In 2020, when humans were locked in, wildlife flourished in Sindh.
More birds were witnessed flying across the skies and among the animals on the ground, some even dared to come out of their obscure recesses, foraying near human settlements.
Moreover, wild animals in the province found increased protection under the Sindh Wildlife Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management Act 2020, which was enacted into a law in July 2020.
Its passing marked the repealing of a weaker law, hardly providing any protection to wild animals, for the first time since 1972.
The new legislation has wider coverage, protecting even those wild animals that enter Sindh via trans-boundary migration or as a result of human activity.
Enactment of stricter laws for protection of wildlife and biodiversity and growing social awareness of the issue have resulted in a notable increase in the number of wild birds and animals. The repealed law was ineffective as it prescribed no punishment for trapping and selling of wildlife. The new legislation puts a complete ban on trapping of wild animals and violators are to get two and a half years in prison with a minimum fine of Rs 30,000. This law also provides protection to seasonal migratory birds and those wildlife species that enter Sindh from other places.
Identity of citizens who report violation of the law is not revealed, so now more and more people are coming forward to inform the Sindh Wildlife Department (SWD) cases of trapping and selling of wild animals and birds. This helped the department to rescue large numbers of animals. The new law is deterring people from trapping and selling wild animals, and this can be gauged from the fact that the SWD rescued only 25,000 wild animals in 2020 whereas this figure in 2019 was as high as 90,000. This is a drastic decrease and it has been achieved through effective enforcement of the relevant law. Periodic raids on bird and animal markets have proven effective in dissuading dealers from buying and selling wild species.
Sindh Wildlife Department Chief Conservator Javed Ahmed Mahar attributes this decrease to a “drastic” reduction in crime against wildlife.
“This is a good sign but we aim to completely eradicate crime against [wildlife],” he said, adding that there were multiple reasons that ensured enhanced protection for wild animals in the province.
Elaborating on factors that he said led to a reduction in wildlife crime, Mahar said, “We had cancelled around 40 hunting licences in 2019, which discouraged trappers in the following year.”
The Sindh provincial government has also achieved success in its endeavor to retain and increase the population of vultures, which act as scavengers of nature. Vultures clean carcasses of animals to the bone within minutes. The stench caused by carcasses left to rot in the open makes life unlivable for all living beings. In the mid-1990s, there was a drastic decline of the vulture population. Now their population has stabilised, but they are still a threatened species.
Referring to the new law for the protection of wildlife, he added, “The trapping and selling of [wild] birds and animals was never considered a crime in the past, but it is a crime now.”
He further pointed out that people, in general, now had a better understanding of the importance of wildlife and valued it more.
As many as 16,901 birds and 2,489 reptiles were rescued and released into their natural habitats by the SWD during 2020.
Housing the main animals and birds market, Karachi reported the highest number of rescued birds, adding up to 7,639.
Besides, 5,484 birds were rescued in Hyderabad, 3,203 in Sukkur, 339 in Larkana, 179 in Shaheed Benazirabad and three in Mirpurkhas.
Apart from this, the SWD rescud 2,600 spiny-tailed lizards – called sanda in the local vernacular – from different areas of Sindh during the past year.
The department also rescued four crocodiles, five turtles and two snakes.
The SWD registered 411 cases of violence against wild animals throughout the year. Of these, 165 were reported from Karachi, 95 from Shaheed Benazirabad, 51 in Sukkur, 43 in Larkana and four in Mirpurkhas.
Most of these cases and complaints received by the SWD pertaining to trapping and majority were lodged via social media and SWD officials’ personal phone numbers.
Speaking in this regard, SWD deputy director Mumtaz Soomro said, “We responded immediately to the complaints and rescued animals in 90 percent of the cases.” He added that, however, the identity of the complainants was kept hidden at all times.