New Delhi: Himalayan blue sheeps, also known as bharals, have been spotted with "symptoms of eye infection" and difficulty in movement in the Gangotri National Park, the Uttarakhand government today told the National Green Tribunal.
The endangered species live on high-altitude mountains mainly in India, Nepal, Tibet, Pakistan, and Bhutan. Many Buddhist monasteries protect the bharals found around them.
The animal is categorised as 'Least Concern' by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. The population faces two threats: poaching for meat and competition with livestock. Uttarakhand's forest department told the tribunal bench that its team had brought a baby bharal with symptoms of eye infection for medical examination, but the animal died during treatment.
"The Gangotri National Park teams did survey in Nelong, Kedartal and Gaumukh valley to observe bharals in September, October and November last year. They could only observe two bharals with symptoms of eye infection in Bhukhark area of Kedartal one of which was brought down for treatment," the department said in an affidavit submitted before the tribunal.
"Thus, it appeared that the eye disease was restricted to a very few animals in only one narrow area of the national park."
It said another team from the Wildlife Institute of India in Dehradun observed 353 bharals in the national park, out of which five blue sheeps were spotted with eye infection.
The department's submission came during the hearing of a plea filed by advocate Gaurav Bansal. He has sought shifting of infected animals from the national park to a safer place.
According to the plea, a group of BSF officers camping in Kedar Tal area of the park in September spotted several Himalayan blue sheep with their eyes popping out and bleeding.
"During camping, one of the officer found several blue sheep with their eyes popping out or bleeding or eye socket empty. He took photographs of some of the infected blue sheeps.
"The applicant also came to know that the BSF officer had informed the state forest department about the condition of the prevailing disease in the blue sheep, but it has failed to take proper measures to prevent and control the spreading of the disease," the plea had claimed.
The petition said that according to the National Wildlife Action Plan, 2017-2031, issued by the environment ministry, the infectious disease was a concern not only to humans but wildlife species. It said authorities were not taking action to protect the animals.
"In order to eradicate the disease, there was an urgent need to establish and strengthen the centres for wildlife rehabilitation and disease surveillance in and around the protected areas," it had said.
The petitioner has sought setting up of a high-level team to inspect the Gangotri National Park and formulate an action plan for the conservation of the eco-system and bio-diversity of the ecologically-sensitive area.