DACHIGAM, India (Reuters Life!) - The wildlife population of Indian Kashmir has registered a "manifold" increase as a two-decade-old separatist rebellion has scared away poachers and hunters from the region, a wildlife official said on Tuesday.
Rare birds like the black partridge and pheasant have increased in thousands while more Asiatic black bear, leopards, musk deer and hangul, a rare red deer, now roam the disputed Himalayan region's pine forests.
"For fear of being caught in exchanges of fire between militants and the security forces, no one dared to venture deep into the forests in the past 20 years," Kashmir's wildlife warden, Rashid Naqash, told Reuters in Dachigam Sanctuary.
"Also, local hunters were ordered to hand in their guns. The impact is visible, there has been a manifold increase in wildlife."
In 1990, Indian authorities asked residents to deposit their hunting rifles with police as part of efforts to quell the revolt.
Authorities estimate the number of threatened black bear, which also inhabit hilly and mountainous forests across Asia from Afghanistan to Taiwan, has jumped in Kashmir to 2,500-3,000 from 700-800 since 1990.
Officials say the increase in wildlife population is good news for Kashmir's ailing tourism industry.
Kashmir has been disputed by India and Pakistan since they won independence from Britain in 1947 after a bloody partition.
More than 47,000 people have been killed since simmering discontent against Indian rule turned into a full-blown rebellion in 1989.
Editing by Bappa Majumdar and Sugita Katyal