The World’s Largest Mountain Goat, the Markhor Calls J&K Home. Why Is it Nearing Threatened Status?


The World’s Largest Mountain Goat, the Markhor Calls J&K Home. Why Is it Nearing Threatened Status?

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Of all of India’s myriad natural wonders, the markhor might just be our best-kept secret. The world’s largest mountain goat – more famously the national animal of our neighbour Pakistan – also inhabits the peaks and valleys of Jammu and Kashmir. A small population of these rare, magnificent animals, considered “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), lives within the Kajinag National Park in Baramulla and Hirpora Wildlife Sanctuary in Shopian. However, their continued existence depends heavily on the success of conservation efforts that are currently underway against a backdrop of insurgency, as a report by journalist Deepanwita Gita Niyogi found.

Since Independence, no surveys had been conducted of the markhor population until 2005, when the Wildlife Trust of India carried one out. They found the two groups living in a shrunken range of about 120 square kilometres. However, local pressures, such as livestock grazing by nomadic herders, is hurting the future of the species, especially in Hirpora. The wildlife warden of Shopian, Intesar Suhail, explains why Hirpora is such a critical area for the conflict of human and animal interests in the article. “The Hirpora Wildlife Sanctuary has been a historical gateway for herders to reach the valley… Generally, they use the Peer Ki Gali path. At present, we facilitate their travel through the sanctuary. Earlier, they used to stay in the sanctuary but now they travel fast though some nomadic families reside in the sanctuary area. They are being monitored.”

While in Kajinag National Park, there are only 10 herder families, according to an assistant field officer with Wildlife Trust of India, there are 500 in Hirpora. That’s what makes it such a difficult area for conservationists to protect the grazing grounds of the markhor. Additionally, there are also stray incidents of hunting and poaching, which pushes the markhor closer to the brink. However, along with Wildlife Trust of India, the Indian Army is also conducting workshops and presentations, and the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology is conducting studies on how to improve the socio-economic conditions for herders, so that they no longer rely solely on their livestock.

With many stakeholders invested, it appears that the markhor may yet have a future in India.