If natural beauty is the crown of Earth, then biodiversity is the jewel in this crown. However, anthropogenic activities are continually decaying this jewel.
Markhor or Ibex is a unique wild species of goat family that inhabit the mountainous region of Central Asia, parts of Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan. ‘Markhor’ is a name derived from the Persian language, which means the snake eater, therefore, their long twisted horns are often compared with snakes while its ability to climb steep hills defies gravity. However, despite its beauty and wild uniqueness, Markhor is one of the most threatened species in the world.
The primary reason for Markhor being endangered is because of hunting, either legal or largely illegal. Its horns are of extreme commercial value that is used to make medicines, while its leather is used to make expensive garments. Due to these reasons, the main predators of Markhor are humans, followed by natural ones like snow leopards, wolves, and eagles. Another reason is their vulnerability to natural disasters. The majority of the Markhor population is found in Pakistan. In fact, it is the national animal of the country. Therefore, a brief overview of Pakistan in relation to Markhor is essential. Pakistan is also currently involved in mitigating the threat of extinction and has employed some successful schemes for the conservation of these animals.
Pakistan is home to basically five subspecies of Markhor: Sulaimani Markhor, Astor Markhor, Kabul Markhor, Kashmiri Markhor, and Bukharan Markhor. Initially, according to the report of IUCN, these species were declared endangered in the ‘red list,’ and the main reason for the threat was hunting and poaching.
In fact, this practice was so common that people from different areas would gather in Gilgit and Chitral to hunt these wild goats down in a hope to get its horns as a trophy, as the person to kill in the first attempt is awarded the goats’ horns, which has a fair, high price in the market. Other reasons include the pollution in areas that disturb their natural environment which consequently affect these wild goats. As a result, when IUCN issued its red list, there were only less than 2500 of these goats left in the world, among which only 275 were inhabiting Pakistan (according to wildlife report issued by KPK government).
However, steps undertaken by Pakistan in collaboration with Wildlife Conservation Society (WSC) in 1997 yielded positive results, and the population of Markhor has been increasing at a successful rate. According to one report in 2018, the population of Markhor in Pakistan is 3500. Some of the most effective measures which Pakistan took include controlled high priced trophy hunting, preservation of natural habitat, the establishment of local conservation committees, and training of locals that act as protectors of these animals against poaching and preventing unlawful activities.
Laws enacted at the national level include a high penalty of Rs. 3,500,000 while foreign hunter has to make the license of $ 6500 upon which they are only allowed to hunt aged animals that are unable to reproduce. Apart from WSC, there are various other organizations that are involved in the protection of Markhor. These include Pakistan Zoological Society, KPK Wildlife and Biodiversity, WWF, etc.
But conservation of these animals is difficult in war-torn areas like Afghanistan and the highly militarized border of Kashmir between Pakistan and India where cross border collaboration is often required. However, each country with Markhor population is involved in the endeavor to protect these unique wild animals from the grim fate of extinction like Northern White Rhinoceros or Pyrenean Ibex or many other animals that are already extinct due to anthropogenic activities. For instance, a survey was conducted in Tajikistan in 2017 by IUCN in collaboration with various NGOs to keep track of the Markhor population, and the report concluded that there is an increasing number of Markhor. Despite these efforts, it must be noted that Markhor is still an endangered species, and it will take more of these efforts to fully make Ibexes out of the red list for good.
It is now time that we realize that animals also form the critical building block of our lives. Apart from providing us with food and beautiful decoration pieces for our luxurious homes, they are an essential component of the circle of life, and if we continue to disturb this circle, then the day of our grim fate is not too far.
Frayal Qazi is a student of BS, International Relations at ND University. She based in Quetta and currently pursuing higher studies in Islamabad.