HUNTING is no more a means of livelihood or a social activity that it used to be.Trophy hunting is now a luxury or a status symbol for the rich and powerful. Pakistan is home to some of the world’s rarest species as well as a wide variety of birds, animals and marine life specific to the changing terrain from the deserts of Balochistan to the peaks of the Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindukush, in the central plains and along the coastal belt. But unfortunately some of the rarer species of wild life are threatened with extinction even as the survival of the more common fauna are faced with destruction of their natural habitat as a result of declining forest and water resources.
Among species that are becoming extinct are the Chinkara gazelle, fresh water turtles and dolphins as well as some mountain animals like the ibex and the snow leopard. But the most prominent among them that make news from time to time are the Houbara Bustard and the Marco Polo sheep.Houbara bustard is one of the hundreds of birds living and seen around in different parts of Pakistan. Hunters of the Houbara Bustard and the people they employ for this sport are few in numbers but the bird’s survival has become a national and international concern together with its habitat in the desert areas of Sindh and Balochistan.While preventive laws come in force against local people and those of modest means engag ed in hunting this bird, the authorities look the other way when the rulers of Gulf countries land here in force for organized hunt.
The other most prized hunt is the Marco Polo sheep, which live at very high altitude. This animal is an endangered species, numbering a total of 6,000 in the entire world.The Marco Polo Sheep’s trophy fetches as much as $60,000 and has already been hunted to near extinction. Currently, Pakistan strictly prohibits hunting and poaching Marco Polo sheep and has established a 270-square kilometres protection zone for the endangered animal at Khunjerab in Gojal-Hunza.
Community based trophy hunting was initiated with the aim of development of the area and to build awareness among the locals to protect their natural resources, but now only 60 Marco Polo sheep have been spotted in the Khunjerab National Park.They are a source of livelihood for the local people as the sheep attract tourists from abroad but the high price tempts some to poaching which quite often becomes difficult to check in the high wilderness.
The most frequent hunters are the Gulf Sheikhs and their favourite hunting fields are in the Thar desert in Sindh, Cholistan in southern Punjab and in the coastal parts of Balochistan. Some well to do people also adorn their living rooms with deer and ibex heads on the walls and tiger and bear skins on the floors. One wonders why these magnificent ani mals couldn’t have been left where they belonged.
Hunting inflicts stress with noise and fear on the pursued animals. Ecosystems are damaged and the lives of people living in the surrounding areas are disturbed. Justifications such as the development of the areas sound hollow when irreparable damage is done to the wildlife. Brigadier Mukhtar Ahmed, President of Houbara Foundation Pakistan (HFP) says,”Ecosystems and their biodiversity are the living heritage of humanity, once lost they cannot be recreated therefore the disappearance of wild life species and their support systems must serve as an alarm system to mankind.” These animals are declining in number, according to WWF, yet authorities have not yet taken its consequences seriously. Biggame hunting is banned in Pakistan but it is still going on with impunity because influential locals and important tourists cannot be stopped from their pursuits.
Yet avid hunters are finding their own solutions to the dearth of the sport. Canned hunting, primarily a trophy hunt, is a method by which the hunter is guaranteed a kill by the host, simply by pre-capturing the ani- mal and then letting it out in a fenced area for its final end. This has been opposed by some groups as cruelty due to the neg- ation of ‘fair chase’.
Breeding sanctuaries of vari- ous animals and birds such as the Houbara Bustard are already being established but not with much success. Corruption, leni- ency of rules, ineffective preser- vation methods and the lure of high profits, which the locals reap by poaching, are causing immense harm to the country’s wild life wealth.
The organisations that are playing important roles in fighting against illegal hunting include WWF-Pakistan, Torghar Conservation Project (TCP), National Council for Conservation of Wildlife (NCCW), Houbara Foundation, Shimshal Trust for Nature (STN) and National Avian Research Centre. Maryam Aurangzeb of the Ministry of Environment’s Wetlands Project (implemented by WWF) says, “effective awareness raising programmes should be launched for individuals and sport hunters across the country. Diverse platforms like the media should be used for this purpose.To create an enabling environment for protection of wildlife species in Pakistan there should be school outreach, as well as help from religious scholars and policy makers.” The writer is a freelance contributor and can be reached at:
Source: Dawn, Nov 17, 2008