Srinagar: Data from India’s meteorological department show that the average maximum and minimum temperature in February and March, as recorded by weather stations in Srinagar, Kupwara and Gulmarg, is rising. In this warming weather, wild boars (also known as wild pigs) are returning to the Kashmir valley, with ramifications for the local species in the area, as well as for farmers whose crops are destroyed by wild boars.

“Global warming may be the main reason for the animal’s revival in Kashmir,” said Intisaar Suhail, a senior officer in Kashmir’s wildlife department.

Between 1984 and 2013, there were no official sightings of wild boars in the valley, which were first introduced for hunting by Maharaja Gulab Singh, the erstwhile ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, between 1846 and 1857. A 2017 study in the Journal of Threatened Taxa explained that after the Dogra king’s rule, wild boars were recognised as invasive in Kashmir, leading to a lack of conservation efforts. In 2013, wildlife scientists and researchers unexpectedly sighted a wild boar in Dachigam, a national park.

In the latest in our Climate Hotspot series, we trace the changing climate in three areas of north Kashmir, its impacts on the state’s wild boar population, and other ecological implications.

The changing climate

IndiaSpend has received data from three weather stations in Kashmir, which show a pattern of increasing temperature in February and March. Thus, Kashmir has had shorter winters in the recent past.

The region has experienced a temperature increase of 1.2 degrees Celsius over the past century, surpassing the global average of 0.8 to 0.9 degrees Celsius, according to an email response by Mir Muskan Un Nisa, a Research Scholar in the Division of Forest Products and Utilisation, and Talib Bashir Bhat, a Research Scholar in the Division of Natural Resource Management at the Sher-E-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences And Technology (SKUAST) in Srinagar, based on their own research.

Why higher temperatures mean more boars

Wild boar, though common in several parts of India, are not native to Kashmir, and were introduced by the king for hunting in the 1840s, including in the Dachigam forests. Because of local agitation against the presence of the wild boar, the ‘alien species’ were eradicated from the forests of Kashmir. In 2013, a wildlife forest guard photographed the animal in lower Dachigam, almost 30 years after its last sighting in 1984.

Then "in 2015, a sighting of a dead specimen in north Kashmir and a successful rescue in south Kashmir indicated their resurgence”, said Suhail, the senior officer in Kashmir’s wildlife department.

Wild boar have since then been spotted by locals in various parts such as Uri, Limber, Lachipora, Handwara, Bandipora, Hajin and Balwar in north Kashmir, as well as Dachigam National Park in central Kashmir, wildlife officials say.

While an official census is still pending, wildlife officials approximate the presence of 250 wild boars in Kashmir, based on multiple sources, including sightings and incident reports of wild boar attacks, in collaboration with field wildlife staff and other wildlife experts.

When asked about the possibility of a wild boar census, Mohammad Maqbool Baba, the Wildlife Warden of North Kashmir, responded, "I am unaware of any specific plans regarding a census at the moment."

"With the impacts of global warming, we have observed shorter winter durations compared to 10-15 years ago,” said Mehreen Khaleel, founder of Wildlife Research and Conservation Foundation, a Srinagar-based NGO established in 2018, for creating awareness about the environment and promoting its conservation. “This change in climate has led to an increase in warm months, which provides better food availability for wildlife. The consistent year-round food supply enables animals, including wild boars, to breed more successfully.”

Further, wild boars have a gestation period of about four months and can give birth to five to six young ones at a time, leading to exponential population growth, said Fida Hussain, the District Wildlife Incharge of Bandipora.

“When they have access to abundant food resources throughout the year, they can breed up to four times annually, resulting in the birth of at least 16-24 piglets per year,” adds Khaleel.

“Climate change is having a global impact on the ecology and behaviour of species, and Kashmir is also experiencing these effects,” Suhail said. “For the past few years, we haven't experienced severe cold winters. It usually takes two to three consecutive harsh winters to witness a decline in wild boar populations in Kashmir…one contributing factor to their revival could be climate change, specifically the increase in summer duration and severity.”

He said that wild boar could have migrated from Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir to the border areas, but in central and south Kashmir, their “populations seem to have revived from the remnant surviving individuals”. He added, “further research is necessary to understand the precise impact of rising temperatures and prolonged summers on the wild boar in Kashmir”.

Wild boars impacting Dachigam National Park

Covering an area of 141 sq km, Dachigam National Park is home of the hangul or Kashmir red deer or stag, the state animal of Jammu and Kashmir. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List, the hangul is classified as critically endangered, and it is listed as a Schedule I Species under India's Wildlife Protection Act 1972, which prohibits hunting and dealing in animal products.

Since the early 20th century, the hangul population has declined. The Department of Wildlife Protection estimated that in 1900, their population ranged from 3,000 to 5,000. By 2008, their numbers were estimated to have dwindled to 127. The latest estimate from 2023 puts their number at 289.

Experts say that though several reasons exist for the reduction in the hangul population, such as fragmentation of their habitat, the low likelihood of the female hangul conceiving, human activities such as Bakarwal migration into the park, one of the recent reasons is the increasing wild boar population.

“Hangul and boars coexist in the same habitat and share similar food sources,” explained Aakib Hussain Paul, a project associate involved in the study, on why the wild boar population can endanger hangul.

"At present the Wildlife Department is conducting an impact assessment of wild boars on the hangul habitat. As an invasive species, wild boars pose a potential threat to native wildlife,” said Khaleel of the Wildlife Research and Conservation Foundation.

The foremost danger posed by wild pigs lies in their ability to uproot and destroy vegetation, which is crucial for the survival of numerous animal species in the region. Being omnivorous, wild pigs will consume almost anything from plant roots and tubers to insects and small animals.

In 2022-23, J&K’s wildlife department conducted a comprehensive six-month assessment of the wild boar population at Dachigam National Park, the results of which are yet to be published, according to Altaf Hussain, the wildlife warden of Dachigam National Park. The study, he said, compared the dietary preferences of wild boars and the hangul, and found that the increasing wild boar population could have a significant impact on the ecology of Dachigam National Park and in other parts of the valley.

Research Scholar Mir Muskan Un Nisa adds that as wild boars are omnivorous, they consume a wide range of food sources, including small animals, plant roots, and tubers. “This voracious appetite threatens the existence of numerous plant species in the region, making the wild boar one of the top 100 invasive species in the world,” she says.

"In the absence of natural predators for invasive or introduced species, they tend to thrive and become integrated into the local food chain. Studies have also highlighted the impact of invasive wild boars in Australia, where their foraging activities, including soil ploughing, have been found to release greenhouse gases from the soil. Given the ongoing climate crisis, this presents a cause for concern," Khaleel said.

At the same time, wild boars can also benefit the ecosystem. They are prey for large carnivores, such as leopards, said Khursheed Ahmad, the Head of the Division of Wildlife Sciences at the Faculty of Forestry, SKUAST.

There needs to be further research to understand the impact of wild boars, experts say. "We need additional time to establish a comprehensive correlation between our field observations and laboratory findings,” Paul, who was part of the six-month study on wild boars in Dachigam, said.

"Conducting a thorough study on wild boars is crucial," said Nadeem Qadri, the Executive Director of the Wildlife Conservation Fund in Jammu and Kashmir. “By leveraging the expertise of wildlife experts and anticipating the results of this study, authorities can develop effective strategies to manage and mitigate the challenges associated with wild boars.”

Impact on agriculture

Paul, the research associate on the wild boar study in Dachigam National Park, said that if wild boars venture outside the park they could cause extensive damage by digging up everything in their path. "In apple orchards, they can uproot trees, and in open areas, they can consume a wide range of items, including saffron seeds. If these animals reach the streets of Srinagar, they can wreak havoc as there is abundant food waste on the city's streets.”

"This year, the wild pigs have wreaked havoc on my orchards like never before. They have demolished most of the apple trees and consumed all the fruits,” said Irfan Raja, 36, a farmer from Uri. “It is an immense loss for my family, as our livelihood depends on this orchard.”

"There has been an increase in the wild boar population, evident from direct sightings, frequency of sightings, and sightings occurring outside of forests,” said Maqbool Baba, the Wildlife Warden of North Kashmir. “The main causes of this rise are changes in land use, shifts in human behavioural patterns, including encroachment of wild boar’s natural habitats by grazers, the emergence of human settlements near forests, and wild boar habitat fragmentation. Environmental imbalances and improper disposal of human waste are also contributing factors to the increase in the wild boar population, resulting in human-wildlife conflicts.”

Abdul Salam, 58, a rice farmer in Uri in Baramulla district, said that when he was a child, wild boar were a rarity. But in May this year, all the rice seedlings he had sowed were completely uprooted and destroyed. “Initially, we were uncertain about the culprit, but now we are witnessing the wild boars firsthand.”

Due to extensive damage by wild boars, there were fewer healthy rice seedlings available to sow between May and June 2022, which impacted the quantity of their produce, farmers in Bandipora said.

Another farmer, Farooq Bhat, 39, in the border village of Uri of North Kashmir's Baramulla said that wild boars destroyed seeds that he had sowed in his fields on two separate occasions. “This mostly happens during night hours. Now we have decided to skip paddy sowing this year as it is late for sowing paddy.”

Wild boars also damage beans and potatoes.

"I had never seen wild pigs before in our village,” says Altaf Ahmad, 33, a farmer from Gundjehngeer village of Bandipora. “Earlier we would grow around 20 quintals of potatoes and beans on our land but last year, due to extensive damage from wild boars, our family only grew five quintals of potatoes and beans.”

"I have been associated with vegetable farming for decades. I brought up my children on the money earned from farming beans, cabbage, carrot, leek, lettuce, onion, parsley, pea, pepper, radish, spinach and tomato,” said 35-year-old Farooq Ahmad. “But during the last three months, wild boars have repeatedly damaged my vegetables, leaving the family in distress.”

“Recent incidents of wild boars raiding horticulture fields in Bandipora district and other parts of Kashmir are a major concern. While the number of incidents is currently limited, as boar populations expand, their territories may encroach upon human settlements,” said Mehreen. “Wild boars are known for their aggressive behaviour, and these interactions can turn negative.”

“These animals can exhibit aggression and have been known to attack humans, particularly when they feel threatened or cornered,” said Nazir Ahmad, a wildlife department watchman in Bandipora, who has reported several such incidents.

Preventing wild boar attacks

A wild boar in Dachigam National Park.

Farmers say they have tried fencing, installing flood lights on scarecrows to prevent boar attacks. These measures have reduced the attacks to some extent.

The director of Kashmir’s agriculture department, Chowdhury Mohammad Iqbal, said that they have visited wild boar-affected areas and assessed the situation. He said, “affected farmers were provided with new seedlings from the nurseries managed by the agriculture department. We did not provide any monetary compensation to the farmers”.

In an effort to mitigate the issue temporarily, Hussain of the wildlife department said that they tried using firecrackers to disperse the pigs.

“When we receive reports of wild boar sightings, our approach involves identifying the mother wild boar and tranquillisation, using firecrackers, introducing dogs to the area, implementing pollution reduction measures, and employing scare tactics,” said Maqbool Baba, the Wildlife Warden of North Kashmir.

The district administration of Bandipora has also sought the expertise of the Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Foundation to address crop raiding by wild boars, Khaleel said.

Mir Muskan Un Nisa and Talib Bashir Bhat emphasise that, in the long term, it is important to control the wild boar population. They suggested implementing strategies such as modelling fertility control, which uses mathematical techniques to predict the wild boar population in response to different fertility control measures. One of the measures could be culling to reduce the population in isolated groups, they said. They also stressed that the carrying capacity of wild boar habitats would need to increase in consonance with their density to avoid conflict.

Considering the non-native status of wild boars in the region, Khursheed Ahmad, of the forestry faculty at SKUAST-K, suggests declaring them as vermin to facilitate effective species management and mitigation of their impact. The Wildlife Protection Act grants the central government the power to declare a wild animal that is considered a nuisance because they attack humans, crops, livestock or property, as vermin. This deprives the animal of protection, and they may be hunted freely.

According to an official from the wildlife department, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the government is in the process of updating its climate action plan. The plan acknowledges that climate change poses a significant threat to various aspects of the region, including species diversity, habitats, forests, wildlife, fisheries and water resources. “The government is taking this threat seriously and is actively working on revising its strategies and actions to address these challenges,” the official said.

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