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.

Endangered Species: Leopard on the spot in Phakar, Pakistan

by S.Mujahid Ali Shah
Sunday, 22 Mar, 2009 | 02:34 AM PST |

This is a story about my village called Phakar, in the Nagar Valley 80 km northeast to Gilgit in the Karakoram Mountains. The average altitude is 2600M with mountain cliffs and caves, some of them being totally inaccessible for humans. I live in the northern deep corner of the village called Gutum which means Deep Valley in Brushasky.

It so happened that a snow leopard family chose a cliff called Chokobat about 200 meters north to my house to live and raise cubs. One day a woman grazing her flock, saw a goat belonging to our neighbors fall down Mount Chokobat to Korang , a deep, narrow and steep gully beneath the lower village of Ghamadass, with Hunza river beneath. It was a snow leopard that had killed the goat; as it throws the prey away after sucking the blood from its throat.

The next day she went with her son to the caves some 200 metres north of my house behind the cliff of Chokobat to look for the den. They could n’t proceed beyond a certain point as the terrain was deviously dangerous.

Following the first strike, the snow leopard killed six more of the village cattle. A cub was killed by one of our hunters and the following night the parents of the cub terrified the village with their roaring and nobody dared to step out.

A week later, behind the mount Uyum Tong which lies east to my house, a woman saw two leopards as she was about to enter the cattle house to milk her goats. She quickly shut the door and bolted it with an iron chain, rushing back to the house crying ‘tha tha tha’, which means snow leopard.

Finally when the snow leopard entered a cattle house in Nagra and Hunza from an opening in the roof called sagam, (meant for light); the Hadulkutz clan decided to catch it alive. They called Meherban Ali from the Nazarbekutz clan. He was a tall man known for catching wild beasts. He cut a long branch of a poplar tree and went up the cattle house roof, pressing the branch to the leopard’s throat, while four young men entered the cattle house and chained both the leopards. The whole village rewarded him with a kilo of flour per family.

After much debate of what to do with the animals, it was eventually decided that instead of killing them and decorating the house with leopard skins, they would be kept alive.

Syed Yaha Shah, the pioneer Nature Conservation activist from Northern Areas was contacted who promptly arrived from Minapin to Phakar in an NGO pick up. He spoke to the people about the rare species they had captured and that Meherban Ali would be rewarded by the government and the NGO for breaking a thousand year tradition of not killing the beast.

Both animals were driven to Gilgit by the oldest driver of Phakar in his jeep, along with Meherban Ali, three village elders and Syed Yahya himself.

Two years later, I returned to my village on completion of my Masters at Karachi University. I met Meherban Ali who told me that the government had not yet given him any reward or appreciation. Syed Yahya Shah had written a book Tauze ul Wsail where he mentioned the story. I told him that the book had been dedicated to Meherban Ali and his friends.

He smiled but was not as happy as he would have been if he had received recognition from the government.