By Sheikh Qayoom
Srinagar, Feb 12 (IANS) As humankind continues to breach nature’s borders to encroach into the habitat of wildlife species, more and more incidents of man-animal conflict are occurring across the Kashmir Valley.
Just two days back, a leopard and a mother bear with cubs were rescued in time by the officials of the wildlife protection department from a heavily populated area of south Kashmir.
“After rescue, these animals were set free in the forest area so that they return to their natural territory”, said an official of the wildlife protection department.
Ironically, instead of helping the rescue effort, dozens of locals were seen clicking mobile phone pictures of these wild animals as they remained dazed after being surrounded by so many people.
Environmentalists say the problem is much bigger and of greater consequence than it appears to the common man.
“Fast growing human population has pushed the boundaries of the wild animals far deeper into the forests and other habitats of these species.
“Look at any forest area of the Valley and you will find that humans have done serious encroachments there. Felling forests for timber and fuel, or claiming forest land for cultivation is a common phenomenon in J&K.
“This forces the wildlife species to move down into populated areas for food and sometimes in sheer bewilderment and fear”, said a local environmentalist.
Another important reason for man-animal conflict is the increasing numbers of wildlife species because poaching and unauthorized killing of animals for fur etc has almost stopped due to the presence of the security forces in forest areas.
“Poachers hardly dare to venture into the forests. Security forces deployed on counter insurgency duties dominate forest areas to check infiltration of militants. This has discouraged poaching and hunting in these forests”, said a police officer.
Srinagar city has an entire range of Zabarwan hills those have been declared as protected areas for wildlife species.
Areas overlooking the Raj Bhawan, hotel Lalit, Hari Niwas guest house and even the entire high security Gupkar Road and the Boulevard are protected areas.
There are leopards, bears, jackals, partridges and dozens of other wildlife species in these areas.
In addition to this, Dachigam national park is situated barely 14 Kilometres from city centre Lal Chowk in Srinagar.
Dachigam is home to ‘Hangul’, a sub-species of red deer found only in Kashmir and nowhere else in the World.
As construction of houses etc continues in areas surrounding the Dachigam national park, this has caused stress on various species living inside the park.
A government sheep farm which existed inside the park for decades was re-located two years back to avoid competition between sheep and other grazers among the wildlife species.
“There are pastures those overlap into the Dachigam park and flocks of sheep, goats and cattle are taken up into these pastures by nomadic goatherds during the summer months.
“This is another grey area that needs immediate attention to ensure that the population of Hangul and other species remains unaffected”, said Bashir Ahmad, a veterinarian who headed the sheep farm inside the national park for three years in the past.
Thousands of migratory birds come each year to spend the winter months in bird reserves and other lakes and water bodies of the Valley.
Vast areas of these bird reserves like the Hokarsar, Mirgund, Hygam and Shallabugh have been encroached as houses and other structures including shops and godowns have come up in these areas.
This has shrunk the areas of these bird reserves forcing the migratory birds to inhabit unprotected water bodies where poachers kill these birds.
In a nutshell, the man-animal conflict in Kashmir is the handiwork of human beings whose greed for land and space has obliterated the fine ecological borderline because of which the two had peacefully coexisted for centuries.