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Extinction in sight

By Rauf Chandio
Crocodiles in Nawabshah district are on their way to extinction due to lack of concern shown both by government and conservation organisations.

Ali Mohammed Shah Liqyari, a local journalist of Nawabshah district, has been fighting to the protect ecosystem of Deh Akro 2 for the last five years. Noticing that the ecosystem of Deh Akro 2 in Nawabshah is under great threat, Liqyari has been pushing for awareness among the local masses through newspapers and other means. The lakes in Deh Akro 2 are home to several crocodiles, and the area is the largest natural habitant of crocodiles in Pakistan. According to Liqyari the Sindh Wildlife Department has been a complete disappointment in this regard, and has done nothing to protect the ecosystem.

Crocodile is the world's largest acquitter predator. The creature helps save the environment of aquatic life by eating diseased and dying fishes in water. According to one report, there were about 15,000 thousand crocodiles in 1988 in lakes of Deh Akro. However, today this population has reduced very considerably, which covers an area of 50,000 acres. According to a report by Dr Abdul Aleem Chaudhury, director general Wildlife Punjab there are around 500 to 1000 crocodiles in Deh Akro area.

Deh Akro is a complex of three major habitats--desert, wetland and forestland. It lies 330 kilometers northeast of Karachi and represents an example of a natural inland wetland ecosystem comprising 29 lakes. These lakes include Akro, Chaachh, Loon Khan and Jansar, Mirco, Allah Dino, Mureed Waro, Masset Waro, Batnion, Sanahry 1, Sanahry 2, Taker, Karang, Bandan Wari, Wasso Wash, Baron Waron, Kinro, Murhne, Khararo, Kandy Waro, Chugri, Chhamb, Bolahi, Hadero, Baro, Khurand Wah, Khan Wari, Manak Waro, Wallan, Akan Wari and Shore Jee lakes.

Deh Akro Wildlife Sanctuary is an aggregate of lakes, which have come into existence as a result of seepage from irrigation channel Nara. The Nara Canal is the second largest canal of Sindh, and has a great history attached to it. The Indus from time immemorial overtops its Left Bank in low places, between Reti and Rohri. During the inundation period, the floodwater would eventually find its way to the Natural Drainage in eastern Sindh.

Due to the changes of course of the river, and also due to yearly rising of the banks of the Indus, the government of India on the recommendation of Lieutenant Fife, sanctioned a project in 1852 for the excavation of supply channel. The 12 miles long channel had the first four miles covered in rock and was excavated in 1858-59. The water supply of the Nara Canal consequently improved after the construction of supply channel. Much of the water carried down the eastern Nara was, however, wasted on the way in depression, which fringed the Nara on either side. The Nara flows through an inhospitable valley of alluvial soil either side of which is covered with broken sand hills. The sand hills extend for about 20 miles below Jamrao where the Nara enters a wide alluvial plain.

The supply channel constructed in 1858-59 paved the way for the construction of many irrigation works from the eastern Nara for the development cultivation in the tract of southern part of Sindh. In 1932, Sukkur Barrage was commissioned regulating the flow of Indus and supplying the channels through the bed of Upper Nara.

Deh Akro 2 is 70 kilometers away from Nawabshah City. According to local people of Deh Akro, the past has seen the ecosystem of this area rich in Crocodylus Palustris but today the specie is under threat due to illegal hunting and water shortage. Deh Akro wetlands are also facing drainage threat from the construction of the large water reservoir of Chottiari. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) carried out on the area has shown the adverse impacts that the water reservoir would have on the ecology of the area. The construction has, however, been delayed due to opposition of environmental organizations, which demand that a thorough EIA be carried out before undertaking the construction of a dam.

In Deh Akro, the mugger crocodiles are in serious threat but Wildlife Department and other responsible government and non-government functionaries are still mum about the danger. The mugger is a medium-sized crocodile and has the broadest snout of any living member of the genus crocodiles. Mugger crocodiles are a hole-nesting species. As with other hole-nesters, egg-laying takes place during the annual dry season. Females become sexually mature at a length of approximately 1.82m, and lay 2,530 eggs. Nests are located in a wide variety of habitats, and females have even been known to nest at the opening of, or inside, the burrow.

In captivity, some mugger crocodiles are known to lay two clutches in a single year but this has not been observed in the wild. Incubation is relatively short, typically lasting 5,575 days.

Recent reports suggest that mugger crocodile population in Pakistan has been severely damaged because of their commercial hunting. However, no formal survey has been conducted, and in some parts of the country the killing of this specie still continues.

In Deh Acro, especially Wasoo, Bhohi, Kinro, Chugri, Khararo, Chhamb, Shore Jee, Chuari, Khurand Wari and in other lakes, mugger crocodiles have been severely affected due to continuous hunting. These lakes, in the past, were regarded as being the richest in terms of inhabiting crocodiles in the country, but because of illegal hunting and water shortage the breed is becoming scarce. According to local officials of Wildlife Department, crocodile species are also present in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, China, and Iran.

"Illegal hunting is usually done at dawn when no one is present. They could be easily hunted in Deh Akro because we have no facility to protect crocodiles in the area. We don't even have vehicles to reach the culprits in and around the lakes, which are spread on a huge area," tells an employee of Sindh Wildlife Department in Nawabshah, on condition of anonymity. "We are working with only five Game Watchers and one acting Inspector for 29 lakes. This little staff and facilities are not enough to protect the ecosystem of Deh Akro. Our repeated pleas for better facilities and more staff have never received any response from the authorities of the Wildlife Department Secretariat Karachi."

According to sources of Environment Protection Agency (EPA) Sindh, "Wetlands conservation in Pakistan, including Sindh Province, began after an expedition organised by World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) in 1967 under the supervision of Guy Mountfort. As a further step towards conservation, Pakistan signed the Ramsar Convention in 1971 and declared nine wetlands of the country, which included three wetlands of Sindh. Ramsar Convention (1971) has urged a wise use of wetlands; that means human use of a wetland so that it may yield the greatest continuous benefit to present generations while maintaining its potential to meet the needs and aspirations of the future generation.

"The Indus Committee is the custodian of wetlands in Sindh, and is responsible for the management of wetland and its crocodile population in the province. The committee has promulgated legislation to protect wetlands and the threatened species of crocodiles. The legislation is known as the Sindh Wildlife Protection Act 1972, and was revised in 1996. However, it has been observed that in most areas due to the shortage of infrastructure, sticking to the convention becomes simply impossible."

Ali Mohammed Shah Liqyari claims: "According to the law on illegal hunting, there is a fine of Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 100,000 on illegal hunting. However, no one has been fined even one paisa for illegal hunting during the past 15 years in Deh Akro. In 1995, seven culprits were arrested during illegal hunting in Deh Akro but the respected judiciary sentenced them to only one week imprisonment." Liqyari informs that the illegal hunting usually continues throughout the year. According to him it is best to have an independent body keeping a check on illegal hunting.

Wetlands in Deh Akro area are becoming dry as their sources of water have either been cut off or diverted to other uses, mainly agricultural ones. Many wetlands in Deh Akro are affected due to this practice. These lakes were in a better position when Nara Canal had a huge flow of water. Today, however, the Nara Canal itself is facing acute water shortage. Liqyari suggests that a pipeline should be installed for lakes from Nara Canal to protect crocodile's breed and other ecosystem.

The water shortage in the area has not only affected crocodiles and other wildlife, but it has also affected local population of people who are fast migrating to other areas. According to one report, a number of people from Taher Bhutti, Janoon Khaskhili, Khabier Bhatti, Anbb Wisan, Hakin Khaskili, Unius Aboo Poto, Jaifar Lashari, Sidique Bhatti, Misri Narijo, Hyder Chang, Mohammed Wasem and Sheinh Dakhan village are migrating to other areas.

For the villagers of the area surrounding Deh Akro, revealing the names of the culprits indulged in illegal crocodile hunting is tantamount to inviting death. "We cannot tell you the names of those culprits because the culprits themselves and the wildlife employees are constantly threatening us," one villager reveals. These culprits use different ways to hunt, and after illegal hunting of crocodiles, these culprits get skin from crocodiles and then hide bones in the sand so that they could not be suspected.

Hyderabad and Karachi skin traders purchase one skin of crocodile for around Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 25,000. The international market offers much higher rates for a crocodile skin, and many of the local traders have direct connections in the international market.

According to reports, in Sindh lakes are facing the problem of a process through which waters rich in mineral and organic nutrients causes the extinction of other organisms, and the problem is increasing by the day. Improper management and lack of co-ordination among different stakeholders is said to be responsible for giving way to it. A strategy needs to be devised to combat this serious problem. Many suggest that if this strategy is drawn in the same way, as land management practices are, then it may turn out to be more effective in the long run.

A programme, which has no objective other than weed eradication, might not yield the desired results. Non-availability of Indus water to maintain the lake levels at such a point, which is suitable for the survival of not only crocodiles but also fishes and other species is needed. Around 75,000 hectares area is covered with lakes that are mainly located west of Indus River in Dadu, Larkana and Jaccababad districts. Lakes are also present on the south of Kotri Barrage in Thatta and Badin District and along the Nara Canal at the edge of Thar Desert.

Apart from one recent sighting, nothing is known about the status of the mugger crocodile. This is the time when Nara Canal's survey is needed. Based on the results of this survey, action should be taken to set aside land for crocodile sanctuaries. However, EPA Sindh has yet to realise the importance of the issue of crocodiles not only in Deh Akro but also in Haligi Lake, which is a breeding area for a good number of crocodiles, which are under threat. No survey or a study has been conducted so far on the causes and effects of decreasing crocodiles in the lakes of Deh Akro. When Kolachi contacted Regional Office of EPA Hyderabad, Mr Kishan, second in-charge officer of EPA informed that there is no data available on crocodiles in the office because no work has been undertaken to counter the threat to the crocodile population.

According to a reliable source in Sindh Wildlife Department, Deh Akro was declared as a sanctuary in the year 1988, but the land of the area was never handed over to Sindh Wildlife Department. The Revenue Department has made a number of attempts to give these lands on lease to landless people for agriculture purposes but had to call off the idea when concerned people and other advocates for the protection of the ecosystem raised their voice against it. Not only the Revenue Department but Fisheries Department has also tried to auction these lakes many times. Regarding this, when Kolachi contacted the Secretariat of Wildlife one official told that Deh Akro is facing that threat because of the lack of management planning. He informed that to date no planning has been undertaken for the development of the area.

According to local people, anybody can easily see the dying crocodiles in Deh Akro where crocodiles go in search of water ponds outside the lakes and lose their lives in sand and dunes in desert. In summer, they die due to water shortage and in winter season the time is ripe for illegal hunting due to ineffective law enforcement in Deh Akro. Rescue procedure and technical labs are also not available in Deh Akro. Though the threat has existed for 15 years now, no steps have been taken by any environmental NGO or Wildlife Department for the protection of crocodiles.

 

Credits:

 

  • The News on Sunday, The News International (www.jang.com.pk)

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Updated February 25th, 2007