Gilgit-Baltistan Wildlife department to probe leopard death, Pakistan

Snow Leopard dies in Wildlife Dept’s custody
February 26, 2011 (2 days ago)

The villagers claimed that they had caught the wild cat alive.—File photo
SKARDU: A Snow Leopard which had spread terror among villagers allegedly died in the custody of the Wildlife Department on Saturday.
The wild-cat had come out of a forest in search of food last month and had spread panic among the residents of Minthal by killing livestock.
On Saturday morning, the villagers followed and caught the cat and handed it over to the Wildlife Department but it died soon after.
The villagers claimed that they had caught the wild cat alive.
The Wildlife Department said that it will conduct a post-mortem of the cat after which the cause of its death can be determined.
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Wildlife dept to probe leopard death
By Shabbir Mir
Published: February 28, 2011

GILGIT: The wildlife department of Gilgit-Baltistan has constituted a committee to probe the killing of a rare snow leopard beaten to death by residents in a remote village, officials told The Express Tribune on Sunday.

“We have constituted a committee to thoroughly investigate the matter,” said Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Ghulam Mohammad.

Earlier on Saturday, locals in Mathal, a village in Skardu, captured and tortured a snow leopard, which they claimed had killed dozens of their livestock previously. “This time too, the lethal predator had attacked our livestock and injured it,” said Wafa Khan, a resident of Skardu.

As a precautionary measure, locals said they had been prepared to counter the threat and when they learnt the leopard had ambushed the cattle, they reacted swiftly to save it. “This time around, people were alert so the leopard failed to inflict huge losses,” said a resident from Skardu, Raza Hussain.

Sources said people were waiting for the cat and when it arrived, they tried to capture it alive. Some threw a large blanket around it while others caught her tail. In the wrangling, the wild animal sustained injuries on her head and other parts of her body as it was hit to the wall repeatedly.

“After hectic efforts, the leopard was overpowered and handed over to forest officials,” said a villager, adding that the leopard died while she was in custody of officials from the forest department, who had a veterinary doctor to have the leopard inspected.

DFO Mohammad said that besides forest officials, a veterinary doctor and a snow leopard expert will also be part of the committee that will submit its findings to him. “There are various conflicting reports with respect to the killing of the precious wild animal,” he said, adding that severe legal action will be taken if anyone is found guilty of the killing.

According to wildlife laws, a perpetrator can face more than two years imprisonment for killing the rare cat.

The snow leopard is one of the most endangered wild animals found in the mountainous region.

Conservationists say that wild animals turn towards human settlements when they don’t find food in the mountains. “When illegal hunting of animals such as Markhor and Ibex will take place, these animals will naturally turn towards human settlements in search of food,” said an environmentalist in Gilgit. He added that the survival of this precious animal is under threat due to illegal hunting.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2011.

Ignored management issues in the Khunjerab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan

Hussain Ali
PMAS-Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi/Snow Leopard Foundation

Khunjerab National Park (KNP) is situated in the extreme North of the Pakistan and lies between 36o North and 75oEast. Its area is 226,913 ha. It was established in 1975, on the recommendations of famous zoologist George Schaller, with Marco polo sheep as flag species. At that time Marco polo sheep were present in two pockets within the park, one at the zero point (being an area of permanent presence) while, the second habitat of the Marco Polo sheep was erchanaiNalla where it had seasonal presence (generally in May-October during lambing). In 1969, the government of Pakistan made an agreement with the Chinese Govt. for the construction of a road along the historical Silk Route. The construction of this road (Karakorum Highway-KKH) started in 1969 and completed in 1979.

Before the construction of the Karakoram Highway only local people especially Mirs (Kings) of Hunza were involved in hunting of Marco Polo sheep. However, the situation got worst during the late 1960s and early 1970s due to increased human interference, especially by the people who took part in the survey and the construction of the Karakoram Highway. It is reported that, they were not hunting Marco Polo sheep only for sport, but also to feed their men (Rasool, 1990). The construction of the KKH increased access of visitor to KNP, which contributed to poaching and further decline in the population of the Marco Polo Sheep. Consequently, today presence of the Marco Polo Sheep is confined to the Kerchanai Nalla only.

Nevertheless, the establishment of the park and continuous efforts of the KNP administration contributed to a drastic decline in poaching incidences in the recent past. However, current renovation and expansion work on the KKH, has introduced new challenges for the park after 40 years. As a part of ongoing research project by the Snow Leopard Foundation (SLF) in KNP, the SLF team spent a substantial time in KNP in Nov-December 2010, which allowed us to make observations on issues currently faced by the park. Though the poaching incidences are pretty controlled these days, we observed following emerging issues:

1: Disturbance due to the contraction work: Approximately 66 km of KKH falls inside the Park and hundreds of labors with heavy machinery are working inside the park, including a large residential base camp. The presence of hundreds of people along with engineering machinery and vehicles is causing disturbance to the animals, particularly when wildlife cross the roads at or comes to river for drinking water. It is reported that when wildlife comes to river sometimes labor harass them by through stones. No environmental management system was observed to be in place; neither construction workers were trained on how to work in a sensitive environment.

2: Lack of Waste Management System: The residential camps of the construction company lack a proper waste management system as a result there is dumps of garbage near the camps and along the road. This attitude is totally inimical to the national park.

Figure 1: Garbage dumping along the Chinese Camps at KNP.

3: Hunting of Wildlife for Food: As the Chinese workers eat all kinds of animals so every available animal in the park present an attractive food for them, which is a likely threat to the wildlife if an environmental management system is not in place. We did not observe any signs of hunting by gun or explosives except. We however located traps which were set for capturing golden marmot.

Figure 2: Trap set to catch the Golden Marmot.

4: Lack of Traffic Management System: Cargo containers and the passenger buses moves through the park, and the Karakoram Highway remains busy from May to December. It is reported by game watchers that vehicle drivers blow horns or chase animals seen along the road. This element might be contributing to continuous stress on the animals, and avoidance of elusive species.

Figure 4: The copper wire that forms knots.

5: Left Over Wires: Few years back there was an active telecommunication line which was being used as a source of communication between Pakistan and China. This line is neither functional anymore nor maintained. Consequently, it has fallen on the ground and remains unattended. These wires have made knots in which the animals may get trapped.

Suggested Management Measures:
1. The road construction company should develop an environmental management system, if it did not exist before, addressing issues of waste management, traffic management, and precautions about working in sensitive environments, following EPA guidelines. This environmental management system should be strictly implemented and monitored by the GB Forest and Wildlife Department and other stakeholders.
2. The KNP directorate should implement a system of waste management and tourism management in the park.
3. All left over wires, equipment and nonfunctional infrastructure need to be removed.

Literature cited:
Rasool, G. 1990.The Status of Wildlife in Khunjerab National Park Northern Areas, Pakistan. Tiger Paper., p. 25-28.

Climatic calamities and endangered species

Written by Syed Mujahid Ali Shah, by email

15 August 2010 The recent heavy rains in northern mountainous belts of Pakistan are hardly going to spare wild fauna from devastating their habitats as that of human population.

Among all such animals, the most concerned specie is snow leopard. They are already threatened being left only a few hundreds in these mountain ranges due to ongoing prey depletion of theirs following dry conditions caused by ever increasing temperature trends. But a wet calamity of heavy rains during recent weeks anticipates a new threat.

The unusual heavy summer rainfall situations are opposite to that of normal weather conditions of snow leopard habitats in the Himalaya and Karakoram ranges of Gilgit Baltistan and Chitral. This drastic change in climate can create vegetation rich landscape situation where snow leopards and its prey species cannot live.

As the ideal habitat of these animals is open semi desert rocky mountains—out of dense vegetations like those of Chilghoza pine near nival zones of Himalayas and Karakoram. On the other hand huge rainfall situations, as some recently recorded 100 mm/h in Baltistan and Ladakh regions, being semi desert rocky hills, they are easily eroded and lose most of the soil. What leaves behind may be just rock, unable to produce enough fodder for the species of Markhor, ibex, Marcopolo sheep and the musk deer on which snow leopards thrive. Isn’t the world becoming so unsafe for both human and animals from carbon emissions in bulk? If timely steps were not taken to cut the greenhouse gases by the industrialised nations, such species would just wither away.

New challenges in conserving Pakistani snow leopards

* Only 300 to 420 wild snow leopards left in mountain ranges of Pakistan
* Snow leopards’ habitat threatened by climate change, rising temperatures

By Syed Mujahid Ali Shah

In Pakistan, the northern mountain ranges of the Himalayas — Karakoram , Hindukush and Pamir — Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan host one of the most fascinating animals of the world: the snow leopard. The magnificent animal is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red-list of endangered species.

According to a recent scientific study by Yale University, there are 300 to 420 estimated snow leopards left in these snow-covered mountain ranges of Pakistan, out of a total estimated world population of 4,000 to 7,000. This region is the main corridor of connecting bigger populations of snow leopards living in Pakistan, Central Asia, China, India and Nepal.

Climate change and increasing temperatures have caused fast degradation of the bio-tops in these mountains, which also host wild species of ibex, Marcopolo sheep, blue sheep, Astor Markhor and the musk deer, on which the snow leopard depends.

This has resulted in a tough inter and intra-specie survival competition. Due to food shortage in its natural sanctuaries, snow leopards have started moving down to villages in search of food and frequent encounters with cattle herds are now being reported from villages near Khunjerab National Park and Central Karakoram National Park in Hunza-Nagar district. Two decades ago, the government started ‘trophy hunting’ programmes in collaboration with mountain villagers in these regions to protect the snow leopard and its prey. Such hunting expeditions cost $3,000 to $80,000 and 80 percent of the money goes directly to the mountain communities, while 20 percent goes to the Forest and Wildlife Department in Gilgit-Baltistan.

The project has showed positive results in stopping illegal hunting of Marcopolo sheep, ibex, Astore Markhor and blue sheep.

Faced with an alarming future scenario in the shape of critical depletion of the snow leopard’s prey species, the conservation of wild fauna in these mountains will need more than just relying on trophy hunting projects.

As a new protection strategy, measures can be taken in the form of incentive programmes for the villagers to help them conserve wild life hot spots, as well as new awareness and educational campaigns on mass-level in these mountain regions.

As we are already on the verge of losing this endangered wild species — mainly due to lack of awareness and direct dependency of the local population on natural resources — the world should show responsibility by realising the value of Pakistani snow leopards and play its role in protecting them through economic and educational means.

Syed Mujahid Ali Shah is a student of Landscape Ecology and Nature Conservation in Germany.