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Population of world’s largest mountain goat stabilizes in J&K

Once the world’s largest mountain goat the markhor (Capra falconeri) was thought to be extinct in India.

However, when in 2005 the Wildlife Trust of India, a conservation organisation, started a survey then it found the goat at two sites in Jammu and Kashmir. The survey found that the markhor’s presence is limited to only two areas in Jammu and Kashmir: the Kajinag National Park in Baramulla district near the border with Pakistan and the Hirpora Wildlife Sanctuary which is located in Shopian district.

Not much historical information is available about the markhor because of the reason that it is only present along disputed international borders. Many goats of different sub-species of markhor are found till neighbouring Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

The IUCN Red List marks the animal as near threatened included in Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act (1972) and the Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1978.

The Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) conducted its first survey of the species in India since Independence from October 2004 to April 2005. The survey found that the range of markhor has narrowed from c. 300 km2 in the late 1940s to c. 120 km2 a few decades later in 2004–2005.

WTI is currently working in collaboration with the wildlife department to engage with local communities and migratory herders to red collaboration with the wildlife department to decrease the pressure on grazing lands and boost awareness about the markhor.

Riyaz Ahmad, WTI project lead of the Markhor Recovery Project said that Though found inside protected areas, the Hirpora population of the markhor is in a serious state because of the Mughal road, which connects Kashmir Valley with Poonch, cutting through the Hirpora Wildlife Sanctuary, the existence of power transmission lines and more than necessary livestock pressure.

He said that the livestock pressure has increased because herders are shifting to non-traditional herding practices for monetary reasons.

Rashid Naqash, the regional wildlife warden of Kashmir, believes that the Hirpora and Kajinag are very important landscapes for the conservation of the markhor. He said that these areas lie on the Pir Panjal side of the valley and population of the species which is found here is called the Pir Panjal species of the markhor (Capra falconeri cashmiriensis). He said that It is a flagship species for them. They are running a programme for the recovery of the markhor in these landscapes. They have been able to save the species from the extinction by adding new areas and corridors as well as expanding Hirpora.

The markhor is threatened by insurgency, poaching and overgrazing. Most of the protected area has been declared as no-grazing zones for non-traditional herders in order to reduce grazing. To implement the decision, patrolling is done to make sure that only registered herders get entry. The wildlife department is trying to spread awareness among local communities to prevent poaching.