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Markhor: The world’s largest mountain goat struggling to survive in Kashmir

Markhor: The world’s largest mountain goat struggling to survive in Kashmir

by Syeda Rafiyah

Markhor, the world’s largest mountain goat, is found at two sites in Jammu and Kashmir after the Wildlife Trust of India, a conservation organization, started a survey in 2005 identifying the existence of Markhore habitats in J&K.

It found that the presence of Markhor is restricted to only two areas in Jammu and Kashmir that include Kajinag National Park in Baramulla, near line of control (LOC) and Hirpora Wildlife Sanctuary in Shopian in northern slopes of the Pir Panjal mountain range.

These areas lie on the Pir Panjal side of the valley and the species’ population found here is called the pir panjal species of the Markhor (Capra falconeri cashmiriensis). In Kashmir, wildlife experts say the habitat loss, overhunting for meat and trophies and competition from livestock are the main causes of bringing the species at the brink of getting endangered.
Dr Tanushree Vastava, Manager and Project Head Western Himalaya Mountain Ungulates Projects, Jammu and Kashmir said they are working with the community to study the biological part of the Markhor.

“In biology part, we have done a census over the past 15 years. We have identified critical habitats in the Protected Areas (PAs). We have also identified suitable habitats across Kashmir. We are working with the communities and trying to converge them from the traditional practices,” she said.

As per the last census conducted in 2021, she said the number of Markhor in Kashmir valley was 187 in both of the two protected areas Kajinag NP and Hirpora WLS.

“We have done a recent survey this year also and the results are yet to come. Based on that we will plan the future action accordingly,” Dr Tanushree said.
She said that they have identified critical Markhor habitats where they can ask the Wildlife Department to give special importance and protection in critical times of the year to the Markhor.

Dr Tanushree said most of the Markhor are concentrated in the two critical areas. However, they will try to explore suitable habitats outside the PAs in Rajouri and Boniyar areas.

“So that in the later stages we might propose some non-protected areas to be converted into protected areas which is what we are trying to do in terms of the biological part,” she said.

“We are also working in the community that takes care of such habitats and trying to divert them from the traditional herding practices. We are also trying to reduce their dependence on these forests where Markhor is found,” she said.

Dr Tanushree also said that there are Markhors outside the protected areas also and that number is being figured out in the future.
She said the Kajinag NP has maintained the wild goat numbers, however, at Hirpora WLS, the number of Markhor has gone down.

“The Mughal road passes through the Hirpora Sanctuary and power lines have been built. There is migration of livestock herds in summer and that has created a lot of disturbances in Hirpora and there are other issues also which have to be taken care of,” she said.

“In future we will focus on Hirpora to find out what are the possibilities and why the numbers are declining while there are rare sightings,” Dr Tanushree said.

Markhor is officially protected under the Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Protection Act. But it remains highly threatened due to overgrazing by domestic animals etc.

Wildlife Warden North, Mohammad Maqbool said the department has been working on the protection and preservation of the Markhor and many steps have been taken in this regard
“We have been able to stop the poaching of the wild animal which was one of the drawbacks associated with Markhor. The conflict between man and wild has been stopped. We are also working for its conservation as we are generating awareness among people. Now people are coming forward to protect them,” he said.

In addition to this, the Wild Life Department has banned grazing in the pastures at three places that include Lachipora, Babil, Kajinag where the animal is mostly seen.
While talking about Hirpora Wildlife Sanctuary, Wildlife Warden Shopian, Intesar Suhail said when the Mughal road was constructed a Markhor recovery project was started to save their habitat.
“Markhor recovery project started in 2009.

After lands were diverted from the Hirpora sanctuary for the Mughal road, the department received compensatory funds which were utilised in the recovery program,” he said. Suhail said historically, Hirpora has seen less Markhor as compared to Kajinag National Park.
“In Hirpora there are some 40 to 60 Markhors. It is difficult for the animal to survive. The population of Markhor is stable in Kashmir,” he said. Apart from Markhor, other animals like brown bear and musk deer are also conserved in the Hirpora sanctuary.
Markhor, a large wild goat of the family of Bovidae, is found throughout the mountains from Turkistan to Afghanistan but now greatly reduced in population and range.

Sameer Khazir, Assistant Manager with Wildlife Trust of India’s Kashmir Markhor Recovery Project said the WTI with the support of the Dept. of Wildlife Protection (J&K) and Serenity Trust is in the process of exploring and converging the various existing development programs of the Govt. of India with a direct conservation development linkage for effective biodiversity conservation in the PAs.

“It is done with the migratory herders as well as the local sedentary communities that are dependent on the resources of Markhor habitats being the primary stakeholders of such convergence. Making them partners in the conservation of Markhor is the key aim of this component of the project,” he said.

He said the positive changes can only be achieved through changing their perception towards Markhor and wildlife conservation while reducing their dependence on forest resources to enhance conservation prospects of Markhor.

“Facilitating better communication and cooperation between various government departments can help not just better safeguard conservation interests, but can actually assist in generating more resources for community-based conservation. For this WTI has been strategically partnering with the government to improve the sustainability of community-based efforts,” Sameer said.

The project team conducted the social surveys and assessed the dependence of the local as well as the migratory herder communities on the natural resources of the Kazinag NP and Hirpora WLS and also catalyzed and channeled the existing Govt. schemes/programs through schematic convergences.

He said the poor socio-economic condition of the people living in the buffer zone and inadequate alternative livelihood opportunities are the primary reasons for the poaching of Markhor and other wildlife species in these PAs.
“Our field experience suggests incentivizing local people for conservation provides positive results. In the absence of reliable and substantial economic alternatives, even the most concentrated enforcement operations will struggle to keep wildlife crime under control,” he said.

“The long-term survival of wildlife populations and the success of the interventions to break the web of poaching depends largely on how we engage with the local communities who live alongside them,” Sameer said.
“These groups have proved to be instrumental in monitoring and protecting Markhor through the rugged terrains and hangul around the corridors. Formation and institutionalization of different community-based organizations in the park have proved to be the stepping stones towards empowering and involving people in conservation,” he said.

Markhor, the largest wild mountain goat in the world, was in the near-threatened category on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list when the most recent assessment for the species was made in 2014.

The mountain goat’s habitat ranges over the north-western parts of the Hindu Kush Himalayas, in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Rising Kashmir 

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