Mar 14, 2011

Gilgit Baltistan: Need to Build on Environmental Successes

Initiatives to protect the population of snow leopards in the region have proven successful as illegal hunting is targeted by local police but bigger questions regarding dam construction remain.

Below is an article published by The News:

Initiatives taken some couple of years back in Bunji, a small town some 50 km away from Gilgit, to help increase population of endangered snow leopard have started showing tremendous results as local people claim that population of this fascinating specie has almost doubled in this particular area.

Though no radio collar study has been carried out in this area due to lack of resources but eleven local persons have so far claimed that they have succeeded in looking snow leopards from a close distance in last two months.

The wildlife experts on the basis of statements given by eyewitnesses were of the view that the population of snow leopards in the area has increased up 50 to 60 as compared to nearly 30 some years back.

In their initial evaluation the experts have said decline in the population of Markhor, national animal of Pakistan, led to decrease in the population of snow leopards that usually depend on hunting of this ‘King of Goat’ specie for their survival. When markhors started facing extinction the snow leopards, which sit at the top of food chain, found it hard to obtain food in snow clad mountains resulting in disappearance of this specie from many areas.

Interaction with some of the local people revealed that they started monitoring the mountainous areas to keep vigil over the illegal hunters who were involved in killing markhors and snow leopards.

“Our Zaitoo, village community watchman, caught two illegal hunters from another village and handed them over to police. This way we tried to minimise the chances of illegal hunting of markhors and snow leopards. If we want to increase population of snow leopard, we must focus on increasing the population of markhors that serve as source of food for these big cats,” said Ashfaqur Rehman, a banker in Bunji area.

He said they would increase the monitoring mechanism more vigorously in the coming months because snow leopards usually breed in winter — January to mid-March — and have a gestation period of 90-100 days, so that the cubs are born between April and June.

Najeeb Ahmad Khan, an Islamabad-based tour operator, who used to take wildlife lovers from Islamabad to Gilgit to have a close look at snow leopards in snow-clad mountains, appeared quite optimistic and hoped he would be able again to start his safari journey of tourists that was shelved in the past due to decline in the population of markhors and snow leopards.

“The snow leopard only crosses snow line to hunt markhors and other prey animals and return back immediately to his home range as high as between 3,000 and 5,400 meters above sea level. But tourists were always willing to cover large distances only to have a look on these rare species,” he said.

Najeeb said he is planning to launch 4-day safari service that would start by jeeps to Ramghat via Partabpul and Bunji and the visitors would have bar-b-que dinner and joyous sun set on Nanga Parbat on day first. “Next day would start with hike to Neelidar, going as high as about 600 metres in five hours to discover the big cats, roaming freely in their habitats. Third day’s hiking would lead to Akalotamo and the visitors would be taken to another enchanting destination of Misikhandgah on last day of the journey,” he said.