CHITRAL: Poachers are active in Chitral district, the paradise of wildlife, due to shortage of watchers.

The wildlife department has only 56 watchers for an area of 14,850 square kilometres.

Lamenting the government’s apathy towards the preservation of Chitral, Shakir Ahmad, conservationist at a nongovernmental organisation, told Dawn that due to its enormous area and location, Chitral supported the highest density of wildlife in the province.

He said the inventory of wildlife species in Chitral was endless which included some most endangered species like snow leopard and lynx, while it was the home to national animal markhor, state animal snow leopard and national bird chukar partridge.

The conservationist, however, said despite all that, the department seemed to be least bothered about strengthening the wildlife department in Chitral to promote and reserve the wildlife species, which was exposed to poaching and other types of exploitation.

“The negligence of the department can be gauged from the fact that an atcher (official of the lowest grade in the department) has to keep vigilance on more than 260 square kilometres, which is not possible in practice,” he said.

Mr Ahmad said under the standard for the preservation of wildlife, a watcher must be assigned an area of 80 to 100 square kilometres depending upon the density of wildlife population in the area.

He said keeping in view the density of the rich species of wildlife, there must be at least 150 watchers in the district, which formed a wildlife division.

Mr Ahmad said there were districts in the province with area less than one thousand square kilometers with nominal wildlife population but still the number of staff was double than that of Chitral.

He said the district had a considerable population of Kashmir markhor in southern Chitral and Himalayan ibex, whose trophy hunting was done every year generating revenue of millions of rupees as the hunting permit of a markhor, was auctioned at $0.13 million this year.

The conservationist said the poaching of a markhor meant the loss of a hung amount of Rs10 million to the national exchequer.

He said the cases of poaching had become frequent in the recent times due to shortage of staff at the department, especially watchers.

Mr Ahmad said last year, a division bench of Peshawar High Court had directed the finance and wildlife departments to increase the number of watchers in the district while hearing a suo motu case of markhor poaching in the Chitral Gol National Park.

He said the greater the number of watchers, the greater amount of revenue would be accumulated as a watcher issued hunting licences to hunters of a number of birds, especially ducks and doves.

“One can well imagine the volume of revenue accrued from the issuance of licences if the number of watchers is increased from 56 to 160,” he said.

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