Rescuing The Rare And Elusive Species Of Kashmir

May 11, 2021 | By Mahima Sharma

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.

Wildlife SOS prioritises releasing of snakes back to their natural habitat, away from human habitats.
Wildlife SOS prioritises releasing of snakes back to their natural habitat, away from human habitation. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS]

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.

Ms. Aaliya Mir rescuing a rat snake from a residential area.
Ms. Aaliya Mir rescuing a rat snake from a residential area. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS]

 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.

An Indian Rock Python right before it was released back into the wild.
An Indian Rock Python right before it was released back into the wild. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS]

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 team also rescued hatchlings during the lockdown!
The team also rescued Rat snake hatchlings during the lockdown! [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS]

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.

Ms. Aaliya Mir with our rescued black bear in Kashmir.
Ms. Aaliya Mir with a rescued Asiatic black bear in Kashmir. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS]

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.

Levantine Vipers are highly venomous and need to be handled with expertise and safety
Levantine Vipers are highly venomous and need to be handled with expertise and safety. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS]

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!

The dehydrated Barn Owl which was rescued by our team in Kashmir.
The dehydrated Barn Owl which was rescued by our team in Kashmir. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS]

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.

The Black Kite was struggling to fly when it was rescued.
The Black Kite was struggling to fly when it was rescued. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS]

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.

Our rescued black bear munching on some apples in the snowy winters of Kashmir.
Our rescued black bear munching on some apples in the snowy winters of Kashmir. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS]

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.

Wildlife SOS has been providing care and treatment to rescued bears of the Valley
Wildlife SOS has been providing care and treatment to rescued bears of the Valley. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS]

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!

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