Protecting Pakistan’s Wildlife

by Kamal Siddiqi/ Express Tribune/ Feb 7, 2022

Two leopard cats were recovered from the bird market located in Karachi’s Empress Market recently, highlighting once again how the illegal trade in animals flourishes around the country, with poachers getting bolder now in their efforts to sell. The cats were lucky and were saved only because some activists alerted the authorities to their presence in Karachi after seeing their sale being posted online. Most animals, however, are not so lucky. They usually end up being smuggled abroad or at someone’s private residence.

Pakistan needs to take the illegal trade in wildlife seriously. Journalist Zeeshan Shah comments that organised wildlife crime has spread across the country with under the radar poaching on the rise. The scale of this activity was first analysed by the WWF in Sindh as one of the first assessments of wildlife trafficking, involving reptiles and mammals followed by an environmental assessment in 2005, in the freshwater turtle trade. UNDP further assisted by identifying illegal reptile trade in pockets of Balochistan, in the Chaghi desert, spreading across to Dera Ismail Khan and Nowshera in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

What we are seeing is that the illegal wildlife trade through local websites has risen rapidly with Punjab taking the largest share followed by Sind. A survey of over 54 pages on Facebook was found to have been created for an online market to facilitate the illegal trade of wildlife species with mammals accounting for over 40% of the total followed by over 39% birds and 19% reptiles.

Shahzada Irfan, another respected journalist who reports on wildlife, says that the illegal wildlife trade brings money close, if not equal, to international narcotics and illegal arms trade and human trafficking. It is the illegal trafficking of wildlife — both in the form of live birds and animals and body parts — that has this potential. Over the years, countless wildlife species including rare birds and animals and their body parts have crossed international borders and this has been made possible by traffickers in connivance with agents and the officials supposed to check this practice at different ports and borders.

We are told that the illegal wildlife trade has been rampant in Pakistan for decades. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), wildlife crime has destroyed socio-economic development on a global scale, creating long-term devastation on our eco-system and bio diversity. Globally, tourists pay heavily to go and see the wildlife culture, some settling for safari in Africa while some go and visit India and Thailand to visit and explore tiger sanctuaries. In contrast, in Pakistan, high volumes of unchecked trade and poaching of animals is a serious threat to its tourism.

Traders in illegal wildlife disguise themselves as domestic pet traders. Mammal species recorded as endangered (EN) include Leopard Cat, Indian Palm Civet, Pallas Cat, Chinkara, Hog Deer, Grey Langur, Asiatic Jackal, Rhesus Monkey, Common Leopard, Black Bear and Indian pangolin. The skin of these animals is sold at exorbitant rates in the wholesale market. Some of these species are in demand for their extracts in forms of oil remedies and medicines that supposedly cure many imagined ailments. Oils containing fat or bile extracts, (fresh and dried meat) and bones are primarily used in traditional medicine.

Pakistan needs to work seriously to address the issue. For decades we have seen how the endangered Houbara Bustard continues to be under attack from foreign visitors who are given hunting permits because our foreign ministry feels that this is in the national interest. One can argue that this isn’t national interest but personal interests.

Unfortunately the Houbara is legally being made extinct. The rest of the animals who are native to this part of the world are being poached and killed while the government looks the other way. Of course there are some officials who try and check this activity — for example Javed Maher of the Sindh Wildlife department who started his career as the Range Forest Officer in 1993 and became Sindh Wildlife Department’s provincial conservator in 2015. In the last five years, one of the most remarkable initiatives he has done is to limit the smuggling of the freshwater turtle. We need many more such people. We need stronger implementation of laws and a national awareness campaign to protect our wildlife. Let us hope for better sense to prevail.

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