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