Misunderstood by people, Pakistan’s wild animals might have a press membership of their very own – Pakistan
Islamabad’s Deeaitchay saga sheds mild on evident problems with human-wildlife battle in Pakistan.
“If animals may converse a language, they’d be protesting exterior the press membership each day,” stated wildlife conservator Javed Mahar. The phrase animal in his assertion consists of all kinds of creatures, from the wild to the tamed and the captives. In Pakistan, animals of all species and breeds reside a despicable life, largely quietly, apart from a particular look every so often.
One such present — as is often termed by spectators alias the general public — was broadcast reside on each tv and social media final month when a leopard ran amok in a residential space in Islamabad. The animal, who seemed visibly distraught and agitated, dashed from one home to a different looking for an escape however solely ended up working into partitions of bungalows as a gaggle of clueless individuals chased it.
After enjoying disguise and look for practically six hours, the Islamabad Wildlife Administration Board captured the leopard and took it to a rescue centre. It isn’t shocking that the IWMB needed to sedate the animal, contemplating it was scared and aggravated in the course of the chase. Three individuals, together with two staffers, had been additionally harm in the course of the episode.
In line with the wildlife board, the leopard was intently monitored by consultants throughout its keep within the forthcoming days and it was ascertained that it had come to the Defence Housing Society (DHA) within the capital metropolis from the Kahuta forests, practically six kilometres from the luxurious locality.
The IWMB said that opposite to preliminary suspicions, the leopard was not a pet. Subsequently, after greater than two weeks, it was launched into its pure habitat.
“The leopard was fairly agitated and reacting. There was a threat that the feline will harm itself and we lacked the experience to deal with and look after the wild animal. It was finest to launch it again into its habitat,” a Daybreak report quoted Vaqar Zakaria, the performing chairman of IWMB, as saying.
The report additionally stated that the IWMB was checking up on the feline, including that it was in good well being.
Deeaitchay — the identify the leopard was given — is amongst these few lucky animals in Pakistan who’ve safely made it again to their habitat. In different related conditions, such wild animals — particularly felines as a result of Pakistanis are surprisingly obsessive about them — are sometimes both killed by the locals or packed up and despatched to zoos as captives.
The phenomenon — of leopards entering residential areas — as conservator Mahar and several other experts put it, is called human-wildlife conflict.
“Years ago, when forests were still intact and cities had not yet turned into urban centres, humans and animals used to live together in harmony,” Mahar told Dawn.com.
“This was called co-existence. But today, thanks to rapid urbanisation, this concept is not seen anywhere in sight. Today, there is only conflict,” he said.
World Wildlife Fund-Pakistan’s (WWF-P) senior manager Hamera Aisha elaborates on this conflict in detail. Human-wildlife conflict has emerged as a significant challenge in the country, particularly when you talk about wild cats.
Common leopards — scientifically called Panthera pardus — are critically endangered across the world and their population in Pakistan ranges between 2,000 and 3,000. According to WWF, these wild cats, being apex predators, play a key role in maintaining the health of the ecosystem.
“The common leopard often encounters humans as they inhabit areas close to human settlements. This proximity leads to conflicts, as leopards may attack livestock and occasionally humans, resulting in injuries or fatalities,” she explained.
Aisha highlighted that the problem was driven by habitat destruction, which forced leopards to venture further into human territory in search of food.
It is very simple. Imagine you have been living in a house for years but then one day, some strange-looking creatures raze down your home and build a lavish building atop it. Relatable? That is exactly what happened with wild animals.
“You can’t blame the leopard for trespassing into residential areas. This was his home. And we snatched it from him,” said Mahar.
According to Global Forest Watch, an open-source web initiative of the World Resources Institute that monitors global forests in near real-time, from 2001 to 2021, Pakistan lost 4.6 per cent of its tree cover owing to deforestation.
The data showed that in Islamabad alone, nearly eight hectares of tree cover was lost between 2001 and 2021 due to several factors, the key being deforestation.
The statistics indicate how rapid urbanisation is eating up forests and habitats of living species across the country, particularly the capital.
Environmentalist Syed Hasnain Raza told Dawn.com that the urban sprawl in Islamabad is particularly concerning because the Margalla Hills are the foothill of the Himalayas and house animals of various species, such as leopards and black bears.
“These forests go all the way up to Ayubia, Nathia Gali and Azad Jammu Kashmir. This land also gives the animals residing here space to move and hunt,” he said. “However, in the last few years, the natural habitat of these animals has been scattered due to posh housing societies sprouting in this region.”
Raza recalled that until a decade ago, it used to take him merely minutes to cross the Bara Kahu Bypass. “But now, this time has massively increased as numerous hotels and housing societies have been built around the area.”
This, the environmentalist reiterated, has broken down the homes of the wildlife in the Margalla Hills and forced the animals to keep moving in the hunt for food. “Hence, when they come across a village, they see easy prey in the shape of livestock and the rest is history.”
It was, therefore, no surprise to Raza that Deeaitchay managed to enter DHA (oh the irony). “You see leopards are very elusive creatures and walking a distance of 10 to 12 kilometres is not really a big deal for them.”
This incident might be isolated in Islamabad, considering the hullaballoo it created, but in areas up north, such instances are common. They either go unreported or result in the death of a hungry cat in search of food. And if the wild animal is a female with cubs nearby, her little ones are henceforth destined to an enslaved life.
Illegal wildlife trade
Illegal wildlife trade in Pakistan has been thriving for decades, given that the market for unique and endangered animals — especially wild cats — is ripe.
Raza says a leopard cub is sold for at least Rs1 million in the black market. And there are almost two times more buyers in the market as compared to sellers. Conservator Mahar calls this “Pakistan’s obsession with wildcats”.
He says this craze has been prevalent across the world for aeons. “Taming and killing lions has been a sign of bravery for years. Back in the Middle Ages, humans would battle with these big cats in packed rings. It was a show no one would miss.”
Naturally, this obsession crept into Pakistan as well, some two decades ago. Big cats were not just found in circuses and combat zones, but also in political arenas. There have been several instances where chained lions and tigers were brought to political rallies, especially in Punjab.
“Today, Punjab has become a hub of wild cats with more than 2,000 felines. The situation is such that lion cubs are being gifted on birthdays and anniversaries,” Mahar told Dawn.com.
If you go on TikTok, you will very well understand what the conservator means. The social media platform has hundreds and thousands of videos showing Pakistani men and women petting huge lions and tigers that have been incarcerated inside cement walls and man-made backyards.
The reason behind this, Mahar explains, is the lack of laws in the country regarding the possession of wild cats.
Pakistan allows the import of exotic animals under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora or CITES. It says: “Whenever an animal of wild origin crosses international borders, some rules and regulations are required to be observed.”
But once the animal enters the country, laws of the state need to be followed and Pakistan has none when it comes to the possession of wild cats.
So, while an unabated influx of wild cats was underway in the country all these years, there was no check on their possession, which is why their population rapidly increased over the years.
Although the government has recently taken steps to curb this illegal trade — including the ban on the import of exotic animals — experts say the damage has already been done. What is worse is that Pakistan lacks the capacities and facilities for the proper care of rescued and confiscated wildlife species.
According to WWF-P’s Aisha, when an exotic animal is imported, a permit is issued to the importer.
“The importers are required to maintain mortality data, mandatory animal tagging, stock records and availability of vets. But this data is usually incomplete or unavailable because of limited capacity, irrelevant expertise and training of provincial and territorial wildlife department as well as at the level of private farms housing exotic species,” she said.
What needs to be done
First, Pakistan needs to draft and enact legislation related to the possession of wild cats. “We need to curb the import of wild cats. And certain regulations need to be introduced for people who already have such exotic animals,” says conservator Mahar.
Secondly, Pakistan needs to protect the habitat of wild animals. The government needs to create space for the climate in its development projects, whether it concerns constructing roads or building housing societies.
According to climate scientist and researcher Dr Ibrarul Hasan Akhtar, one way to do this is by introducing protected areas on a sustainable basis where wildlife remains secure without any outward intervention. He told Dawn.com that interventions in nature do not just directly impact animals, but also humans.
“Deforestation and environmental defragmentation enhance the Earth’s radiation,” he said. “To put it in simple words, when you cut down forests and replace them with concrete, it results in erratic temperature — heatwaves. And Pakistan is already a victim to these volatile weather patterns.”
On the other hand, regarding human-wildlife conflict, environmentalist Raza believes there are better ways to deal with such situations, especially after what Deeaitchay had to go through.
He has a small guide for what people should do if a wild animal enters residential areas.
- Don’t panic. Call Rescue 1122 or the respective wildlife department.
- Don’t shout, go near or film the animal.
- Try to blind the animal through a cloth and trap him in a blanket or
- Don’t fire gunshots near the animal, instead use an alarm to scare it
- If you’re in a village, keep the livestock indoors at night.
There is one more piece of advice for people who possess exotic animals or wish to do so: Have some heart.
Header image: Shutterstock