Kashmir Stag Census: Wildlife SOS Studies the Critically Endangered Subspecies of Red Deer
By Jordan Schaul & Aaliya Mir | National Geographic | April 11, 2013
Aaliya Mir and Jordan Carlton Schaul of Wildlife SOS report on some critically endangered cervid research conducted by their colleagues in Northwest India. We are excited to report that students from several professional colleges were recently able to gain valuable experience while assisting Wildlife SOS biologists with a red deer census study in Dachigam National Park (Kashmir, India).
The hangul (Cervus elaphus hanglu), is also known as Kashmiri red deer or Kashmir stag. This imperiled subspecies of red deer is endemic to Northwest India but has been introduced outside of Asia just as their very close relative—the North American wapiti or elk—has been introduced outside of the USA and Canada.
The Kashmir stag is a subspecies of the same red deer or elk seen in Europe and North America, such as this Roosevelt elk bull in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. (Photo by National Geographic Creative)
With only 218 individuals of this subspecies of red deer left in the wild according to one 2011 survey, the Kashmir stag is literally on the brink of extinction. The subspecies is only found in the Jammu and Kashmir (Northwest, India) where it is glorified as the state animal.
Unfortunately, the subspecies has seen a drastic decline in the last 60 years. The population has been reduced to 10% of its estimated population size from six decades ago. A Mid-20th Century red deer census study reported around 2000 mature individuals and now due to shrinking habitat just over 200 deer comprise the extant population. The subspecies is now only found Dachigam National Park, which is often referred to as the abode of hangul.
The degradation and loss of habitat from overgrazing and pollution in the periphery of the National Park, along with biotic interferences, are among the main causes for the decreasing population size of this large Asian cervid. The incremental loss suffered by this subspecies of red deer over the years gives us a clue that it continues to persist, albeit barely as it faces constant environmental stressors.
Student volunteers were given a chance to indirectly participate in the hangul census—a scientific exercise intended to determine the number of adult deer, subadults, and juveniles in this dwindling population. In addition, the volunteers aided the investigators in a study of red deer habitat, geographic range, migration patterns, and other critical aspects regarding the ecology of this subspecies. The volunteers were offered an opportunity to practice census work through an orientation program, which included an introduction to the subspecies and sympatric (coexisting) wildlife, along with the use of GPS and other equipment.
Wildlife SOS staff accompanied the volunteers on a nature walk inside the National Park and instructed them on various aspects of management of the national park and, of course, brought them in closer contact to India’s wilderness. In addition, a separate interactive program was organized with the volunteers at National Institute of Technology (Srinagar) where deliberations were held on the use of modern technology as it is used to conserve and manage wildlife.
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MEET THE AUTHOR
Jordan Carlton SchaulWith training in wildlife ecology, conservation medicine, and comparative psychology, Dr. Schaul's contributions to Nat Geo Voices have covered a range of environmental and social topics. He draws particular attention to the plight of imperiled species highlighting issues at the juncture or nexus of sorta situ wildlife conservation and applied animal welfare. Sorta situ conservation practices are comprised of scientific management and stewardship of animal populations ex situ (in captivity / 'in human care') and in situ (free-ranging / 'in nature'). He also has a background in behavior management and training of companion animals and captive wildlife and conservation marketing and digital publicity. Jordan has shared interviews with colleagues and public figures, as well as editorial news content. In addition, he has posted narratives describing his own work, which include the following examples: • Restoration of wood bison to the Interior of Alaska while (As Animal Curator at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and courtesy professor at the University of Alaska) • Rehabilitation of orphaned sloth bears exploited for tourists in South Asia (As executive consultant 'in-residence' at the Agra Bear Rescue Center managed by Wildlife SOS) • Censusing small wild cat (e.g. ocelot and margay) populations in the montane cloud forests of Costa Rica for popular publications with 'The Cat Whisperer' Mieshelle Nagelschneider • Evaluating the impact of ecotourism on marine mammal population stability and welfare off the coast of Mexico's Sea of Cortez (With Boston University's marine science program) Jordan was a director on boards of non-profit wildlife conservation organizations serving nations in Africa, North and South America and Southeast Asia. He is also a consultant to a human-wildlife conflict mitigation organization in the Pacific Northwest. Following animal curatorships in Alaska and California, he served as a charter board member of a zoo advocacy and outreach organization and later as its executive director. Jordan was a member of the Communication and Education Commission of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (CEC-IUCN) and the Bear Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (BSG-SSC-IUCN). He has served on the advisory council of the National Wildlife Humane Society and in service to the Bear Taxon Advisory Group of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA Bear TAG). In addition, he was an ex officio member of the council of the International Association for Bear Research and Management.