In the wee hours of June 15, 2016, Sindh Wildlife Department (SWD) raided the export cargo terminal of Jinnah International Karachi and seized a colossal quantity of live black scorpions, 148 in all, on their way to Hong Kong.
On a tip off from unknown sources, the SWD confiscated in what is now called the biggest ever scorpion smuggle bid foiled to date.
“A total of 148 black scorpions were seized during an operation” said SWD inspector Mukhtiar Soomro who spearheaded the operation. “These scorpions were kept in 40 small boxes and each scorpion has different weight.”
This is however, not the first of its kind scorpion-smuggling bid foiled in recent times. Earlier this year, Two men carrying boxes loaded with four to five dozen scorpions, were caught somewhere in Kotli, Azad Jummu Kashmir (AJK). They were fined and a case was registered against them.
The Director of AJK Wildlife Department, Javed Ayub said that they induce or persuade scorpion smugglers by offering them handsome amount of money in order to stop selling scorpions. Sadly though, the AJK wildlife rules do not have specific clauses, regarding the sale and purchase of scorpions, so the action against smugglers and hunters was taken under general rules according to the region’s law and constitution.
Black scorpions are considered to be more lethal and poisonous and are bigger in size than their cousins, the straw-colored scorpions. Both varieties are found in abundance in Pakistan with the former prone to the deserts of Cholistan and Thar and the later almost all over the country.
Fast and deadly, the black Scorpions, in a single shot, can deliver enough venom to threaten a human life.
Illegal Scorpion trade started some four years ago when big pharmaceutical giants of US and Europe discovered the unique therapeutic benefits of the venom.
Currently, the Scorpion venom is being used in Anti-Cancer drugs thus triggering a massive hunt down on an otherwise elusive and harmless insect. This large scale depletion of Scorpion population is likely to cause a serious disturbance in the natural ecosystem, increasing the population of small insects and bugs which are a source of sustenance for Scorpions, to tremendous levels.
According to Al-Jazeera English, a 60gms Black Scorpion can easily fetch a jaw-dropping $50,000. Since their prices are increasing exponentially, each extra gram of weight is more profitable than the last.
Scorpion which weighs more than 50 grams is extremely high in demand. People who are directly involved in this illegal smuggling of Black Scorpions have even established offices in Karachi and regularly visit rural sites for purchase of precious cargo.
Of the many stories related to the powerful land mafia of Karachi, the latest addition to this condescending account of land grabbing involves none other than the famous Defence Housing Authority which plans to engulf no less than 490 acres of rich mangrove forest near the coastal belt of Karachi and plans to convert it into a giant waterfront, chopping down the endangered mangrove tress on a gargantuan proportions.
Karachi’s mangrove forest which thrives on the south eastern coastal regions of Karachi surrounding Malir River and Gizri Creek is now the prime target of the Pakistan’s leading land developer DHA which plans to carry out an extension of Phase-7 and initiate development of Phase-8.
Mangrove forest form one of the most important wetland features of Coastal Karachi and provide sustenance to several thousand species of fish and birds. Mangroves are one of the few plant species which thrive both on brackish waters of the sea and the sweet water supplied through the vast Indus delta as the mighty river breaks up into channels before it surrenders to the Arabian Sea.
This major chunk of land has been under litigation for several decades and there are a handful of cases dating back to the then Chief Minister of Sindh Jam Sadiq Ali, when this land was allegedly allotted to some big wig beneficiaries citing their right as ancestral land upon forged documents. Sindh Environmental Protection Agency, although seemingly helpless in this war among giants, has made a few feeble attempts to declare this allotment as a violation of the Indian Forestry Act 1927.
“The Indian Forestry Act of 1927, inherited by Pakistan in 1947, has many provisions to safeguard forests including mangroves,” said Dr Mohammed Ali Shaikh, former director general of the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency. “The spirit of this and other laws is that forest area shall not be diverted for any non-forestry purpose except with the government’s approval.”
This violation of the forestry act is currently under hearing in the superior courts and only time will tell whether the oxygen-starved Karachiites will be spared with perhaps their only indigenous sources of oxygen.
Relentless conservation work has finally paid off and several conservation groups working in the country have reported a strong comeback of the once Critically Endangered Markhor in the KPK province. The population has surged to a considerable extent and citing the increase in population, the KPK government has called in bids for this year’s hunting licenses although the fee for a single trophy has been set to be a mammoth US$70,000.
Earlier, the Pir Panjal Markhor, one of the dominant specie in the KPK province, was categorized as Critically Endangered by the IUCN, a direct outcome of unbridled hunting and poaching. One of the major conservation programs financed and executed was with the help of University of Montana, College of Forestry and Conservation where the experts adopted several modern conservation techniques to save the animal.
Elaborate data collection utilizing the motion sensor cameras and radio collars, Pakistan’s National animal was brought back from the brink of extinction and now freely roams the lush forests of Chitral Gol National Park, Tooshi Shasha, Gehrait, Kaigah and other mountainous regions of the province. Increase in the Markhor population in turn has a positive impact in the population of yet another Critically Endangered species of Pakistan, the formidable Snow Leopard.
The success of the community based conservation program initiated and executed in the late 90’s has helped raise the number of animals from ~150 to no fewer than 1500. The local villagers and herdsmen have now realized the importance of the animal in the region as the money collected through trophy hunting is directed to the welfare of the communities in the region. For example, since 1998, the hunting license fee alone has generated $1,057,500 USD in revenues, 79.7% of which ($843,300) went directly to the local community in which the hunt occurred.
The hunting permits for the current season will be issued on November 11 and the hunting will carry on till April 2014. A quota of four Markhors, eight blue sheep and six ibexes has been fixed this season while the rate for hunting a blue sheep is fixed at US$12,000, US$3,000 for Ibex and US$70,000 for a single Markhor. The licenses are issued under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wildlife (CITES).
The authorities have limited total number of licenses and only four animals will be permitted to be hunted down under the supervision of the government and local representatives.
A refreshing revelation by the World Wide Fund for Nature WWF-Pakistan indicates that the catastrophic floods in river Indus and its tributaries in the past few years have given a substantial boast to the rare and endangered Blind Dolphins. The study which is part of the statistical survey of the organization conducted every five years, reveals that the number of the dolphins have increased and the population is thriving not only in the main stream river but also in the mega canals which are derivatives of the main river.
“In the river section between the Taunsa and Guddu barrages, we recorded 465 dolphins. This section previously has a record of 259 dolphins according to the 2001 survey.” Said Uzma Noureen the Project coordinator of the Indus Dolphin Conservation Project. “In the river section between the Sukkur and Kotri barrages, we recorded 34 dolphins whereas in 2006 only four dolphins were seen”. She added.
WWF, with the help of other conservation agencies conducts a detailed survey every five years working for the protection of Indus Dolphins.
“Sometimes we can’t survey all the side channels and canals due to security concerns. On the computer, we do a further analysis and the areas that we missed, we extrapolate. This is done on a scientific basis using the standard methods and techniques. This gives us the estimated population,” explains Uzma Noureen.
The infamous Indus Water Treaty signed by India and Pakistan was a major blow to the population of this magnificent creature which once lived in the sea and moved inland through the Indus Delta. Evolution took control and after thousands of years, the muddy waters of the river turned the dolphins blind equipping them with a highly evolved sonar system which helps them to navigate and hunt for prey.
These dolphins frequently roam around in the tributaries and canals of Indus but when the water level goes down, these dolphins are trapped and often killed due to low water level. Unlike Fish, Dolphins require fresh oxygen for breathing and have to surface after every five minutes for air which is also one major reason of their decline as they get stranded in the fishing nets.
Earlier reports suggested that there has been a decrease in the population of the Dolphins due to massive flooding in 2010 and the following years. However, many of the private conservation organizations have denied the claim.
Uzma agrees: “What we are saying is that if you look at the numbers there is a slight decrease but this needs careful interpretation; because of the massive 2010 floods there was so much water in the river, its span was wider and there were more side channels and therefore, detection was much harder. The study also found that while the dolphin population decreased in Sindh, it almost doubled in the Punjab, so clearly its distribution has spread”.
With the help of IUCN, which has declared Dolphins as the Highly Endangered Species, the government of Pakistan has also declared it illegal to hunt or kill the Dolphins and the offender can be pursued in the court of law.
Rewriting the odds for the wildlife conservation in Pakistan, World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan, for the first time, mounted a GPS collar on one of the tranquilized leopards in the Galayat area of Abbottabad District on Monday, September the 2nd.
The program of statistical survey of the big cats of the Galayat area is being executed under the Conservation and Assessment Management Plan (CAMP-2004) of the IUCN which has already listed the magnificent animal as the Critically Endangered species, closing in to extinction.
The satellite tracking device was fixed on the animal and was later released in the safe area of Ayubia National Park which serves as one of the biggest Natural habitat of the common leopard found in the Galayat region.
“This is the first time that a common leopard has been collared in Pakistan,” WWF representative said in a press release.
GPS collaring is one of the most prolific and frequently used technique for the conservation of endangered wildlife species or even for statistical data collection about a particular species.
It not only provides valuable information about the territorial extent of an animal or a pack but also helps in avoiding Human-Animal conflict in the regions where the human population density is increasing with a rapid rate.
The leopard collared by the WWF staff, was reported to have attacked the cattle of the local herdsmen who were adamant that the same animal also attacked several women in the past. They, however, had no evidence to prove their claim. Often the leopards which come in direct contact with the humans are shot dead by the villagers who consider it a threat for themselves and their cattle.
The WWF staff was accompanied by the team of Walkabout Films Production Company which shot the whole Collar-mounting episode. The production team has also worked on several Wildlife conservation projects around the world.
The WWF team, in the span of next two years, will monitor the movement of the cat in order to ascertain its territory and its possible collision with the human settlements. The team will also carry out scatological tests to find the dietary habits of the big cats of the area.
After years of relentless conservation work from both national and International wildlife conservation agencies in Pakistan, the Bronx Zoo in New York reported the birth of first Pakistani Snow Leopard in their facility.
Although born in captivity, the cub is the first Pakistani Snow Leopard cub which has been bred from a captured snow leopard from Gilgit. The male leopard was captured some 35 kms northwest of Gilgit by a shepherd in the year 2005.
“Appropriately” named as “Leo”, the leopard was later handed over to the Bronx Zoo for conservation and breeding proposes. The zoo authorities paired the male leopard with “Maya”, a female Snow Leopard captured earlier.
It is often a widely accepted norm that the endangered animals when transported to other countries retain their given names which normally depict their country of origin. Notwithstanding the fact that the birth of the cub is a breath of fresh air for the conservationists all over the world, it is still a matter of concern for many, whether Pakistani High Commission in Washington pursues the matter of naming the cub relevant to its paternal origins.
Dr. Asad M. Khan, Pakistan’s chargé d’affaires in Washington while speaking over the news said, “It’s heartening to learn that Leo had his own cub, a male, this summer. Leo has served as a symbol of deep friendship and abiding good will between our two countries.”
Meanwhile Nadeem Hotiana, the press attache at the Pakistani embassy in Washington explained the reasons why Leo was shifted to the Bronx Zoo in New York as Pakistan did not have the appropriate breeding facility in place.
Listed as the critically endangered animal on the IUCN, Snow Leopard is one of the most elusive and rare carnivores in the world. Strictly inhabiting the Himalayan mountain ranges and the far stretches of the Central Asian Highlands, the Snow Leopard population took a steep plunge because of rampant hunting by Poachers for traditional Chinese medicine. Most of the locals also hunted down the animal in order to safeguard their cattle from stealth attacks by the leopard. An estimated 3,500 to 7,000 remain in the wild, and their population continues to decline.
Pakistani government with the support of the international funding agencies, have undertaken several projects for the conservation of the animals in the far north. US High Commission in Pakistan also takes keen interest in the conservation of wildlife in the country.
It will be interesting to see whether the cub is named as per the norms of his homeland or will it be given yet another foreign name turning a blind eye to the land of its origin.
Wild boars are found all over Pakistan, and are one of its major agricultural pests, gobbling their way through millions of dollars of wheat and sugarcane crops. In Punjab province in the 1980s, the government initiated a bounty system whereby villagers were paid for each tail they delivered, but it was discontinued for lack of funds.
The Indian Wild boar prefers area with thick vegetation. They are found in reed beds as well as scrub and forest areas and are often found living in the vicinity of larger cities of Pakistan. In Pakistan the wild boar is common in the Indus riverian forest throughout the provinces of Punjab and Sind. Increased sugar plantation has increased the wild boar population in some areas of Punjab so high that they are now considered a pest.
Numbers in Sind have declined, but it is not endangered and is still found in good numbers. Wild boars are plentiful in the forest plantations of Changa Manga and Piranwala.
They are common in Margalla Hills and are regularly seen on the streets of Islamabad, despite government efforts to control their population. Each night, packs of the hairy beasts emerge from Islamabad's river beds, parks and scrubland to riffle through the overflowing rubbish bins of its mostly wealthy residents and growing number of restaurants.
City authorities are laying poison and have announced free hunting permits to cull the wild pigs' numbers. But to make sure residents don't get caught in the crossfire, they only allow shotguns. There have been few takers. Hunters are wary of getting arrested by the police, or even worse, getting mistaken for a terrorist.
Description: Wild boars are not found in the higher hill ranges in the north of the country. They are rare in Kohat and Peshawar. Despite government efforts to reduce Wild boar populations, by using pesticides and hunting there has been no significant effect on the population of wild boars in Pakistan, and they are increasing in many areas of Punjab.
The brownish coat is coarse and bristly, usually turning grayish with age. The face, cheeks, and throat are slightly grizzled with whitish hairs. The back is rounded and the legs are relatively long, especially in northern subspecies. Young are born with a pattern of light stripes along their torso, known as livery. These fade between the second and sixth month, reaching adult coloration at one year of age. The wart less head is long and pointed. The upper canines form tusks which curve out and upwards. The lower canines are like razors, self-sharpening by rubbing against the upper canines. The tail is long with a simple tuft.
Social Behavior: Activity is concentrated from dusk to dawn, with a primary resting period at night and a "siesta" during the early afternoon. Wild boars rest in tight groups with bodily contact. The resting place, used several times before being abandoned, is made of numerous troughs lined with leaves and branches. Wild boar are excellent swimmers, and have been documented swimming between offshore islands up to 7 km / 4 miles apart. Wallowing is a favorite activity, taking place several times during each summer afternoons in muddy waterholes. In winter, this frequency drops to about once per week. After wallowing, the wild boar rubs against trees and bushes, an activity that acts as a territorial marker. Ten different vocalizations have been distinguished, and each mother can recognize her own offspring be voice. Maternal families averaging 20, but with a maximum of 100 animals, adult males solitary. Wild boars are very short tempered and can sometimes be very dangerous.
Diet: Seeds, roots, tubers, fruit, nuts, carrion, eggs, insects. In short - ANYTHING.
Cats are not just elusive but remain the hardest creatures to trace in the wilderness. Pakistan’s dense forests in the North and North West are home of some of the rare and endangered species in the world. The wildlife statistics and data available with the regional wildlife departments is not just inadequate but come with heavy lacunae of its own.
The Eurasian Lynx is the biggest among the three species of the cat namely the Canadian Lynx, Iberian Lynx and the Eurasian Lynx. Adult males weigh on an average 21 kgs and have relatively long legs and large feet which provide a “snow-shoe” effect allowing for more efficient travel through deep snow.
In Pakistan, Lynx has been reported from Chitral District in KPK and Gilgit Balitistan. However, all the reports were based on anecdotal information or expert judgement until the experts from Snow Leopard Conservation Organisation stumbled with rare first hand snapshot of the Himalayan Lynx with the Motion Sensor cameras installed to monitor the Snow Leopards.
A recent study conducted in the Chitral district in KPK, conservationists have now confirmed the existence of the Himalayan Lynx, cat specie which is rated as endangered at the IUCN, listed Near Threatened (NT 3.1). This specie of Lynx is also called as the Eurasian Lynx and its habitat ranges from the Central Asia the northern slopes of Himalayas, the Dhaulagiri region of Nepal, southern Chinese regions of Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan and remote and barren regions of Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Northern Pakistan.
Near Threatened (NT 3.1). This specie of Lynx is also called as the Eurasian Lynx and its habitat ranges from the Central Asia the northern slopes of Himalayas, the Dhaulagiri region of Nepal, southern Chinese regions of Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan and remote and barren regions of Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Northern Pakistan.
Followed by the sightings, a thorough research over the specie’s occurrence in Pakistan is still underway and initial study reveals that the local populace is well aware of the existence of this cat in their respective areas.
Out of 248 informants, some 164 reported the occurrence of the Himalayan Lynx in different parts of the Chitral District in a span of last eight years. Highest Lynx occurrence has been reported in Mastuj and the lowest in Torkhow. Majority of the Lynx sightings were reported either at dawn or dusk indicating the nocturnal behavior of the animal. Most of the times, the animal has been spotted in shrub lands near winter pastures followed by broken rocks and meadows along the pony treks of summer pastures.
Since Livestock rearing is the major source of income of the highland communities, it makes the prime cause of Human-wildlife conflict in the Alpine zones of the world. Looming threats to the Lynx population are both human induced and economically fueled: induced retaliatory killings such as shooting, trapping and poisoning, poaching for pelts and bones, loss of natural prey-base, loss of habitat due to overgrazing, food competition, changing climate, human population growth and lack of awareness.
The specie requires a thorough Base-line survey to ascertain the total number of the animals, their habitat, concentration and their feeding patterns before a comprehensive conversation plan can be designed and rolled out for the endangered Himalayan Lynx in Pakistan.
To reduce the human-predator conflict and to promote a sense of resource stewardship in the communities, community based conservation projects need to be initiated in one of the high depredation zones. Improving natural prey-base will help reduce predation on Livestock, thus driving down conflicts with local communities.
Local conservation Org. captures a rare baby Crocodile in Sanghar, later releasing it at a safe place
The agricultural fields of Sanghar and the Chotiari Range have long been known to possess the rare Marsh Crocodiles in the remote Wetlands of the region and these reptiles, although now listed as Endangered by IUCN, are often spotted by the local populace during the wee hours of the day.
Ventures of such a baby crocodile were cut short when it decided to explore its neighbourhood on December, 6th Thursday, when the locals captured and relocated the baby crocodile. The Crocodile was spotted when the local residents of the area were forced to find the reason behind horrendous barking of the dogs that were kept at a distance by the juvenile hissing of the baby Crocodile.
Members of the Makhi Development Organization (MDO), a group that aims to protect the environment, were alerted and they promptly informed the World Wide Fund for Nature Pakistan (WWF) office at Chotiari Wetlands Complex.
MDO’s president, Khalid Ali Leghari, said, “We believe the little animal might had strayed off too far in a canal and lost its way when trying to get back to where it came from.”
Sanghar District, in the southern province of Sindh, possesses some of the rare species of animals and plants owing primarily to the rich wetlands adjoining the Nara Canal. Many of these species include the Marsh Crocodiles, Smooth-coated Otter, Migratory Birds etc found in the area of Chotiari Reservoir and Chotiari Lake close to the Tharparkar region.
The WWF experts inspected the animal and found it in good health. The dearth of extensive documentation and statistics has made it difficult to formulate a strategy for the conservation but the raw analysis depict that the specie inhabits a large area of Nara Canal and Nara Desert downstream of Sukkur Barrage.
The Wetlands possess a variety of Flora and Fauna and needs extensive Statistical research to have the first-hand information of the inhabiting species. WWF is probably the only organisation which has done substantial research in examining the population of Crocodiles, the Smooth Coated Otters, Vultures, Indus Dolphins and many other species of birds and other animals.
Umair Shahid, WWF’s natural resource management officer, said, “It is phenomenal how these amazing creatures migrate from the Nara Canal to the adjoining sand dunes in search of freshwater lakes, which are found in the complex desert system.”
He added the crocodiles are often found in the lakes, where they breed. “For instance, around 12 juvenile crocodiles were spotted in January this year in Nagiopir Lake.”
According to rough estimates, there are around 600 Marsh Crocodiles inhabiting the Nara Wetland Complex and Chotiari Wetland Complex in Sindh as well as the Hingol River in Baluchistan. 150 of these animals are living in captivity.
The breeding season of the Crocs start in the dry months of December to February and a female lays around 25-48 eggs. The temperature of the nest usually defines the sex of the embryos within the eggs which is one of the unique features of these animals.
One of the permanent residents off the coast of Jiwani Beach Baluchistan, the Humpback Whales are a rare sight for the local fisherman and the personals of the Fisheries Department in the region. One of these giant mammals was recently spotted in the deep seas between Gunz and Pishukan by the Fisheries Department’s patrol launch in the area.
The officials later shared the details of the sighting with the WWF regional centre in the area. Humpback Whales have long been declared as Endangered Species by the IUCN and are currently on the Red List of the same. Humpbacks are permanent dwellers of the Arabian Sea and are peculiarly known for their non-migratory behavior unlike the other whle species.
“Humpback whales are easily recognizable due to their long pectoral fins, which can be up to 15 feet. The Arabian Sea humpback whale is unique among other known populations of this species in the world in that it is generally thought that this population feeds and breeds in the same area (the Arabian Sea) and does not carry out very long migration to polar waters for feeding. This means that humpback whales can be seen all the year round in the Arabian Sea,” said Shoaib Kiyani, currently working with the WWF and part of the Renaissance Whale and Dolphin Project of Environment Society of Oman.
Humpbacks are often sighted in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Oman where the sea depth reaches to maximum and have been counted to be in the strength of 100 animals.
“Humpback whales are a popular species due to their tendency to perform amazing acrobatic such as jumping out of water and slapping the water with pectoral fins, tails and head. The sightings and stranding of humpback whales are recorded every now and then along the coast of Pakistani,” said Mr Kiyani.
The role of WWF in the conservation of Humpback Whales and Dolphins in general and Green Turtles in particular has led to the increase in the number of these endangered animals to considerable extent.
Jiwani Beach is one of the important marine turtle nesting sites in Pakistan. The Green turtle (Chelonia mydas) is the main species found nesting there; while nests of Olive ridleys (Lepidochelys olivacea) are rarely observed.
So far, 2,017 nests were protected during 1999 - 2007 and 66,031 hatchlings emerging from these nests have been released into the sea.