Conservation of the Pir Panjal markhor in Kashmir
In strife torn Kashmir, wildlife conservation had taken a back seat for many decades. However, with an improving political situation, opportunities for conservation are slowly becoming apparent. Markhor is possibly a suitable flagship for catalyzing conservation in these mountain tracts. Conservation efforts for the species will also benefit other wildlife of the region that includes the western tragopan, musk deer and brown bear. Markhor are found in three Wildlife Sanctuaries and one Conservation Reserve, in all covering only about c. 252km2. Our surveys found relatively large markhor populations only in the Hirpura and the Limber Wildlife Sanctuaries where close to 200 markhor are tenuously surviving. The two areas however differ in the habitat structure and human pressures. We believe that a thorough understanding of the species’ habitat and diet selection, relationships with local human resource use and threats from poaching and Military operations will be a critical link in formulating a thorough conservation strategy that can be implemented in collaboration with the Army, the Wildlife Department and other conservation agencies.
Our work has three components that include focused research on the species, starting awareness programmes for the local population, policy makers and military, and the formulation of a species Conservation Action Plan. While the research aspect will be covered during the first year of the project along with substantial headway on the awareness programmes, the interventions and action plan shall be initiated during the second year. The important aspects that need further investigation are markhor habitat and food requirements, the levels of local use by pastoralists and villagers and the level of extant threats. It is also important to have a clearer understanding of the potential range of the species based on its habitat and identify other potential areas and corridors that can support markhor.
We aim to study the seasonal occurrence and habitat use of markhor in two sites. We also aim to evaluate the degree of competition between livestock and markhor, and quantify the dependence of pastoralists on markhor habitat.