GREEN GOLD IN DANGER: PART-VIII: Deforestation causes decline in wildlife population

By Ajmer Alam Wani
JAMMU, SEP 18: The wildlife population throughout the Jammu and Kashmir state is rapidly declining because of extensive areas of deforestation resulting in the loss of natural habitat for wildlife. In view of armed conflict between the militants and security forces for the several years widespread use of high velocity rifles in villages and forests surrounding the Himalayan Valley, have further added to the total loss of specie lives lost in an already precarious situation. Studies revealed that over 300 species of birds which included Pheasants, Quills, Partridges, Vultures, Kites, Eagles and a large number of colorful birds, all of which use to reside in the lush forests of state have virtually disappeared. Today those forests stand naked and void of any visible sign of bird life. Along with loss of forest, Kashmir has also lost a number of wildlife sanctuaries. A rich variety of birds, Ducks, Geese Cranes, Terns and water-fowls however still nest in the wetlands, lakes and streams in Kashmir. The Jammu and Kashmir state has many problems with its environments stability but two of the most pressing issues are species survival and ecological imbalance.
SPECIES PRESERVATION: Kashmir once known as ‘Paradise on earth,’ home to vast wildlife reserves including some species so rare they existed only in Kashmir, are now quickly falling victim to the desolation which has encompassed much of this piece of land. Rare species like the Snow Leopard frequently hunted for its precious skin and teeth has now almost become extinct. Similarly, the world famous Kashmiri Otter are now rarely seen in the Valley. The killing of rare species like the Ibex, Blue Sheep, Urian, the big horned sheep, Antelope and Snow Leopard has been in practice since 1947. At first, the animals were killed for food needs but when it was realized how valuable the animal furs and skins were, in the international markets, slaughter the Kashmiri animals with much greater zeal was started. The consequence has been that some of the rare species like the Snow Leopard, Flying Squirrel and Long Tailed Himalayan Marmot have been pushed to being on the verge of extinction. Kashimiri stag or Hangul is now only spotted in the northern regions of Kashmir Valley and its overall population according to a survey had been reduced to less than 300. According to state Wildlife Department no Hangul's have been sighted between 1991-1994 in their usual habitat, "the winter zone." Barking Deer, Cheetal, Nilgai, Musk Deer, Himalayan Black Bear, Shapu, Ibex, Blue Sheep, Marmot and Lynz may soon become extinct if their unrestricted slaughter is not checked. At this time there is no effective legislation in force to prevent environmental and ecological damage which is being inflicted upon the natural resources of this beautiful Himalayan country by the presence of military forces and constant fighting.
ECOLOGICAL IMBALANCE: Kashmir's ecological balance has been severely disturbed as a result of unabated environmental destruction over a period of nearly five decades. Permanent snowfall on mountains has receded, average temperatures in the state have risen and the amount of rain and snowfall has significantly diminished. The combined effect of deforestation and mismanagement of water resources has resulted in soil erosion which is responsible for frequent flash floods now seen in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Major lakes and rivers in Kashmir harbor serious diseases due to lack of maintenance, neglect and pollution. Dal Lake, one of the world’s largest natural lakes housing hundreds of floating house boats and home for vast reserves of aquatic life is rapidly shrinking in size. Compared to 15 years ago, the changes which have taken place in the Dal Lake are shocking and drastic in proportion. According to a study done recently by a group of experts, a new vegetation in the form of a mysterious red weed seen on the periphery of the lake is an indicator of serious degree of pollution. Also a non-existent sewage and drainage system is just one of the examples of poor rule/Govt in state. As a result, raw sewage can be seen in the city centers of the Kashmir Valley. There is only one main road the National Highway linking Delhi with Kashmir, which has remained in an urgent state of repair. Most of the valley is inter-linked with tiny poorly constructed mud roads, superficially covered with tarmac in need of constant repairs. Sringar, the capital of Kashmir although surrounded by lakes, streams, rivers and mountains even lacks a clean drinking water supply for its domestic use! An appallingly high infant mortality of 1 in 5 due to common infections diseases like gastroenteritis and other water born infections are directly related to unclean water supplies throughout the Valley. Forty percent of all illness are related to polluted water supplies, resulting into frequent outbreaks of ineffective hepatitis, gastroenteritis, poliomyelitis, typhoid and cholera.

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