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Jammu: Nomadic families face harsh climate, wild animal attacks

The nomadic families of Gujjars and Bakerwals are facing a tough time as they are unable to reach the alpine pastures in the Himalayas. BHADERWAH/JAMMU: Hundreds of Gujjar and Bakerwal families in Jammu and Kashmir who have migrated to higher altitudes are battling on twin fronts -- harsh climate due to unseasonal snowfall and attacks by wild animals, particularly leopards. For centuries, hundreds of nomadic families trek through treacherous terrains along with cattle to high-altitude grazing fields every summer. They return to the plains in winter. With mountainous areas of Bhaderwah, Bhalessa and Kishtwar under snow amid a spell of relentless cold, the nomadic families of Gujjars and Bakerwals are facing a tough time as they are unable to reach the alpine pastures in the Himalayas. Bakerwal families who got stuck due to an unseasonal snowstorm at high-altitude passes of Chattergala, Guldanda, Sarthal and Padri areas of Bhaderwah Valley, say that they do not have any food for themselves and no fodder for their cattle for seven straight days. "We are facing the dual threat of harsh weather and leopard attack. Taking advantage of the snowstorm, wild beasts killed several dozens of sheep, goats, horses and mules," Khushal Chowdhary, who was part of this year's migration, said. He said that they have met the Doda deputy commissioner and Bhaderwah additional deputy commissioner and sought the administration's help in the matter. "We have lost our cattle, the sole source of our livelihood, in the snowstorm. A majority of the remaining cattle have fallen sick because of harsh weather and starvation. We hope that the administration extends a helping hand," Chowdhary added. Sadeeq Theekriyo (50) claimed that he has loar 20 goats, 10 sheep, a mule and a horse in the snowstorm. "Some could not stand the harsh weather and a few others were hunted by leopards. We have been waiting for help but to date, no one came to us with anything," he said. Doda Deputy Commissioner Vishesh Paul Mahajan said he has asked the chief sheep husbandry officer, chief medical officer and others in the Bhaderwah administration to reach out to all the distressed tribal families. "We have already deployed multiple teams and have sent them in different directions. They checked the cattle and also distributed medicines. This process will continue till the weather improves and all nomadic tribes cross the high-altitude passes," Mahajan said. The verification of deaths of cattle will be done as per the existing rules, he added. Zaitoon Jungle (35), who is camping at Halooni Nullah along with 20 other families after crossing the Chattergala pass, said that those who were ailing have not received any help so far. "We are used to surviving in tough conditions but last fortnight turned out to be the most miserable of our lives," he said. (THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS)