless unscientific extraction of limestone stretching over miles after miles was carried under its nose. Those areas created death traps for animals.
The onset of militancy dealt a blow to conservation efforts. Often terrorist attacks from the POK has threatened the city and well being of the living animals.
Later the project was rechristened as “Save Kashmir’s Red Deer Hangul” in 2009. Another attempt to save the Hangul was to breed it in captivity. Funds were sanctioned for captive breeding. Under the Species Recovery Programme, conservation breeding centers are opened at Sikargah, Tral, Pulwama District, and Kangan. But they're not much progress on increasing the numbers.
Project Hangul should be put into action again. Even though the population is increasing, there should be more protection provided to the hangul as the trend might reverse anytime. The best and the most important way to save the Hangul from extinction is by enlarging the present Dachigam National Park and also by relocating it. Experts should be hired for deciding the relocation sites.