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Setting an example

By Intikhab Amir

Once on the verge of extinction, there has been an increase in the population of flared-horn markhor in the recent years. This has been a result of conservation through social mobilization which has prevented it from vanishing because of poaching.

People from the mountainous regions actively participated in conserving the endangered species by protecting its habitat and checking poaching by employing watchers. This set a rare example in a country where conservation and environmental protection are not given much importance.

The North West Frontier Province, home to the largest number of endangered Kashmir and astore markhors, has seen an increase in their number during the last few years. According to conservative official estimates, there are between 2000 and 2500 markhors in the Frontier, which is 25 per cent more than the number some 15 years back.

Presently, more than 60 community-based organizations, called ‘Valley Conservation Committees’ (VCCs), are involved in the preservation activities. The scheme has significant economic value for the locals as the VCCs are drawing monetary benefit out of the proceeds raised through markhor trophy hunting — conducted in areas declared conservancies in NWFP, Balochistan and Northern Areas.

Found in the mountainous regions of Balochistan, Frontier and the Northern Areas, the flared horn Kashmir and astore markhors belong to the caprinae family of goats. They had been put on Appendix-1 of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITEs) of flora and fauna in 1990. The animal was under threat of extinction because of unchecked poaching in various parts of Pakistan — house to the largest population of straight and flared horn markhors in the world — and so the international trade of markhor trophy was banned.

That brought markhor trophy hunting — an annual feature being pursued since early 1980s to attract foreign hunters — to a halt. The move also deprived the government of NWFP from raising revenue which it collected as fee by selling license to foreign hunters aspiring to hunt markhor and export the trophy to their home countries.

Pressed by the ban, the wildlife department’s authorities prepared rules for conserving the endangered species by involving communities housing the markhors. They offered incentives for the communities opting to protect markhor’s habitat and curb poaching. A request was put before CITE’s conference in Harare, in 1996, to allow markhor trophy hunting at a limited scale. Permission was granted to Pakistan for exporting six markhor trophies every year. Two licenses each were meant for Balochistan, NWFP and the Northern Areas (NAs). In 2002 Pakistan’s quota was doubled in view of the results of the markhor conservation plan.

Markhor’s placement on the Appendix-1 of the CITEs made it more attractive for foreign hunters. This year, the permit fee in the NWFP fetched a price of US $45,000, the highest amount since the early 1980s when markhor trophy hunting was introduced in the NWFP on commercial basis.

In accordance with an agreement between the provincial government and VCCs, 80 per cent of the proceeds raised through the sales of shooting permits go to the communities in whose area the hunting takes place. The remaining 20 per cent goes to the provincial kitty as revenue receipts.

“Part of the VCC’s share of the proceeds is spent to pay salaries to the watchmen recruited for protecting markhors in large conservancies. A substantial part of the funds has been utilized to carry out small infrastructure schemes in villages of the markhor conservancies,” said Syed Muzzafar Jan, president of the markhor conservation committee of Syedabad village, 22kms south of Chitral on the way to Peshawar. This has led to improvement in the socio-economic conditions of the area.

Mr Jan, however, said that conservation had not only resulted in monetary benefit for the conservation committees established in some 40 villages falling under the jurisdiction of two conservancies in Chitral district — Gehrait/Golain conservancy and Tooshi/Shasha conservancy — but it has also instilled a behavioural change among the villagers. In many places they had given up cutting trees or taking herds of sheep for grazing in areas inhabited by Kashmir markhors.

“Now villagers look towards markhors as a natural resource and a means to earn money instead of considering them mere animals of prey,” said Mohammed Wali, president of the Beghusht VCC, in the Garam Chashma area of Chitral district,

The involvement of local communities in conservation of markhors has created hundreds of jobs of watchmen. Similarly, in some places the VCCs have also spent funds, over the years, to construct roads, small water supply schemes, constructed irrigation channels, developed water points for wildlife and carried out plantation to improve habitat to ensure that markhors stay for a longer period in their area. In some places, funds were utilized to get electricity connection from a nearby powerhouse generating hydel power.

“Fifty per cent of the VCCs share (out of their 80 per cent share) goes to the village in whose area the trophy hunting takes place and the rest is distributed among the remaining VCCs of the conservancy,” said an official of the wildlife department.

However, the wildlife department barely managed to honour its commitment with foreign hunters this year after some of the VCCs of the Gehrait-Golain and Tooshi-Shasha conservancies threatened to stop hunters from the trophy hunting in their areas unless the department paid them proceeds of the last year’s trophy hunting.

Official conservation experts, requesting anonymity, said that the monetary dispute between VCCs had exposed vulnerability of the system. Hence there was a need on the part of the provincial government to take prudent measures to create harmony among the VCCs, resolve their internal monetary disputes to ensure smooth continuity of the system in future.

The markhor conservation plan has, however, raised skepticism among several groups, particularly for some environmental and wildlife conservationists, who see it as against morality and ethics.

Dr Habib Ahmed, who was technical advisor in WWF-Pakistan till recently, believed that the communities were on board to conserve the animal because of the monetary benefits entailed under the scheme. Though he supports the scheme for being successful in terms of helping communities to fulfil their needs of small infrastructure schemes in far flung ares of the country, he is of the view that ethically it is not fair. “I don’t oppose the scheme, but ethically it does not look appropriate that on the one hand you are protecting the endangered species and on the other you bring foreigners to hunt it by making them to pay a price,” said Dr Ahmed.




  • The Dawn Newspaper Group (www.dawn.com)

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Updated February 25th, 2007