The measure to impose a ban without undertaking a research points to serious inadequacies in government-run wildlife institutions and, at the same time, reflects a lack of realisation on the part of environment ministry officials of the significance of a scientific approach.
The ban, experts believe, would do little good unless a comprehensive strategy is adopted to protect the crop-friendly bird that faces serious threats to its survival in the wild due to habitat loss.
The National Council for Conservation of Wildlife (NCCW) had written a letter on April 16, 2008 to the wildlife authorities of the four provinces and the Northern Areas, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and Islamabad on the subject of export of parrots and parakeets.
The letter says: “In view of the declining status of parrots/parakeet species, it has been decided in the ministry of environment to ban their export. It is, therefore, requested that no request of export of parrots/ parakeets will be recommended for export by the provinces with immediate effect.”
ZSD — a neglected body
Answering a question that what caused the government to ban export of parrot species, Umeed Khalid, head of the NCCW, said that the national conservation body was assisted by an advisory council and the Zoological Survey Department (ZSD) to take any such decision.
“The suggestion to ban parrots’ exports was endorsed by wildlife experts from all the four provinces on the advisory council,” he said, adding that the ZSD carried out surveys of wildlife species on a regular basis.
When asked whether any survey was carried out in this particular case, he said he did not know whether the zoological department had carried out such a survey.Officials at the ZSD said that no survey had ever been conducted on resident birds such as parrots, mynas or sparrows.
The ZSD offices exist only in Islamabad and Karachi. The Karachi office is basically a marine division that generally carries out surveys in the Sindh/ Balochistan coastal areas or on the wetlands located near the coast. However, surveys are also carried out in far-flung areas of Balochistan on directives from the Islamabad office that focuses on wetlands and wild animals of economic value in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The department is provided with little funds and it also lacks experts. There are only seven zoologists at the department, all in Grade 17 and have been awaiting promotions for a long time. The Islamabad office gets Rs 80,000 for surveys and the Karachi office gets around Rs 60,000 for the same purpose.
Giving information about the types of parrots found in Pakistan, Syed Ghalib Ali, who has worked with the ZSD for about 30 years and now is engaged as a consultant with different organisations, said there were four local species of parrots that included rose-ringed parakeet, Alexandrine parakeet, slaty-headed parakeet and plum-headed parakeet.
However, the two major types are the rose-ringed parakeet and the Alexandrine parakeet whose numbers are fewer than that of the rose-ringed.
The Alexandrine parakeet, also called Bengali tota because of his good speaking skills, is bigger in size and quite expensive. It is found in Punjab and the northern areas. Parrots live in orchards and are hole-nesters. The birds eat invading pests and help in protecting crops.
While most wildlife experts agree that the number of parrot species has declined acutely over the decades in the wild due to habitat destruction and hunting pressures, one can see significant stocks of local parrot species being sold openly at animal markets. The Empress Market in Karachi is one such instance.
According to parrot-sellers at the Empress Market, most birds were coming from Punjab. Large-scale captive breeding of birds, including that of parrots, was also going on across the country, they said.
The prices of a single parrot may range from Rs 300 to Rs5,000 depending upon its type, color, size and skills.
Only five percent trapping has been left in the wild. Most birds are raised at farms.
The caged birds at the market lived in poor conditions and the mortality rate was high, traders themselves conceded.
”It’s a business of losses. There are times when we make good profits and, then, there is a long lull and we run into debts. Dozens of birds die daily,” another trader commented.
Sindh wildlife conservator Hussain Bakhsh Bhaagat said there was a technical difficulty in protecting the rose-ringed parakeet as the bird had not been declared a protected species.
“We are in the process of amending the Sindh Wildlife Ordinance 1972 and would likely declare the rose-ringed parakeet along with other bird species protected. The Alexandrine parakeet, however, already has a protected status,” he said.
Mr Bhaagat agreed to the theory that the population of these birds had severely declined and said, “I think there is a 50 plus decline. There is no scientific survey on the species, but we have strong field observations that validate this opinion. Most of the birds coming to animal markets, I believe, are bred in captivity.”
Dr Ghulam Akbar and Jehangir Durrani of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) stressed the need for a comprehensive strategy to protect the species.
“Not only parrots, but there has been a steep decline in the number of other birds mainly due to destruction of forests and orchards. In civilised countries, even dry trees are not felled as they are home to different insects and birds. Unfortunately, we have no such traditions here,” he remarked.
One should not ignore the role of unregulated use of pesticides in eliminating bird species, adds Jehangir Durrani who feels that all bird species are threatened in the existing environment and there was a dire need to strictly implement wildlife rules.
“We are deeply concerned over the vanishing avian diversity. In a recent survey in Sindh, our team was shocked to see zero population of birds in areas where we were expecting their good numbers. The foremost step needs to be taken urgently to strengthen the relevant departments in order to protect wildlife,” he said.