Many efforts are being initiated to create awareness among the masses about conservation of wildlife and biodiversity across the globe by environmental protection agencies and organisations. Wildlife is an essential component of the environment, providing various benefits to all living things. Their survival is indispensable for preserving a sustainable ecosystem in nature. “The earth’s wild creatures — from the tiger to the monarch butterfly — bring wonder and beauty into our lives. They are also a vital part of the forests, meadows, rivers and oceans on whose services our economy and society depend. Wildlife needs our appreciation and protection,” said World Wildlife Fund (WWF) International Director General Jim Leape on World Wildlife Day.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) area of Pakistan is enriched by a great variety of wildlife compared to the other provinces of the country. The province is home to over 50 species of mammals, more than 500 species of birds, 42 species of reptiles, and several species of amphibians. Some of the most beautiful and endangered species of mammals and birds, such as the snow leopard and western tragopan pheasant, are found in the unique geographical zones of the province. Chitral Gol National Park (CGNP) in Chitral and Palas valley in Kohistan support the largest surviving populations of Kashmir markhor and the endangered tragopan, respectively. Pakistan has attempted to protect its biological resources for posterity as well as for more immediate functional benefits. First, federal and provincial authorities have made significant attempts to protect biodiversity and natural capital. A network of national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and game reserves has been established which cover about nine million hectares. Secondly, Pakistan is a signatory to virtually all the important international agreements on ecological protection such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (RAMSAR), the World Heritage Convention and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory species of Wild Animals. In addition Pakistan is a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and International Waterfowl and Wetland Research Bureau (IWRB). These and other measures, including conservation education programmes and initiatives, the activities of non-government organisations, legal instruments and research and management activities have given several previously endangered species of animals a new lease of life.
KP province is faced with the severe menace of climate change, deforestation, uncontrolled emission of greenhouse gases, increases in human population, urbanisation, unsustainable agricultural practices, encroachments, hunting, poaching, introduction of exotic species and weak implementation of wildlife rules and regulations. A human population explosion is putting sustained pressure on conservation of wildlife across this enriched piece of land with a variety of wildlife species. Pangolin hunting is being carried out on a large-scale by the Changaryan or nomads in KP to supply its rare meat to markets in China. The leopard gecko is also netted on a large scale in the semi-mountainous areas and desert ranges to meet market demand in Europe and the US. The hunting of migratory birds fleeing the winter continues in the wetlands and river areas of the province while officials continue to turn a blind eye. There are adverse reports about both the numbers and reasons for the death of migratory ducks found at Tarbela Lake. The provincial wildlife department confirmed only six dead Siberian ducks, but local residents say that hundreds have died. An unnamed farmer claims that they were poisoned by somebody seeking to protect their growing wheat crop. Other migratory species that frequent the lake during the spring season of the year were apparently unaffected. Later, the bodies of the birds were sent to a laboratory in Peshawar in order to determine the cause of death. If the birds are found to have been poisoned and the culprit identified, they could be prosecuted under the Wildlife Act of 1975 and if found guilty could be fined or receive a custodial sentence or both. Such cases can be prevented in future by having sound and well defined roles laid out for the concerned department to save precious wildlife species.
Moreover, Peshawar is considered the largest black market of Saker falcons in the world with Arab sheikhs paying millions for one bird. The Saker is in turn used to hunt the endangered Houbara Bustard. In September 2013, four Saker falcons were recovered from a man in Peshawar who was allegedly trying to smuggle them to the UAE via Karachi where their collective price was stated to be around three and a half million rupees. Officials of the wildlife department, often accused of conniving with smugglers and hunters, claimed after the incident that they were trying to curb the illegal falcon trade but demand in the Middle Eastern countries had turned it into a lucrative business. In January 2014, a village jirga banned all types of hunting in Kohi Barmol in a bid to protect wildlife and the natural beauty of the mountain range located in Katlang tehsil, Mardan. It announced an end to a 15-year-old agreement with the wildlife department wherein locals were paid 75 percent of permit fees issued to hunters by the department. The elders claimed that the relentless issuance of hunting permits was leading to a scarcity of birds and deer, and destroying the area’s natural habitat. We need to act responsibly by reducing the demand for products made from wild animals, such as shahtoosh shawls, ivory decoration pieces or python skin hand bags. They have blood on them.
A lack of funding, shortage of staff and other necessary equipment were the biggest hurdles faced by the wildlife department. Trading wild animals is a crime. It damages species and habitats and negatively impacts the livelihoods of local communities. Let us hope that with the awareness created among the people and with strengthening of the wildlife preservation apparatus of the government, both central and provincial, better surveillance of their working and weeding out corrupt practices, the immense wildlife wealth that nature has endowed to us will be preserved for present and future generations to cherish.
The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org