The snow-peaked mountains of the Kashmir valley are home to many elusive animals, birds and even reptiles, endemic to the region. The unexplored wildlife of Jammu and Kashmir has now increasingly started coming under the radar, in the unfortunate guise of conflict. Local communities and residents, not used to sighting these rare species, are now encountering them more frequently than earlier which is leading to increased hostility and even fear.
In the past year, our team operating out of the Jammu and Kashmir Bear Rescue Centres has worked tirelessly through the COVID19 lockdown attending distress calls. The team rescued as many as 60 snakes as a result of urban-wildlife conflict, rising temperatures, and in an effort to seek shelter.
Although situated at a high altitude, temperatures in Jammu and Kashmir during summers can go as high as 35 degrees. The rapidly changing climate and global warming are to be blamed for these temperature variations that force snakes out to seek shelter and find cooler places.
The snakes that were rescued included some rare species such as the highly venomous and endangered Levantine Viper, rat snakes, Himalayan trinket snakes, mildly venomous Eastern Cliff Racers among others, and they were safely released back in their natural habitat.
The rescues are headed by Wildlife SOS’ only female rescuer, Ms. Aaliya Mir, who also manages the Wildlife SOS Dachigam and Pahalgam Bear Rescue Centres in Kashmir. She is also the Education Officer for the Bear Rescue Centres in Kashmir and you can read more her in our exclusive staff profile.
Earlier this year, the Wildlife SOS team assisted the Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Department in the rescue and release of a leopard that was seen frequenting human habitations. The leopard was seen around the heavily-populated area of Bagh-e-Mehtab in Srinagar and in order to avoid any heated incident of conflict, the residents were warned to not wander alone during night hours. The leopard was safely immobilised by the rescue team after five days of tracking and after a quick medical assessment, it was discovered that he was a healthy, adult male leopard. The leopard was later releases in Dachigam National Park far away from human habitation.
The team received a distress call from the residence of the former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Sh. Omar Abdullah, in 2020, about the presence of a Levantine Viper. Without wasting a second, the rescue team reached the location and the snake was carefully removed from the premises by Ms. Aaliya. Handling of venomous snakes is a particular challenge which is why it is only advised that professional snake rescuers handle them. The viper was released to the wild safely after a quick medical examination.
An injured and severely dehydrated Barn Owl was also rescued from a residential building during the lockdown. The owl was stranded on the roof when the rescue team reached the location and it appeared exhausted. Medical examination revealed that the owl was dehydrated and had sustained injuries. The team provided an oral rehydration solution to allow the bird to regain strength after a few days of medical observation; it was released to the wild again!
Due to rising temperatures and the unexpected heat wave that engulfed the valley in June and July, we came across several birds that were dehydrated. The team rescued an injured Black Kite from a residential colony, after it was rendered hurt, having fallen weak and dehydrated. The bird was kept under medical observation for a few days, given oral rehydration solution to allow it to regain strength.
Wildlife SOS manages two bear rescue centres in Kashmir – Dachigam and Pahalgam Bear Rescue Centres. The Dachigam Centre has 4 Asiatic Black Bears and 1 Brown Bear, while the Pahalgam Center is home to 2 Asiatic Black bears now aged at 8 years and a Brown Bear who has recently turned 4.
These bears have been rescued from aggravated situations of human-bear conflict while some were orphaned at a young age and carrying severe psychological trauma to ever be released into the wild again.
The hard work and dedication of our team at the Rescue Centres, working round-the-clock to save the wildlife in distress is what continues to keep us dedicated in saving the precious wildlife of our country!