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The Beauty of Pakistan’s National Parks is on the Verge of Destruction

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Saadeqa Khan
Saadeqa Khan
Saadeqa Khan is the founder, CEO, & Editor-in-Chief of Scientia Pakistan. She's a member of the Oxford Climate Journalism Network (Second Cohort) and NASW. Saadeqa is a fellow of NPF Washington, The Falling Walls Foundation, and the Science Journalism Forum. Saadeqa has won several international journalism grants and awards for her reports.

Chitral Goal national park is a hub to several rare species, especially famous for snow leopards and Kashmiri Markhor has been on IUCN’S Red alert list since 2015. Last year in Oct, it was widely reported in mainstream media of Pakistan that the incidents of Kashmiri Markhor hunting have increased to an alarming level, and the culprits were none other than local communities who should be the protector to rare species having the threat of extinction for a long.

Here, the question arises whether the local communities in Chitral and nearby are aware of the significance of a national park? Declared as a national park in 1984, under Protected Area Management Project (PAMP), Chitral Goal national park has provided a safe habitat to many rare species of flora and fauna in the region. The government has also introduced a trophy hunting program as an effort to involve the local communities in the conservation process. As per official announcements, approx. 80 percent of the money raised from the trophy hunting project was distributed among the local community. Still, the project wouldn’t bear fruit, and the Markhor population is dwindling in Chitral Goal national park.

According to KPK’s wildlife department, the population of Kashmiri Markhor had reached a higher number of 2868 in 2019. As per available resources, 23 watchmen were recruited in 2016 to safeguard rare species in Chitral Goal national park, and each watchman was getting paid a monthly salary of PKR 15,000 (USD 90). This strategy worked in biodiversity conservation, and a slight increase was observed in the number of Markhors. There has been a dramatic decline in their population under PTI’s government, mainly because the government has stopped paying these forest watchers.

The financial crises of staff led to more incidents of poaching with the alleged involvement of the wildlife department and local communities. Consequently, the population of these species has dropped to one thousand or even less; however, no accurate official statistics of authorities are available so far.

Chitral National Park
Declared as a national park in 1984, under Protected Area Management Project (PAMP), Chitral Goal national park has provided a safe habitat to many rare species of flora and fauna in the region.

In a recent report published in Express Tribune on 29 Oct 2021, an official of KPK’s wildlife department (the name is hidden) told that “the responsibility should be fixed and Chief Conservators since 2016 should be made an example for others because due to their negligence the population has dropped to less than 800 animals. The department has issued wrong figures of 2,000 animals to cover the wholesale destruction of the animal in its native habitat,” he said, adding that funds should be released by the government for Parks Association and an independent survey should be conducted to ascertain the actual numbers of Markhor in the protected forests.”

Located in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the Chitral Goal national park covers about 77.5 sq kilometer area, is surrounded by high mountains, and provides protection to four of our national symbols, namely, Markhor (national animal), Deodar (national tree), Chakor (national bird) and Jasmine (national flower).

The department has issued wrong figures of 2,000 animals to cover the wholesale destruction of the animal in its native habitat. ~Express Tribune

According to the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) category VI, “a national park is a protected area with sustainable use of natural resources that conserve ecosystems and habitats, together with associated cultural values and traditional natural resource management systems.”

National parks are generally large, with most of the area in a natural condition, where all the proportion is under sustainable natural resource management. The low-level non-industrial use of natural resources compatible with nature conservation is seen as one of the main aims of these protected areas. They may be set aside for public recreation because of their natural beauty, historical and scientific interest.

William Wordsworth was the first person who sketched a model for national parks in 1810, and the very first national park of the world was established in the US in 1872, named as “Yellow Stone national park”. At the moment, worldwide, there are approx. 6555 national parks, among them Park Greenland national parks are the largest comprising about 972000 Square kilometers.

Detailed pictorial map of Yellowstone National Park from 1904
Detailed pictorial map of Yellowstone National Park from 1904

Pakistan has around 29 national parks; 22 are under government control, whereas the remaining 7 are managed by the private sector. Pakistan’s landscapes have been famous for their rich biodiversity. A report of the World Bank released in 1999 alerted the authorities to conserve Pakistan’s natural resources. The inappropriate urban planning, factories and industries near localities and natural habitat of animals, air and water pollution, and most notably, climate changes have negatively impacted the natural ecosystems in Pakistan. Still, the sheer effort was undertaken to save the natural habitat of several rare species of flora and fauna.

Meanwhile, in 2001, the government launched the Protected Areas Management Project (PAMP) in Chitral Gol, Hingol, and Machiara national parks. Hingol National Park is the largest national park in Pakistan, covering an area of ​​about 619,000 acres. It is located 190 km from Karachi comprises three districts of Balochistan, Gwadar, Lasbela, and Awaran. The stretched area was declared a national park in 1988. Hingol National Park park is unique from other national parks of Pakistan due to its six entirely different ecosystems.

Dr. Shoaib Kiani, a marine sciences expert at Karachi University, said that the coastline of Balochistan and Sindh are the best habitat for green and olive turtles. Some rare species like Indo-Pacific Dolphin, Olive Ridley turtle, and Marsh Crocodile are also found in the coastal areas adjacent to Hingol National Park. Green and Olive turtles visited this beach in August to lay eggs. But due to increasing plastic pollution on the shores, they found difficulty digging holes in the sand. Now the female turtles leave the beaches without laying eggs. Since then, a slight decline in the population of green and olive turtles has been observed. Dr. Kiani showed his concern and demanded immediate efforts to preserve these shores and marine life from the devastating impacts of plastic pollution.

The Hingol national park, Hazar Ganji, and Chiltan national parks in Balochistan provide a safe habitat to several endangered species of flora and fauna. A few months ago, the Wildlife department of Balochistan had discovered a rare species of Persian Leopard in the Chiltan Mountains. Illegal poaching and hunting is the primary reason for the extinction of several rare species, especially Markhor, leopard, and migratory birds. The government had introduced a trophy hunting program in these areas as well to preserve wildlife, but the efforts are not sufficient as the widespread climate changes are altering the geographical composition and ecosystems of every part of Pakistan.

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