As local poachers are killing rare urials with most getting away with impunity, foreign hunters are enjoying trophy hunting by paying a hefty fee to the Punjab government.
Trophy hunting of urials is going on in the hilly terrain of Salt Range these days. As many as 16 permits to foreign nationals for urial trophy hunting have been issued by the Punjab Wildlife and Parks Department (PWPD). One permit is issued for $17,000.
A permit holder can hunt only one urial. The permits are obtained by outfitters who invite foreign hunters and pay the fee to PWPD. The department distributes hunts to community based organisations (CBOs) set up under the wildlife laws which facilitate the hunters.
Eighty per cent of the amount is given to a CBO for the preservation and protection of urials and also for doing social work in the area.
There are five CBOs currently operating in Salt Range, one in Kalabagh area of Mianwali district while two each in Chakwal and Jhelum districts. This year four permits have been given to Kalabagh CBO while Chakwal and Jhelum CBOs are supposed to get three permits each.
“So far, six urials have been hunted by foreign hunters,” an official in PWPD told Dawn. Foreigners mostly Russians and Americans are taking part in the trophy hunting.
John Anthony, an American, and Sergey Volochkovich, a Russian, recently hunted two urials in the Salt Range area of Chakwal and Jhelum districts, respectively.
“Trophy hunting is highly beneficial in the increase of urial population as only males who are unable for mating due to their old age are hunted. The old males affect the population negatively as they themselves are not able for mating and also not allow the young males to come closer to females,” explained a senior wildlife official.
The trophy hunting of urials is likely to remain open till the end of March.
On the other hand, local poachers are also killing urials.
“Not a single day passes without an illegal hunt of urial in Ara locality falling on the border of Chakwal and Jhelum,” said a local of the area.
There are at least four influential poachers in Chakwal city who regularly kill urials illegally. The wildlife department could not arrest a single influential poacher.
“I have hunted seven urials this season,” a poacher told Dawn. “But I do not hunt females and young ones,” he added.
One influential poacher even hunts in the Chumbi Surla wildlife sanctuary where any kind of hunting is prohibited.
“There are also many poachers who reside in villages falling in Salt Range. They hunt down urials and then sell the hunted animals at a meagre price of Rs 15,000 to Rs 25,000,” said an official.
According to Assistant Director Wildlife in Salt Range Asim Bashir Cheema, only three urial poachers could be nabbed in January and February. Two poachers were fined Rs290,000 while the case of the third one was referred to a court.
“Local courts set poachers free after imposing a meagre fine of Rs10,000 on some while most go scot-free,” lamented a senior official.
“Poaching could be controlled only if the wildlife department has its separate courts like it had once in Cholistan,” said the official.
When contacted, District Wildlife Officer Khalid Hassan Sahi said his department was trying its best to preserve urials and nab poachers.
“The population of urials is increasing in the Salt Range and this is because of the efforts made by the wildlife department and CBOs,” he maintained.
In August 2022, the Federal Government Put Off Trophy Hunting, deciding to conduct new survey to determine number of animals.
The federal government has decided to conduct a new survey to find out the numbers of markhor, Punjab urial, bharal, also called the blue sheep, and ryebucks before the trophy hunting. After the survey results come out, the trophy hunting quota will be released in the provinces.
The Ministry of Climate Change sources said that a re-survey is under consideration on some Community Based Organisations’ (CBOs) reservations and complaints regarding the exact numbers of animals offered for trophy hunting, but the final decision will be taken by the federal government.
Earlier, the quota had been issued to other provinces, including Punjab, for trophy hunting of specific animals found in these provinces.
Like in the past, the Punjab Wildlife Department was given a quota of 16 Punjab urials for trophy hunting.
No trophy hunting season has been fixed in the Punjab Wildlife Act, but usually from December to February (three months), hunters come to Pakistan for trophy hunting.
A permit for trophy hunting of Punjab urial was auctioned in 2021 for $18,100 and this year also the reserve price of a permit will be the same.
According to the wildlife officials, it has also been decided to conduct trophy hunting of black buck, chinkara, para, blue cow and wild boar on the pattern of Punjab urial and an application has been sent to the Ministry of Climate Change for its permission. Only Punjab urial trophy hunting has been allowed.
Punjab Wildlife Board and Forestry and Wildlife expert Badar Munir said that CBOs are playing an important role in the conservation of wildlife all over the world and for the protection of endangered wild species. Currently 65 CBOs are working in Gilgit-Baltistan. “Balochistan and Sindh have a good number of CBOs, but instead of creating more CBOs in Punjab, those already functioning are being closed down.” He said trophy hunting is being conducted by the bureaucracy in the favoured CBOs to obtain benefit from them, while the registration of CBOs in which the population of Punjab has increased the most, is not being renewed. He said that the federal government should organise trophy hunting as soon as possible instead of delaying it and increase the quota of trophy hunting which will bring foreign exchange in the country and further improve the conservation of wildlife.