Indian Kashmir's wildlife population has seen a dramatic increase after two decades of fighting scared off poachers and hunters from the region, a wildlife official said on Tuesday.
Rare birds like the black partridge and pheasant have increased by the thousands while populations of Asiatic black bears, leopards, musk deer and rare red deer have swelled in 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," Rashid Naqash, the region's wildlife warden, told Reuters in Dachigam Sanctuary.
In 1990, Indian authorities disarmed the local population, ordering residents to deposit their hunting rifles with police as part of efforts to quell the revolt.
Authorities estimate the number of threatened black bears, which 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 said the increase in wildlife population was 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.