Winter hunting – a looming threat to biodiversity
The Baltistan region of GB has a wide range of fauna and flora residing in the two great mountain ranges of the Karakorum and the Himalayas. The Central Karakorum National Park (CKNP) covers the maximum part of the range inside Pakistan and starts from Hushe in Siachen valley and extends westward to the boundary of Khunjerab National Park.
However, some part of the Karakorum Range (Chourbat valley) towards the east of Siachen to the line of control lies outside of the wildlife reserve due to military and strategic considerations.
The remoteness of the area and locality outside the CKNP makes the belt of Chourbat an ideal hunting ground for the illegal hunters. Hunting in the whole region is banned by the GB government, however, illegal hunting continues unabated throughout Baltistan in winter and Chourbat becomes a hotspot for local as well as outside hunters.
The total varieties and populations of the animal residing in the region are in obscurity due to lack of comprehensive research in the area. Most fascinating species of the region includes snow leopard, Himalayan Ibex, chakor (partridge), ram chakor (snow partridge) many species of migratory geese, Himalayan wolf, fox, and rabbits.
The famous marco polo sheep (blue sheep) and Markhor has already disappeared from the valley from past three to four decades. The main reason for increased rates of confrontation of humans with wildlife is the ease for hunting during winter, habitat loss and increased human activity on the mountains.
The interactions with wild animals increase during winter, when they come down to valleys from mountain tops in search of food. It is mostly during this season when they become an easy prey for the hunters.
During the recent heavy snow in Baltistan, I heard many stories of human encounters with wild animals, mostly predators, in search of food. Niaz Ali, a resident of tsethang on the periphery of Skardu town, explained how he encountered a Himalayan wolf.
“It was about 5 o’clock evening and I was returning home from Hassan Sadpara Chowk. I saw a wild beast which I ignored, thinking it to be a domestic dog. When I got nearer to it, I realized that it was a wolf (Tibetan Wolf). I rushed to my jacket’s pocket to take a picture but the wolf ran away. It was creamy in color, with pale face and legs as well as pale upper back with a blackish tail.”
He also told that he heard from his neighborhood that a couple of days ago, a little child was chased by two wolfs, but was rescued safely by locals who ward off the predators.
In Chourbat district Ganche, another person narrated his encounter with the Himalayan ibexes “I was going home (in Chourbat valley) from my job at district headquarter Khaplu, I saw two Ibexes with their majestic backward curving horns. They were crossing the road towards towering mountains after drinking water from the river (Shyok).”
In the village of Hassanabad of the same valley, a boy took me to the carcass of a red fox, and I was told that it became the target of local hunters just for a hunting practice.
During my visit to Chourbat, I saw people on illegal hunting on the way with luxurious vehicles, even some with government number plates indicating that the hunters were not only the local villagers.
Chourbat, being in the remote area in Ganche district, has been the most desirable place for such illicit activities. Though legally banned, local hunters, government officials, and others continue their onslaught on the wildlife.
A notable from Chourbat valley told me on condition of anonymity that many government officials including District Forest officer, acting district police chief, and other officials hunt in the area violate the law. They also hire professional hunters from local villages to get the job done.
Another person from the valley complained that government officials disrespect and violate the law, and then expect local villagers to respect and follow the rules. Another person told me that meat of ibex is also gifted to higher officials, who demand it in return for their ‘official services’.
Hunting for trophies is also in high demand and local hunters get handsome amount. The unsympathetic even hostile attitude of hunters towards endemic animals has threatened the biodiversity of the region.
Many of these animals are part of a fragile ecosystem and include many endangered and very rare species. Despite the establishment of the conservation park, the animal population is stagnant and not increasing significantly.
The apathy of provincial government and callous attitude of the officials, lack of awareness in communities as well as negligence by the stakeholders is causing enormous loss of the beautiful gift of nature.
This requires comprehensive research, involvement of communities giving them more responsibilities and resources, and strict implementation of laws with respect to conservation in order to save the rapidly depleting alpine biodiversity.