The decline of biodiversity is one of the primal challenges facing the world. Humans are directly dependent on biological diversity, which includes plant life, fresh water resources, marine life and species living in and around natural habitats.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan contains diverse habitats that support a variety of flora and fauna. Ideally, every country should have at least 25 percent forest cover for a healthy environment but Pakistan, being a semi-arid country, owns only five percent of its area under forests. The primary cause of deforestation is the consumption of fuel wood and timber. Due to the usage of wood for fuel purposes, forests in the high mountains of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are rapidly diminishing.
After the 18th amendment, provincial governments are now wholly solely responsible for the management of forests. Before the 18th amendment, the environment ministry was amongst the concurrent list, which is now no more there. The total area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as per land use statistics 1992, is 10.1739 million hectares out of which 1.684 million hectares is under forest/trees (17 percent), range land is 4.893 million hectares (48 percent), agriculture land is only 1.546 million hectares (15 percent) and ‘others’ is 2.05 million hectares (19 percent) of the total area.
The province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa houses 40 percent of Pakistan’s dwindling forests and is also the storehouse of its natural biodiversity. The uniqueness of the province can be gauged from the fact that it has the largest surviving population of flared horned markhor, western horned tragopan and snow leopard.
Environmental education serves as a critical conservation tool but, unfortunately, this tool has not been effectively used. Most of the local communities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are unaware of the ecological and economic benefits involved in the sustainable conservation of wildlife resources. Attributed awareness about the sustainable use of wildlife in developing countries is inappropriate and neglects technical approaches, lack of intensive outreach programmes, lack of funding and geographical isolation of target sites. That is why most of wild ungulate species face threats of extinction. Creating awareness among people through conservation education is necessary to save these species from extinction.
Sound awareness would enable the general public to express their views about the status of natural resources in their areas, explain their needs and negotiate a set of common objectives about natural resource management, conservation and monitoring activities. For this purpose, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government should launch intensive conservation education programmes in resource-deficient areas in the province.
Many bird and animal species are experiencing population decline in the hilly forest areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa due to illegal hunting for sport, meat, trade and even persecution. The impact of hunting has been heightened with the dissemination of modern guns and greater mobility. Virtually all large mammals have declined in number and have had their range reduced as a result.
Recently, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa wildlife department has set up 200 ‘school nature clubs’ in the province to engage teachers and students in conservation and the promotion of wildlife and the environment. The launch of the four-step ‘Green Growth’ initiative in the province is a viable step of the present government, primarily focusing on environmental degradation with political ownership, public awareness initiative and commitment to ‘zero carbon’ growth.
Local knowledge is the popular folklore that remains in the informal sector, usually unwritten and preserved in oral traditions rather than texts. The importance of local knowledge is usually overlooked by many environmentalists, despite the fact that rural people acquire knowledge through direct contact with the environment and through experiences in the use of natural resources. Natives are familiar with the vegetation of the habitat as well as the associated wild animals. They are the decision makers about the use of local resources and are hence very important. Their decisions are affected by several factors, including their own self-interest.
Therefore, it is essential to know the interests of the local people before planning for conservation because wildlife conservation and rural development are not conflicting targets. Wildlife use includes game viewing, tourism, sale of live animals and hunting for trophy and or meat. The latter activity is the backbone of a major tourist industry known as safari hunting. It has resulted in the positive change in attitude of the local people towards wildlife, the active involvement of communities in natural resource projects and the achievement of conservation goals.
Trophy hunting is a wildlife conservation tool widely recognised and accepted for the conservation and protection of wild resources by local communities through incentives in the form of hunting fees. This approach has been adopted in Pakistan and is applicable in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where most species of wild ungulates are threatened with extinction. Therefore, government and non-government conservation organisations are trying to conserve wild ungulates through trophy hunting programmes in community-based conservation areas by providing the communities a share in the trophy hunting fee as an incentive.
Pakistan has led the world in introducing the concept of community-based trophy hunting programmes to the conservation of biodiversity in high alpine ecosystems. Markhor are highly prized by international hunters for their majestic horns. In 1983, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa wildlife department started the Chitral conservation hunting programme, a trophy hunting programme for the markhor. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa wildlife department issued two annual permits for trophy hunting under an agreement with the Shikar Safari Club of the US. The permit, which started at $ 5,000 in 1983, reached $ 15,000 in 1991.
In 1993, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa wildlife department embarked upon a programme of community participation in wildlife conservation, making it the first province of Pakistan to involve and empower the local communities in the conservation of wildlife. Forests support considerable biodiversity, providing valuable habitat for wildlife; moreover, forests foster medicinal conservation and the recharge of aquifers.
Conserving wildlife is a large and complex system, rehabilitating endangered species where each individual can still make a difference to saving the species and educating the public about wildlife problems with a live animal to draw people in to hear a message. People working in forest and wildlife departments in the province should be given awareness in accordance to the laws and demands of the issue. In addition, authorising the concerned departments with legal and affirmative action against unlawful acts on the spot will make a big difference in tackling the issue.
The writer is a freelance columnist and independent researcher. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets @JanjuaHaroon