When talking about Kashmir, you immediately think of the majestic hills, iconic valleys, lush green meadows, and snow. Snow everywhere. But there are also beautiful lakes to treat your eyes to and colorful gardens to lose yourself in. Truly, nature awaits you in its full glory in Kashmir.
But this glory is incomplete without the vibrant species of animals that roam the hills and valleys of the region. The dense and vibrant fauna is one of the things to which Kashmir owes its unparalleled beauty.
The Kashmir Stag (Cervus hanglu hanglu) is one of the most iconic species of deer in Kashmir. Locally known as Hangul, these elks have been a defining part of the region’s cultural heritage for a long time.
Like all deer, the Kashmir Stags are shy and submissive creatures who love dense forests and mountain slopes. They live across the valleys of Kashmir and the surrounding regions and spend their days browsing for food and water.
If these reserved creatures interest you, there are many things you should learn about them. Hop into the blog to read some interesting facts about Hanguls.
The Hanguls are extremely rare.
In fact, the Kashmir Stag is one of the rarest species in India. According to a 2019 census, only about 237 individuals remain in their natural habitat in Kashmir and the surrounding regions.
However, it was not always like that.
The hanguls existed in several thousand about a century ago. According to several estimates, their population was around 5000 in the first half of the 20th century. Their cultural and geographical significance has given them the status of state animals of Jammu and Kashmir.
Alas! That’s no longer the case with them now. They are a rarity, even in their natural habitat. If you visit Kashmir anytime soon and spot a Kashmir Stag in the valleys, consider yourself extremely lucky!
They are confined to a small region of land.
The Kashmir Stags are extremely rare. But of all the hanguls that exist today, most of them live in a small area of land that spans merely 141 square kilometers.
Most hanguls live in the Dachigam National Park, less than an hour’s drive from Srinagar. The park provides them with mountains, valleys, dense forests, and vegetation.
Kashmir Stags once lived in abundance throughout the valleys of Kashmir and the Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh. They also lived throughout the regions of Kishtwar and Bhaderwah.
Most of the Kashmir Stags today live within the Dachigam National Park. And only a small fraction lives in other regions.
Their furs change shades with the season.
The Kashmir Stags have beautiful bodies with striking features. A narrow muzzle distinguishes their long head. They have a greyish-dark brown coat that is paler and lighter on the sides and inner parts of the thighs. The hair on the coat has speckles and is denser around the neck and upper parts.
Males generally have darker fur than females. An interesting thing about their fur is its tendency to become darker or lighter with the seasons. As winter comes, the fur grows denser, making the hanguls appear darker. Likewise, it becomes brighter again in the summer.
The Kashmir Stags have short tails with dark brown bellies. But the most striking part of their body is their large antlers. In fact, the antlers are the most interesting part of their body. Let’s understand why.
Only the males have antlers.
The antlers play a significant role in the life of a Kashmir Stag. Only the males have antlers, which exist in pairs over the head. Each antler usually has five or more tines. But the two antlers can together have between 11 and 16 points.
These branched, bony structures are much more than a beautiful-looking part of their body and have many uses. They not only act as inbuilt natural weapons to protect them from attacks from rivals. They are a symbol of strength and dominance for the males. Greater the number of points on antlers, the greater the dominance of the possessor.
The stags shed the antlers during the months of March-April. But the antlers come back a few months later, in time to harden by October when they mate.
Kashmir Stags move a lot.
Yes, the Kashmir Stag moves a lot. They spend their day moving from one place to another, browsing fruits, leaves, and flowers. With changing seasons, the availability of food varies, and so does the feeding pattern of hanguls.
During March-April, they start moving upwards along the valleys, around a height of 2500-3500 meters. But as summer progresses, the hanguls start going down again to the lower reaches of the hills. Due to this behavior, they resemble a herd of nomads, moving from one place to another in search of food.
As food is scarce in winter, the people at Dachigam National Park provide food to the hanguls. But some don’t accept this help and continue finding food independently. They resort to digging the ground to find buried vegetation. It seems they don’t trust us much.
They are very elusive.
We know you are interested in Kashmir Stag – we appreciate that. But if you think you can make them your friends, we will only say this– think again.
The hanguls are one of the most elusive creatures. And it’s not simply because they are rare. But they are just too shy and reclusive to greet humans. They don’t want to get disturbed by photographers and wildlife enthusiasts wishing to capture a photo. They avoid humans at all costs.
If you come near them, they usually smell you before you expect and get lost among the oak trees of the forests. They might also disappear into the hidden dark caves where they dwell. However, if you are hell-bent on spotting these elusive creatures, we recommend you go there in the rutting season (around October). They accumulate in larger numbers during that time.
They mate very loudly.
Yes! The Kashmir Stags become quite excited during their mating season. And they express this excitement by making distinctive noises in the lower stretches of the valley. If you ever reside near the Dachigam National Park in October, you might hear loud, continuous cries from the woods.
These distinctive cries come from the male Kashmir Stags calling the female members of their breed. In other words, it is a mating call. The males do this to attract the females, who then arrive near them to choose their mating partner.
The male’s antlers play an important role in attracting their mating partners. Stags with a larger number of antler points are the ones females prefer the most.
When the stags become sufficiently confident of their potential female partners, they follow the females up the valley. When the females finally stop, it means they have agreed to mate with the male. Once the hanguls mate, the gestation period lasts about 6-7 months, after which usually a single fawn is born.
Kashmir Stags are on the verge of extinction!
We told you how these shy, elusive species of big deer are becoming extremely rare. While that is just as true as it sounds, it is equally concerning. The Kashmir Stags are among the rarest species of deer on the planet. And what’s worse, their population trends over the recent years are not comforting.
The Internation Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared them critically endangered in 2016 after a detailed analysis of conservation status and threats. The Hanguls are already very low in number. And worse, they face several threats that adversely affect their life in the valleys.
The most significant threat is habitat fragmentation due to various man-made factors. Deforestation is a major factor in destroying their habitat. As the forests get cut down for timber and oak, the hanguls lose their home. Livestock destroys their grazing area by livestock. Poachers are always on the lookout to hunt some of these rare deer for money.
Today, the male-female ratio of these deer is utterly uneven. As of 2019, there were just 15.5 adult males for 100 females and 7.5 fawns per 100 female fawns. If this is not concerning, we wonder what else is.
If we were to describe the Kashmir Stags in a few words, we would choose shy, elusive, and endangered. And truly, these three words describe this big deer species in a nutshell. The Kashmir Stag has been the state animal of Jammu and Kashmir for a long while, and it truly deserves this label.
The facts mentioned above are both interesting and fun to read. But they also make us aware of the need to keep this species thriving with life. However, the species are lately having a tough time against today’s challenging situations.
Recently, it came to light that the hanguls of Dachigam National Park have started migrating into the Gurez Valley. This is good news as a new location can provide the hanguls with the resources they need to proliferate freely. We only hope that the Kashmir Stag spreads and grows rapidly in number.
Enjoyed learning about Kashmir Stags? We believe you’d also like to know more about another endangered deer species – the Sangai Deer. Meanwhile, you can share this blog with your friends if you think the blog is worth your time. We’ll be back with another blog soon!