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View Point: Our endangered wildlife

An AJK Wildlife Department game warden had a cute story (very scary for the characters involved) to tell a journalist recently of how men and leopards in that area react to one another upon coming into contact. Last year, a man saw a leopard in the bush and hurled a stick on it, goes the narration. The big cat, of course, did not like such rude behaviour and conveyed as much by slapping the two legged creature in the face – striking lightly enough not to cause serious damage, just a few scratches – before going away. This was not something exceptional. There have been similar “minor incidents” for which the wildlife department officials blame the people. They obviously think that it is safer to ignore the leopards than to confront them. Using any available weapon though would be the reflex action of most people unfamiliar with animal psychology.

“Minor incidents” keep happening because the natural habitat of our common leopard, inhabiting lower mountain ranges of the north, is shrinking fast. A recent research study, published in this month’s issue of the International Scientific Journal, by Founder of the Snow Leopard Conservation Trust Dr Ali Nawaz led to alarming findings. The study involved following a common leopard on its patrol through Ayubia Park forested Nathia Gali, Dunga Gali and Khanspur areas. 100 test samples of its faeces showed that livestock made up more than 80 percent of its diet. Which as the researcher said, “is not surprising as the animal’s natural prey has almost vanished due to expanding settlements and loss of habitat.” Unless something is done soon, he warns, the animal and people, competing for space, are to come into a serious conflict, ie, if the conflict has not started already. In fact, it is not rare anymore for the animal to appear in human habitations and get killed.

That is enough bad news. Worse still, hunting of our common leopard goes on freely despite the fact that it faces extinction. The France-based International Union for the Conservation of Nature has already placed this leopard on its Red List of Threatened Species. Yet more than 60 leopards have perished due to illegal hunting during the last four years. Seven of them were hunted down within just two last months of 2013, including a female leopard pregnant with two cubs. The wildlife department officials say they are helpless to stop illegal hunting because the hunters are influential people. What else is new?

It is all too familiar an explanation for grievous harm that is being inflicted on other endangered species elsewhere in the country. Thousands of migratory birds, including some endangered species, like the houbara bustard and Siberian crane, come to their wintering grounds in this country. These birds are not only a sight to behold for those lucky enough to see them; like other members of the animal kingdom, they help maintain ecological balance. Their natural habitats are already under threat from changing weather patterns as well as activities like illegal logging denuding forests of trees and encroaching human settlements. Pakistan being a host of many endangered migratory birds has undertaken formal commitments along with 39 other countries to advance migratory birds conservation at all levels.

But the commitment so far has proven quite weak. A constant danger lurking around these endangered species, like our common leopard, are hunters. The government announces periodic moratorium on hunting of specific birds, such as the houbara bustard. But greed driven exemptions are available to wealthy visitors from abroad. They get all the facilities, in fact exclusive rights in specially designated areas, to fully satiate the desire to chase and kill their favourite bird, the houbara bustard, and a certain type of falcon. A press report points out that for the current hunting season as many as 33 permits allowing 100 kills each (four times higher from last year’s 25 birds) have been issued to members of ruling families and wealthy businessmen from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain.

That does not mean our government now thinks the bird no longer faces the threat of extinction. In fact, a press report notes a government announcement about placing a ban on houbara hunting during the 2014-15 hunting season. So, why allow the killing of 3300 of these endangered birds this year? The answer of course is related to rampant greed permeating every strata of public life. In lieu of the red carpet treatment they receive at every step of their way in and out, the wealthy visiting hunters spend a lot of petrodollars. They have been building roads and other public facilities for their own ease of travel or to win goodwill of the communities around. They are also known to lavish expensive gifts on helpful government officials. Seeing the forest for the trees, top government leaders are happy to host these hunters.

Our rulers have an incorrigible tendency never to take notice of any challenging situation until things spin out of control. This case is particularly worrisome considering that the result of inaction would be both disastrous and irreversible. The leopard needs to be saved before its starts taking a more aggressive approach towards stick wielding humans and getting killed by villagers and hunters alike. The migratory birds must be protected to return again and again to their favourite wintering grounds and keep contributing to the health of our ecosystem.


Saida Fazal, "View Point: Our endangered wildlife," Business recorder. 2014-01-30.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social issues , Social system , Social laws , Wildlife , Hunting , Animals , Pakistan , AJK