Pakistan: The vanishing wildlife

Environment: The vanishing wildlife
Air Marshal Ayaz A Khan (R)
A civilised country guarantees security of life and honour of its citizens, preserves its flora fauna and conserves its birds and animals by proper laws, education and public awareness. In our criminalized society no one is safe any more. Human beings are routinely gunned down without remorse. Birds especially partridges, bustards and quails are shot and netted indiscriminately out of season. And forest mafias have destroyed forests so recklessly that thick jungles have been turned into deserts. When the law and order degrades both humans and animals suffer. While thousands of men, women and children have been gunned down by terrorists and sectarian killers who have yet to be dealt with properly, country’s wildlife i.e. both birds and wild animals has been destroyed with a vengeance. VIPs hunt and kill precious and endangered leopards, black bears, Markhors, foxes, jackals, monkeys Chakors and Ramchakors and partridges with bloody relish. At the time of partition in August 1947 the deserts of Cholistan, the Thar and Thal had abundance of Neel cows, deer, bustards, partridges, while the Northern Areas were teeming with the wildlife. Even in the forests around Murree, Ayubia and Nathiagali wild fowls, Pheasants and leopards were occasionally sighted. Alas that is no more.

The colourful boards warning people not to kill leopards, monkeys, pheasants, Chakors and partridges on the roads of Abbottabad, Murree, Nathiagali and other tourist resorts are more for decoration and effect. No one cares that the endangered leopards, black bears and monkeys are being killed. The sight of hungry bears trapped from Ath Muqam and Lipa Valley in Azad Kashmir, and made to dance with “Nuqails” in their noses in the intense heat of Punjab does not evoke any sympathy or mercy. Thousands of baby monkeys trapped and shackled in steel chains for life, and made to mimic or ride on trucks only evokes derisive laughter. The Pakistani society and culture is to be blamed for the contempt in which animals are held. Educating the public to love animals and birds and protect the threatened and near extinct wildlife should be the priority of every citizen of Pakistan. The efforts of the wildlife departments to save animals from extinction is a challenge because of their limited resources and the negative attitude of the public towards conservation and protection efforts.

Leopards have been in the news recently, and it is time that the public is made aware of the importance of protecting one of the most beautiful animals of the wild. Due to reckless hunting there are only a few leopards left in Pakistan. Common Leopards have survived in very small numbers in the Doonga Gali forest of the Ayubia National Park. Starving and hungry they stray into villages, and towns in search of food during winter months. The sight of a leopard creates unexplained terror. Leopard is called the lion in the Galiat area. Because of the dread and the urge to kill, the common leopard has become a threatened species in Pakistan. A few years back a leopard had strayed into a house in Satellite Town Rawalpindi in search of food. The frightened inmates informed the local police. Policemen reached and shot the leopard dead. It was so heartless. The few leopards alive in the wild are a prized wealth of Pakistan, and resolute effort must be made to ensure that they survive.

Some time back someone presented two leopard cubs to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He reprimanded the gift giver and handed over the cubs to Islamabad zoo, because their mother could not be traced. Four years back in Nathiagali during the month of December, I was informed that eight leopards were regular visitors to the Governor’s House there. It was a cold winter evening when I reached the Governor’s House. I saw lots of pug marks and leopard droppings in the back lawn. Some droppings proved that the leopards had been praying on dogs and monkeys. Reportedly two mother leopards and their six cubs were living in the vicinity. Last year a leopard had entered my neighbours goat shed and had killed his goat. Dogs had mysteriously disappeared from Malach, Mochidara suburb of Nathiagali. Leopards are fond of dog meat. Leopards were sighted on Kooza Gali-Doongagali road and near PAF Base Kalabagh near Nathiagali. Long time back one base commander reportedly shot a leopard dead near PAF Base Kalabagh. There has never been a report during the last fifty years of a leopard attacking a human being. The leopard in its distinct black and white spotted skin is on the run from its most dangerous predator – the man.

Even the remote habitat of the snow leopards has been infiltrated into by blood thirsty humans. The report from Chitral that three snow leopards had killed a Markhor in the Toshi Game Reserve on the Garam Chasma Road proved that the animal has returned to Chitral. The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Wildlife Department had claimed that seven snow leopards were seen together in the Chitral Gole National Park. The snow leopard lives on the Markhor. Abdul Nawaz Khan DFO Wildlife Cell Chitral told news reporters that “there could be forty snow leopards in Chitral now”. But this appears to be an exaggerated figure. DFO’s statement that foreign hunters could be given permits to kill the snow leopard must be challenged and objected to. According to World Wildlife Organization the snow leopard is a threatened animal, and the number of snow leopards alive could be counted on the fingers. There is no question of issue of permits to VIPs of foreign hunters to kill snow leopards in Chitral or elsewhere in Pakistan.

A reporter in Abbottabad has created commotion by his daily reports (March 14, 15 and 17) about the unfortunate young leopard who unaware of the plight awaiting him had strayed into thickly populated Malikpura locality of Abbottabad city on Sunday morning of March 14, 1999. This leopard after charging at two boys jumped into a house and entered into the bathroom. Abdul Aziz the owner quickly locked the door, and telephoned the police. The local police accompanied by a Magistrate, Conservator of Forests and officials of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Wildlife Department soon arrived at the house. But the officials had come without a cage or a tranquillizer gun. Later Secretary Forests was contacted in Peshawar for help. Few hours later a special team of Wildlife officers reached Abbottabad with a tranquillizer gun and other equipment to stun and cage the leopard. In the evening the leopard was stunned by a tranquillizer shot, and the officials took the wild cat into their custody. This leopard was an eighteen months old male. It had descended into Malikpurs from the nearby Shimla Hill. They had planned to free this leopard in the Ayubia National Park at Galliyat near Nathiagali.

Next day i.e. on Monday March 15, 1999 the leopard escaped from the custody of the Wildlife Department officials and disappeared. The local people blame the officials for inefficiency. They alleged that the tranquillizer was adulterated. It could have killed the leopard. The police fired at the escaping animal and injured it. But it managed to get away. Authorities are requested to look into the matter. Forest departments handout said that the leopard had escaped into the nearby ravines when the large number of people gathered around the animal started shouting. Dr Mumtaz Malik Conservator Wildlife Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, who has earned a good name as an animal lover, told reporters that the leopard was given two heavy dozes of tranquillizer through the injector gun and was successfully caged. He blamed the disorderly and noisy crowd that caused the leopard to panic, and escape. He said that, “The police fired upon the leopard to save the people.” But the general impression is that the police fired in panic and acted indecisively. It is unfortunate that police firing wounded the leopard. In the operation minor injuries were caused to a divisional forest officer (DFO) and to two children.

The Pakistani leopards have as much right to life as other inhabitants of Pakistan. To educate the readers, reproduced below is an extract from Encyclopedia Britanica: “The leopard formerly PARD (Leo pardus) also called Panther is a big cat closely related to the lion, tiger and other members of the cat family (Falidae). The name leopard was given to the cat now called Cheeta, which was believed to be a cross between lion and the pard. The term pard was eventually replaced by the name leopard. The leopard is found over nearly the whole of Africa south of the Sahara, in north east Africa, and from Asia minor, through central Asia, and Pakistan, Nepal, India to China and Manchuria. It varies greatly in size and markings. Its average size is: weight 50 to 90 Kg i.e. 110 to 200 pounds, length 84 inches, shoulder height 60 to 70 cm. Dark spots are generally arranged in rosettes over much of the body.

The leopard is a solitary animal of the bush and the forest, and is nocturnal in habit. It is an agile climber and frequently stores the remains of its kills in tree branches. It feeds upon any animal it can overpower i.e. from small rodents to water buck, medium sized goats, cattle, antelopes and deer. It has a special liking for dog as a food.” In Galiat it eats monkeys and in Africa Baboons as well. The female produces two to three cubs after a gestation period of three months. The calls of the leopard vary and include a series of harsh coughs, throaty growls, and deep purring sound. Leopard is a tree climber and good swimmer. Leopard spotting, viewing by binoculars photographing and feeding would be interesting and a good sport. Killing and gunning down this beautiful animal is criminal. The few leopards in Pakistan deserve attention, because their survival is threatened. The provincial governments are requested to enact legislation to save the leopard, the black bear and the monkey. Fines and jail terms are suggested for trappers and killers.

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