by Heba Moeen & Ahmer Ali Rizvi
Kirthar National Park, spread over an area of more than 3,000 square kilometres, is a nature lover’s paradise and home to the beautiful urial. The park, spread over an area of more than 3,000 square kilometres is a wildlife photographer’s paradise. Every visit is like a treasure trove, presenting something extraordinary. If you are a nature lover, rest assured you won’t be bored here. Kirthar was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1972 and a national park in 1974. The sanctuary stretches from Hub Dam north of Karachi all the way to Ranikot in Jamshoro.
An urial, scientific name: Ovis orientalis, is a medium sized stout-bodied wild sheep, native to Central and South Asia. It is also known as arkar or shapo. The graceful animal is found from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Afghanistan to Pakistan and India.
A notable difference between juvenile and adult urials is that the former have a reddish hue with a mild fur coat and the latter a dark brown coat with a thick tuft of hair below the chin.
Urials are quite fast-paced, sturdy and able to survive in Kirthar’s dry arid lands on very little water. The ones found in Sindh are linked to the Afghan urial species. They are also known as Blandford urials. These are found at a height ranging from 2,500 to 8,000 feet mostly in the mountain ranges of Mari, Lusar, and Mungthar. They survive on the grass and herbs growing naturally in the rugged grasslands. Their horns converge towards the back of the neck into elegant curves and can measure up to 90 centimetres, making them fairly taller than the average goat. Considering their physique, they are well adapted to the steep and rocky terrain.
They also have a strong olfactory system. The ewe and its offspring recognise one another through their unique scent. The same can be said about their memory. They can recognise animals they have met several years down the lane.
“It is not easy to locate urials even with the tele-lenses, because of their perfect camouflage with the terrain. No wonder, the thrill of looking into the eyes of an urial buck with its crescent like horns is unforgettable,” says Nusrat Ali, whose keen observation and precise spotting has helped the group (Wildlife With Dream Merchants) document birds and wildlife which otherwise would not have been spotted by the naked eye.
Urials, given their beautiful horns and plentiful meat, are a prized catch for hunters. They can live up to 12 years of age but only a few get to complete their life span in the wild.
An interesting fact about urials is that they are polygamous animals. The adult males pair up with more than one female in a season. They mostly breed during cooler months of the year – from September to January. The ewes raise the lambs until March. A great time to spot and document the families is February and March.
Even a slight movement can alert these stealth animals which can run at speeds of about 40 kilometres per hour.
The closest we got to urials was roughly about 100 metres. We found them bleating loudly as a means of communicating. They are also known to maintain strong visual contact. Our local guide, Qalandar Burfat, was of immense help. He is thoroughly acquainted with the way around Kirthar National Park and took us straight to the urials’ abodes. He also helped us find the much revered Lichtenstein’s and chestnut-bellied sandgrouse, and pratincoles – both small and collared, around the Hub Dam. Shafi Burfat helped us not only spot the disguised urials but also helped us chase and intercept those on some challenging uphill tracks.
The reward for the excursion was a short documentary titled, Blandford Urial of Kirthar National Park. It can be viewed on the Youtube channel Sindh Wildlife Club. There is a dire need for supporting the conservation efforts for these adorable native species.
Given their beautiful horns and abundant meat, urials are a tempting catch for hunters. They can live to be 12 years of age in the wild but only a few get to complete their life span. It should come as no surprise that these animals have been listed as a vulnerable species on the Red List by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They require all the attention of the authorities, including the Wildlife Department and the conservationists.
Ahmer Ali Rizvi is a sales and marketing professional who develops wildlife documentaries. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Heba Moeen is a PR and communication professional, an artist, and a wildlife photographer. She can be reached at email@example.com