A love affair with wildlife
Saturday, August 30, 2008
By Jan Khaskheli
Rafiq Rajput, a field officer in the Sindh Wildlife Department (SWD), has always loved wildlife, and was always curious to know why its population kept falling. As a child, he devoured books on the subject in his school library, leading teachers and school mates to call him a zoologist.
�I was fond of reading famous journals - Urdu Digest, Sayarah Digest, Alsaif and Reader Digest�s - at school,� recalls Rajput. �I used to learn about species that had either been wiped out completely or were facing extinction.�
The books he read told him about lions, Indian rhinoceroses, Sanbhar (swamp deer), black bucks and other species that wildlife experts feared were close to extinction.
�I learned that increasing urbanisation, deforestation, and depletion of green pastures might have been the main cause of their depletion.�
Now that he knows the reasons behind the decreasing wildlife population, he fears that many more animals in the region soon become extinct. In addition to the havoc being wreaked on the environment, Rajput feels that people�s fear of wild animals and their subsequent behaviour around them may also prove to be devastating.
�Wild animals cannot attack human beings unless they are disturbed in their natural habitat,� he stressed. �We always see old photographs showing people carrying a gun around a dead tiger. This concept of bravery should be changed.�
Rajput was born on June 8, 1961 in Hyderabad, and grew up in a poverty-stricken neighbourhood. He passed his matriculation examination from Model School, University of Sindh Old Campus, in 1986. He was eager to find work anywhere so he could earn a living for his small family.
Eventually, the Sindh Wildlife Management Board appointed him at the Khar Centre of National Khirthar Park, where Rajput remained for 10 years. While there, he travelled to mountainous areas and terrains to learn more about local birds, insects, mammals and reptiles. Even on his own time, Rajput was keen to observe the lifestyle of the species under him.
Later, Rajput was transferred to Haleji Lake, where his seniors, seeing him trying to fit in, took him to conduct a survey of waterfowls. During his time with the wildlife department, Rajput has seen a variety of animals. He has visited all of the mountainous areas close to Neelum Valley, Kashmir to conduct a survey of the black bear and musk bear. He has seen the koklas pheasant, monal pheasant, chakor, rhesus monkey, Kashmir grey languor, Kashmir flying squirrel and other species in the lush green valleys of the mountains.
At present, Rajput is conducting a research on the Himalayan brown bear in Deosai National Park, Skardu, which is also the natural habitat of Himalayan Ibex, Himalayan marmot, Himalayan stopcock and Tibetan wolf.
Rajput recalls that the first wildlife survey after partition was conducted throughout East and West Pakistan in 1960. Retired army official Guy Mount Fort led the team for the survey and presented a comprehensive report with recommendations, pointing out that some areas in Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan, the Northern Areas, the Chittagong Hills tract, and Sundarban Arel could be declared protected.
Following the recommendations in the report, United States naturalist Dr Jorge B. Sheller led a team of Pakistani wildlife senior officials to conduct another survey and proposed some places to declare national parks for the conservation of wildlife species. National and provincial assemblies were assigned a task to identify the areas for national parks, which is when Khirthar National Park in Sindh, Lal Suhanda National Partk in Punjab, Margalla Hill Park in Islamabad, Khunjarab National Park in Gilgit, Chilton National Park in Balochistan and Chittral Gol National Park in the Northern Areas were all developed.
Today, areas close to the Pakistan-Iran border where the Sindh Ibex, Tretick cheetah, and Goitered gazelle are found have been declared protected zones.
Over the course of his career, Rajput has travelled the country far and wide, having visited areas of Kashmir, the K-2 track, Chittral, Runn of Kuchh and the areas close to Pakistan-India and Pakistan-Iran borders to learn about the wildlife species.
Rajput rues the fact that developmental projects and highways have destroyed the natural habitat of birds and animals.
�Every Pakistani should prove that they are wildlife-friendly and protect the birds and animals around them. If we fail to do this, future generations will be unable to see these beautiful creatures in their neighbourhood. There is a need to launch an awareness campaign at a national level to save trees, green pastures and birds.�
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