PESHAWAR: Known as land of Chakor, Pakistan’s wetlands provide breeding ground for migratory birds arriving from the Central Asian Republics (CARs) and Siberia owing to an enlargement of forestry cover and increase of weeds, insects, plants and suitable winter conditions.
Lies at the crossroads for bird’s migration, Pakistan’s wetlands, arid and semi arid areas draw influx of migratory birds, including houbara, cranes, geese and ducks mostly from freezing Siberia, the CARs and even Europe during harsh winter season owing to substantial enhancement in their forest and wildlife habitats.
“These birds mostly arrive through the international migration route known as the Indus Flyway (IF), from Siberia and the CARs by passing through Karakoram, Hindukush, and Suleiman ranges along the Indus River via KP to downwards Sindh,” said Dr Mumtaz Malik, former Chief Conservator Wildlife while talking to APP.
He said houbara population mostly arrive Pakistan in October-December due to limited resources of food in the freezing CARs and returns in March-April to their native areas.
Besides wetlands, the desert plains of Punjab, Sindh, KP and Balochistan are the houbara, ducks, geese and cranes wintering habitats where sufficient food is available for their natural breeding.
Houbara’s flocks mostly land in Bannu, Lakki Marwat and DI Khan in KP, Bahawalpur, Rahimyar Khan, Dera Ghazi Khan, Cholistan in Punjab, Tharparkar Sindh and Balochistan, he said, adding that they eat insects, wild fruits, small reptiles and twigs.
Dr Mumtaz said houbara is very sensitive bird and it does not use the route again if they sense any danger on their way during the first journey, adding the bird move quickly as it takes only few days to reach Pakistan.
“The weather determines the exact timing of travel as the large bird has to avoid harsh weather and snowfall in flights,” he added.
“The population travels in groups having a chieftain and once they looses their chieftain, the deputy guides the group to reach its destination.”
The wildlife expert said houbara can’t stay in severe coldness and Pakistan’s climate is ideally suitable for them during winter for breeding, adding in case a houbra looses its mate, the endangered specie takes three to five years to find a new one.
Dr Mumtaz pointed out that one of the reasons of houbara decrease is the rivalry between its newborn. “The sibling hatching first usually kills the other,” and it lays only two eggs in life.
He said artificial breading is being carried out in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Morocco under extremely controlled condition and is very expensive.
Since all migratory species are hunted and ducks are mercilessly killed every year in the range states, including Pakistan, he said, the population of some duck species, including white-eyed pochard, marbled teal and garganey has drastically decreased.
He said cranes, because of size, beauty, unique calls, and complex behaviour are also hunted and trapped during their migration in substantial numbers due to non implementation of laws.
Dr Mumtaz said climate change has endangered about 90 different wildlife species, including Siberian crane, white backed vulture, long-billed vulture, red-headed vulture, saker and peregrine falcons and hawksbill sea turtle.
Kashmir’s gray langur, Indus dolphin, finback whale, Balochistan bear, musk deer, hog deer, pangolin, Egyptian vulture, green turtle and narrow-headed turtle were also endangered by the climate change, he added.
He further informed that around 786 wildlife species found in Pakistan, including 186 reptiles and 173 mammals, and that about 90 species including 50 mammals, 27 birds and 17 reptiles were placed in categories of endangered, vulnerable and near to extinction.
To a question about the role of NGOs on preservation and protection of endangered species, including houbara, Dr Mumtaz said the enthusiasm of NGOs interested in preservation of the endangered species has been on the decline with the passage of time.
He said any campaign is bound to fail unless it enjoys the support of community and underscored the need for community involvement through financial, legal and other incentives for preservation and protection of endangered migratory birds.
Gulzar Rehman, Conservator Southern Circle KP Forest Department said with enlarging forest cover by billions trees afforestation project, the arrival’s frequency of migratory birds has increased manifolds in Pakistan, especially in KP besides providing a natural habitat to rare wildlife and migratory species to thrive.
He said over 10 new jungles, including Ghari Chandan, Peshawar raised under BTAP had provided breeding grounds for wildlife and migratory birds in the province.
Spokesman Environment, Forest and Wildlife Department Latifur Rehman said under wildlife biodiversity act 2015, three new national parks, including Nizampur Nowshera, Malakandi and Kamalban Manshera, six conservancies at Mankyal and Kalam Swat, Turchtor Koh Chitral, Kumrat Dir Upper, Dir Kohistan and Kohisulaman DI Khan, six game reserves at Gujar Banar, Mandor Swat, Dilan Hangu, Haryan Kot Malakand, Kamatmekhaillaki Lakki Marwat and Cheena Gul Hangu, and four sites of special scientific interest (SSSI) at Bar Qalabaish Banar Swat, Mangal Thana and Malaka e Maha Banar Buner and Minkyal Haripur were established during last four years in KP.
As a result, KP’s wildlife protected area that was only 10.22 percent prior to 2018, was increased to 15.61 percent in 2022.
To counter wildlife and migratory birds smuggling, he said six mobile and 11 permanent check-posts and six joint check posts with the forest department were set up besides recovering heavy fines from wildlife offenders.
He said over 22,814 cases were registered against offenders from whom heavy fines were recovered during 2018-22.
The spokesman said a huge amount were collected under trophy hunting program, including regulated hunting of Markhor and Ibex besides partridges hunting and issuance of wildlife licenses for hunting of small animals under the wildlife laws.
Moreover, under the KP zoological gardens and bio safety reserve rules 2021, he said, fee of small arms shooting permit were increased from Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000.
The spokesman said awareness among communities were essential through media on constant basis to discourage hunting of migratory birds and wildlife.