Aaliya Mir and Jordan Carlton Schaul of Wildlife SOS report on some critically endangered cervid research conducted by their colleagues in Northwest India.
We are excited to report that students from several professional colleges were recently able to gain valuable experience while assisting Wildlife SOS wildlife biologists with a red deer census study in Dachigam National Park (Kashmir, India). The hangul (Cervus elaphus hanglu), which is also known as kashmiri red deer or Kashmir stag are a critically endangered subspecies of red deer endemic to Northwest India. Red deer have been introduced outside of Asia just as their very close relative—the North American wapiti or elk—has been introduced outside of the USA and Canada.
With only 218 individuals of this subspecies of red deer left in the wild according to one 2011 survey, the Kashmir stag is literally on the brink of extinction. The subspecies is only found in the Jammu and Kashmir (Northwest, India) where it is glorified as the state animal.
Unfortunately, the subspecies has seen a drastic decline in the last 60 years. The population has been reduced to 10% of its estimated population size from six decades ago. A Mid-20th Century red deer census study reported around 2000 mature individuals and now due to shrinking habitat just over 200 deer comprise the extant population. The subspecies is now only found Dachigam National Park, which is often referred to as the abode of hangul.
The degradation and loss of habitat from overgrazing and pollution in the periphery of the National Park, along with biotic interferences, are among the main causes for the decreasing population size of this large Asian cervid. The incremental loss suffered by this subspecies of red deer over the years, gives us a clue that it continues to persist, albeit barely as it faces constant environmental stressors.
Student volunteers were given a chance to indirectly participate in the hangul census—a scientific exercise intended to determine the number of adult deer, subadults and juveniles in this dwindling population. In addition, the volunteers aided the investigators in a study of red deer habitat, geographic range, migration patterns and other critical aspects regarding the ecology of this subspecies. The volunteers were offered an opportunity to practice census work through an orientation program, which included an introduction to the subspecies and sympatric (coexisting) wildlife, along with the use of GPS and other equipment.
Wildlife SOS staff accompanied the volunteers on a nature walk inside the National Park and instructed them on them on various aspects of management of the national park and, of course, brought them in closer contact to India’s wilderness. In addition, a separate interactive program was organized with the volunteers at National Institute of Technology (Srinagar) where deliberations were held on the use of modern technology as it is used to conserve and manage wildlife.