Nature’s Battle Cry: The Silent Tragedy along the Line of Control

by Abdul Rehman

In the heart of the magnificent Kashmir Valley, where snow-capped peaks stand tall, and lush green meadows embrace the landscape, a silent battle is raging. It transcends the realm of human conflict; instead, it is a poignant battle for survival waged by the voiceless denizens of this paradise—the endangered wildlife. As the sun sets behind the picturesque mountains, casting long shadows over the Line of Control (LoC), it unveils a tale of ecological crises that have befallen this region.

Deep within the dense forests and secluded valleys, species like the majestic Hangul (Kashmiri Stag), elusive Snow Leopards, and vibrant pheasants like the Himalayan Monal and Western tragopan are facing a threat more insidious than nature itself. The very boundaries that humans drew to demarcate their territories have become barriers that destroy and fragment rare habitats, blocking the ancient migration corridors these creatures have tread for centuries.

From the edge of the LoC, a paradoxical spectacle unravels. On one side, the verdant expanse of Kashmir reveals itself, while on the other, a fortified fence equipped with electrified razor wires, motion sensors, landmines, IEDs, CCTV cameras, lighting, and alarm systems imposes its presence. Originally designed to demarcate borders, it metamorphoses into a confinement for the wild inhabitants of the region. The Hangul, also known as the Kashmir stag or the Kashmir Red Deer (Cervus hanglu hanglu), holds a significant place in the fabric of Kashmir’s wildlife, its very name resonating with its favorite food, the Indian horse chestnut or Himalayan horse chestnut, locally referred to as “han.” However, this majestic creature, once free to roam the expanses from Kishtwar National Park in eastern Kashmir to Gurez on the northern Line of Control (LoC), is now a mere memory in the Pakistani-administered part of Kashmir. Designated as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Hangul is confined to the precarious sanctuary of Dachigam National Park, with isolated populations clinging to survival in the surrounding areas. Mohmmad Irshad Rather, a researcher at the Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability at the Azim Premji University writes “In the 1940s, there were between 3,000 and 5,000 Hangul in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh, but according to the census in 2019, there were only 237 Hangul left in the wild. The Hangul is a unique and magnificent animal that represents the natural heritage of Kashmir. It plays an important role in maintaining the ecological balance of its habitat by dispersing seeds, pruning vegetation, and providing food for other animals. It is also a source of cultural pride and identity for the local people, who have coexisted with it for centuries”.

Migration is not a mere whim for these creatures; it’s a lifeline. The Black Bears, Brown Bears, Musk Deer, and other remarkable species need to roam freely to adapt to the changing seasons and climatic conditions. The rhythm of life in these mountains depends on these seasonal movements, which the LoC fence disrupts with cruel precision. According to a wildlife department official, “the impact of the fence along the Line of Control (LoC) has been significant, disrupting the natural corridors for animals and severely restricting their free movement.” The official expressed concern over the consequences, noting that “many ground-nesting birds have fallen victim to the blasts,” with the department unable to quantify the exact toll. Acknowledging the challenges in studying behavioral changes, the official highlighted “A noticeable increase in cases involving animals damaging crops and escalating human-animal conflicts,” attributing these incidents to the alterations caused by the fencing.

The official further shared observations about the changing behavior of the black bear, a species known to hibernate for six months starting in November. “Surprisingly, sightings of black bears in January and February have become more common, suggesting that these creatures are struggling to navigate their altered habitats and locate suitable places for hibernation.”

Another conspicuous consequence of the Line of Control (LoC) is the recurrent maiming of wildlife attributed to the presence of landmines. Creatures such as leopards, barking deer, and musk deer frequently fall victim to the insidious network of landmines strewn across their habitats. These indiscriminate instruments of destruction not only pose a severe threat to the lives of these animals but also disrupt the delicate ecological balance of the region. The maiming of leopards, renowned for their elusive grace, barking deer, whose plaintive calls typically echo through the forests, and musk deer, known for their ethereal presence, paints a harrowing picture of the unintended consequences of human conflict on the innocent denizens of the wild.

The impact of fencing along the Line of Control (LoC) extends beyond the well-documented effects on larger wildlife species such as leopards, bears, and deer, significantly affecting ground birds indigenous to the region. Endangered species like the Western Tragopan (locally known as Dangeer), Himalayan Snowcock (Raam Chakoor), Monal Pheasant (Murg e Zareen), and Koklaas Pheasant (Bhegar) face a formidable challenge as the barriers reshape their habitats. While it may seem intuitive how a border wall impedes the natural movement of ground-dwelling birds, the subtleties of this impact are often overlooked. The low-flying patterns of these pheasants challenge preconceived notions about avian mobility across landscapes. Moreover, the presence of a fence not only serves as a physical obstruction but also alters the topography of the area in ways that extend beyond the structure itself. This restructuring, coupled with the confinement of these birds to smaller, sparser patches of habitat, contributes to isolated populations and, consequently, places significant strain on the well-being of avian inhabitants of the Kashmir region.

Beyond a mere cartographic delineation, the LoC is a deep scar etched onto the soul of Kashmir’s ecology. This complex reality demands a reevaluation of the profound costs imposed by human-drawn boundaries. The desperate calls of the Hangul, carried by the mountain breeze, and the quiet pleas of Snow Leopards concealed in the shadows become poignant symbols, urging a reconsideration of our geopolitics. It is not a battle cry of aggression but of sheer desperation, a fervent plea to restore the delicate equilibrium of this fragile ecosystem before it succumbs to the hushed silence of irreparable loss. As we grapple with the uncertainty of border walls’ impacts, it becomes evident that many consequences will remain elusive until it is too late. This stark reality underscores the urgent need for heightened awareness, responsible decision-making, and collective efforts to answer nature’s desperate call for help. Will we heed it before the echoes of Kashmir’s wildlife fade into an irreversible silence? The choice is ours to make.


Writer is an Associate Research Officer at the Center for International Strategic Studies, AJK.

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Center for International Strategic Studies AJK, King Abdullah Campus Chatter kalas Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir