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How Punjab’s influential poachers are threatening wildlife

CHAKWAL: On Nov 12, Sardar Faiz Tamman — former MNA from NA 61 (Chakwal II) — proclaimed on his Facebook page, “First shikar [hunt] of the season.” With the post, the influential man also uploaded six photographs. In one of them, eight dead partridges (one black and seven brown) are placed on the bonnet of his Land Rover while the visibly excited Mr Tamman, carrying a 12-bore gun, stands with two of his aides, one of whom is also carrying a 12-bore gun.

Most of his Facebook friends hailed his achievement, and he received criticism from only a few. “Shikar par sirf ghareebon peh pabandi hai [The ban on hunting refers only to the poor],” lamented Shahid Iqbal, one of Mr Tamman’s Facebook friends.

The hunting of partridges is generally prohibited in Punjab but is allowed in the winters under certain conditions. These require the hunter to have a valid shooting licence and a permit from the Punjab Wildlife and Parks Department (PWPD). The bag limit for one hunter is six birds a day, while the use of automatic weapons, repeater guns and vehicles is strictly prohibited — at least, according to the law. Pointer dogs are allowed only with a specific licence, and hunting is never allowed in wildlife sanctuaries. For the ongoing season, the PWPD has opened the partridge hunt from Dec 1 to Feb 15 in the 47 sub-districts of the province, with hunting allowed only on Sundays.

But the restrictions do not matter to persons such as Sardar Tamman; they can poach whenever they want. When approached by Dawn for comment, he said merely: “I don’t know much about poaching … hunting is my hobby and I try to do it within limits.”

“Fed up by Mr Tamman’s continuous poaching, we conducted a raid against him some years ago when he was a sitting MNA,” recalls a PWPD official. “But to do so, we had to call in extra personnel from the neighbouring Khushab district. Despite our best efforts, we could detain only one of his close aides and seized two partridges from him. But we were stopped at three places by the police who wanted us to release the poacher. We did manage to impose a fine on him, but we also had to face a strong backlash from our superiors.”

Last September, the Taunsa Sharif police registered a case against Mumtaz Bhutto Qaisrani, a PML-N MPA, and six identified and 40 unidentified associates on charges of ransacking the wildlife department office and forcibly having four poachers released. They had been nabbed red-handed when out hunting quails. But the young deputy director of the wildlife department, Hassan Sukhera — who wrote to the district police officer about taking legal action against the MPA and his men — ended up in much bigger trouble: he was suspended and later transferred to the head office. Influential poachers across the province continue to defy the law while the toothless PWPD can take action only against poor people.

Partridges are found in different areas in the country but the Salt Range is their hub. This is also the sole habitat in Punjab of the urial. On the basis of a census conducted eight years ago, the PWPD claims that the urial population is increasing; but it does not know about the status of partridges since no census has ever been conducted.

Influential poachers continue to kill the urial and catch their young with the connivance of wildlife watchers. Trophy hunting of the urial occurs every year. But to hunt merely one of these animals, the hunter has to get a permit costing some $16,000, which means that only foreigners buy the permit while locals poach.

Across the province, wildlife conservation is badly hit by poaching. Chakwal district, for instance, used to be a pangolin habitat but is no longer so because of poaching. The district wildlife department here is facing a severe shortage of staff: the posts of two inspectors, seven wildlife watchers and a driver are currently vacant. “Not only should these posts be filled but more should be opened up,” says an official. “The most important thing is to appoint honest, dedicated and brave officials at the top level.”

“There is an urgent need for a fresh survey of the urial and partridge population,” says a senior official of the PWPD. “I am sure it will reveal shocking figures about the partridge population at least, since by my observations it is decreasing steeply. If a survey is not possible, there should be a complete ban on hunting the bird for at least five years.”

According to the WWF-Pakistan, 32 species of birds (including local and migratory) are threatened in Pakistan while 24 mammal species are also considered threatened. Khan Shehram, a senior communications officer at the organisation, admits that it has not conducted studies specifically on the partridge population in the Salt Range and Punjab. “There is need to carry out this assessment,” he says.

courtesy: dawn news

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