Raising Sheep In A Protected Area
Shifting the state-owned sheep-breeding farm out of Kashmir’s Dachigam National Park is a critical priority, if the last-remaining population of the endangered hangul deer is to be protected.
Photo: Tahir Shawl.
In the alpine meadows and tranquil glades of the Dachigam National Park, survives the very last population of the critically endangered state animal of Jammu and Kashmir, the hangul or Kashmir stag. Numbering fewer than 200 individuals, this subspecies of red deer faces extreme pressure from anthropogenic activities such as overgrazing in upper Dachigam during summer, the presence of cement factories, stone quarries and mining near the southern flank of the park in Khrew and Khonmoh areas, and a state-owned sheep breeding farm operated by the Sheep Husbandry Department that lies within the confines of the park.
The sheep-breeding farm occupies almost 100 hectares of prime hangul habitat in lower Dachigam. The hundreds of sheep that are herded from Upper to Lower Dachigam and back, depending on the season, outcompete the hangul for grazing rights. The livestock effectively dominate the pastures of the national park that rightfully belong to wild species. With limited access to food, it’s little surprise that the hangul population has stagnated or declined over the past few years even though the Protected Area measures over 141 sq. km. in size.
This issue has been a bone of contention between the Wildlife Protection and Sheep Husbandry Departments for decades, and in 2005 the State Cabinet ordered the relocation of the farm to a more suitable site. However, 12 years after the order was passed, the sheep farm remains inside Dachigam despite repeated notices and reminders to clear the site. The Sheep Husbandry Department has been blatant in its disregard of state directives, even those that have come directly from the Chief Minister of the State during the state Wildlife Board meetings held from time to time. In September 2012, the then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had ordered the removal of the farm at a State Wildlife Board meeting, which was reiterated in a recent meeting chaired by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. The Minister of Forests Choudhary Lal Singh, the Chief Wildlife Warden J&K Suresh Chugh and several board members expressed concern that the hangul would become extinct if necessary measures to shift the sheep farm and reduce the pressure on the park were not taken immediately.
In 2016, the State Department of Wildlife Protection redoubled its efforts to evict the sheep farm, but once again met with stiff resistance. The situation came to a boiling point in November 2016, when employees of the Wildlife and Sheep Husbandry Departments came to blows as the former began the process of evicting the farm.“ We have repeatedly issued notices to the sheep breeding farm officials to evict the place but they have been beating around the bush,” Tahir Shawl, Wildlife Warden, Central Division, Srinagar (Dachigam), told the Kashmir Observer. “We’re acting in accordance with the Cabinet Order No. 53/3 Dated 18/04/2005 endorsed vide eviction order under Section 53 (A) of J&K Wildlife Protection Act 1978 issued by Regional Wildlife Warden Kashmir Rashid Naqash, Dated 25/11/2016. Sources close to Sanctuary claim that a few politically-powerful individuals in the Sheep Husbandry Department and sheep breeding farm, Dachigam, have vested interest in the farm and are thus stalling the process of its eviction.
The Kashmir stag has been tethering on the brink of extinction for decades, and it’s vital that its habitat be secured and protected for its long-term survival. The absurdity of a sheep farm within a notified Protected Area, that too a national park, is widely-recognised and needs immediate redressal. Sanctuary readers, officials of the Wildlife Protection Department and Dachigam National Park are fighting tooth and nail for the hangul. They need our support to ensure that the sheep farm is once and for all moved out of this wild paradise on Earth.
Please write a polite letter to the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir requesting that the sheep farm is moved out of Dachigam National Park immediately, and that hangul conservation be prioritised over sheep breeding in the national park.
Send your letters to:Ms. Mehbooba Mufti,
Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir,
Jammu – 180001,
Jammu and Kashmir.
Or email her at:
With a copy to:
First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVII No. 2, February 2017.