Wild baggage

Updated 15 Feb, 2019 04:50pm

By Faiza Ilyas

It is difficult to believe today that leopards roamed the hilly parts of Karachi a few decades ago. The royal cat lived in Balochistan back then, in what is now known as the Kirthar National Park. But times have changed: leopards don’t roam the outskirts of Karachi, while the freshwater turtles, snakes and migratory birds that still frequent these parts are now poached for sale abroad.

That latter issue came to light when around 200 freshwater turtles smuggled from Sindh were confiscated in China and returned to Pakistan — this was the first-ever repatriation of any trafficked wildlife, and a much celebrated occasion for wildlife authorities.

The case was an eye-opener, pointing to serious gaps in the official mechanism governing wildlife, including guarding entry and exist points of the country.

But this does not mean that all such trade is lucrative for the poachers. For example, wildlife officials and animal traders, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Dawn that the scorpion trade was nothing but a scam.

“There is no doubt that scorpions were caught in large numbers from the desert areas of Sindh but there is no truth in claims that huge bucks were made. In fact, many people lost their money when they found that no big dealer was available to buy the scorpions they had purchased from middlemen,” an animal trader said, contending that indigenous scorpions didn’t have the extraordinary size and weight that buyers look for.

According to wildlife officials, honorary district game wardens — a government post that serves as a political tool to oblige people — are currently the single biggest hurdle in checking illegal wildlife activities.

As the migratory season has begun, wildlife officials are facing tremendous pressure from these wardens to limit their activities. “They used their political influence to get poachers released. We are vulnerable to all kinds of threats as the department can’t even provide us with a vehicle and a weapon to carry out our duties,” an official complained.

The government, according to these officials, needs to enact the updated Sindh Wild Life Protection Ordinance 2014 that has been lying with the law department for a long time, provide adequate funds to the department and re-organise it in a way that officers are posted at the district and tehsil level.

“It’s very hard to quantify the illegal wildlife trade, since the business is not legal or documented and we don’t have any baseline to compare this year’s cases with it,” argues Rab Nawaz, Sindh regional director of the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan. “I would say, however, that whatever we are seeing being reported is just the tip of the iceberg and the actual trade is much higher.”

Decades of disregard of nature along with factors such as increasing poverty, unplanned urbanisation, deforestation, pollution and irrational use of pesticides have led to a steep decline in numbers of wild animals that were once in abundance while those that already were in small numbers are now no longer seen.

“I think one major reason for wildlife devastation in Sindh was the construction of dams and barrages upstream that led to drastic decline in water and habitat destruction in Sindh,” says Abrar Hussain Mirza, former wildlife conservator of Sindh.

This abrupt change in environment, says Mirza, exposed animals which, at that point of time, were in desperate need of refuge.

Given the context of this sorry state of affairs, Sindh’s wildlife received more setbacks this year that saw illegal trading in species such as geckos and scorpions. It appeared to be a new phenomenon in animal trade, which was earlier believed to have been restricted to birds and mammals.

Nawaz believes that there has been an obvious increase in animal trafficking for some species or group of animals such as freshwater turtles. For other species, he says, it’s less noticeable, but one could presume that the trade has been increasing along with the demand, mostly from China and countries in South East Asia.

At the same time, he believes, the Sindh wildlife department has stepped up vigilance and the media is playing an important role in highlighting the issue, which in turn, has made people including the general public more aware.

“Many things could have been halted a long time ago, but there was little political will. Now people and the government are aware. But for some species, it’s already too late. My advice is to try and save whatever we have remaining — we need to take action now before it’s too late,” he said.

Though limited in number, endangered species still had some presence in Pakistan as they preyed on animals like wild goats, hyenas, wolves, chinkara gazelles and black bucks. One can find their reference in the few authentic books available on the country’s past wildlife that include Mammals of Pakistan (1977) by the late Dr Thomas Jones Roberts, an expert who is considered an authority on Pakistan’s wildlife.

He writes, “In Pakistan, the panther is confined to Himalayan forest regions up to the limit of the tree line or the lower altitude valleys in the more arid mountain regions further north. In southern parts of its range, a few specimens are still occasionally reported from the Pab Hills whence a specimen was shot in 1968 by Dr Rizvi. They still occur in the Khirthar Hills and Karchat Hills and very sparsely in the hill ranges of Kalat and Makran.

“The late Nawab of Kala Bagh reckoned that about 12 panthers had been shot in the salt range in Mianwali district in a period of about 25 years up to 1967. Eates (1968) records that between 1896 and 1915, 21 panthers were officially reported as having been killed in Sindh and that most of them were from the hills immediately to the west of Karachi.”

The last of the leopards in the Kirthar range, according to some accounts, was killed in 1977 and that too after the park (spread over 1,192 square miles) was declared protected in 1974. The loss of the leopards and that too in a protected area reflects the brazen official indifference that prevailed at that time and, unfortunately, continues till today.

Visit any sanctuary in Sindh and you would be shocked to see that these places that are supposed to be a refuge for all animals and plants are without any kind of protection whatsoever. Consequently, these areas have lost the charm and attraction that they once were known for, leaving little hope for places that are not officially protected.

In urban centres, markets offering animals, both wild and captive breeds, have been operating for a long time right under the nose of the wildlife department. Successive governments have not only allowed local people to hunt, capture and trade indigenous animals but have also been issuing special permits to Arab royals to hunt wild fauna.

A case in point is of the endangered houbara bustard, a winter visitor to Pakistan. The state-sanctioned butchery of this bird carries on apace in Sindh, following in the footsteps of Balochistan’s Chagai district, where recently over 2,000 houbara bustards were killed by a Saudi Arabian royal.

For Abrar Hussain Mirza, however, there is still a chance to bring back the lost fauna. “Even now we can bring back the lost species only if we start respecting the law and protect those areas that we have declared as sanctuaries. That means no hunting at all there,” he said.

In the zoo, just smile and wave

Animals arrive at the Karachi zoo and Safari Park with much fanfare; what goes behind deals to acquire them remains shrouded in secrecy

All over the world, zoos and safaris are ideally meant to provide a refuge for endangered animals that are raised in captivity under expert care. These facilities not only help people nurture a love and understanding for animals, but also help establish a limited population of a threatened species that, at some stage, could be re-introduced to its natural habitat.

In Pakistan, however, animal conservation and rehabilitation is hardly practiced at any facility dedicated to wild animals. Apart from poor animal handling and care, a major problem at these places is the non-transparent processes for acquiring animals in the first place. For instance, the Karachi Zoological Gardens and the Safari Park, both run by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), have been acquiring animals under controversial deals that, among other things, lacked mandatory permission for purchasing/acquiring animals from Sindh wildlife department and the federal government (in case the animal is imported from another country).

These ‘deals’ include reported cases in which the KMC failed to specify the animal source when queried. For instance, the Safari Park got a pair of golden tabby tigers (one of them died soon after its arrival) in exchange for deer, camels and horses from a Lahore-based party last year, but the administration avoided giving details about the exchange.

In 2012, the facility accepted a ‘donation’ of two chimpanzees from an individual who, as Safari officials claimed, ‘left’ the chimps at the facility. It is worth noting that chimpanzees are listed as critically endangered in the International Union for Conservation’s Red Data List, as well as in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), whose trade is internationally prohibited except in cases when the purpose is pure scientific research and education at a government-run facility.

The same year, the Karachi Zoological Gardens exchanged some of its deer species with a pair of urial, a protected species of wild sheep in the province. Both the KMC administrator and the then head of the Karachi zoo had admitted at the time that the staff conducted no inquiry about the credentials of the chimpanzees’ donor and the private farm owner from whom the zoo acquired the urial before taking the animals.

There was also a case of a pair of pumas that the zoo purchased from a firm blacklisted by the federally-run National Council for Conservation of Nature for illegally importing two pairs of white tigers.

The zoo and Safari Park have also reported cases in which animals went ‘missing’ from these facilities. Last month, five pinioned pelicans ‘disappeared’ mysteriously from the Safari Park that had earlier reported the ‘disappearance’ of two pythons — a 17-foot-long reticulated python and a 12-foot-long albino reticulated python.

The reptiles were brought for a pet show from the zoo that later declared them as dead only after keeping a mysterious silence over the issue for three months.

“It is very important to inquire about the animal source because you want to be sure that the animal is neither captured from the wild nor being traded illegally,” said Sindh Wildlife Conservator Javed Maher.

He expressed ignorance over how some animals have been procured for the zoo and Safari Park in recent years and said: “Officials at the zoo and the Safari Park are living in their own world but they are required under the law to take permission from Sindh Wildlife Department for animal procurement. One expects a government institution to demonstrate responsible behaviour,” he said.

To address malpractices at the zoo and Safari Park, experts suggest that the government needs to hire wildlife experts to head these facilities, make them financially autonomous and establish a board comprising government officials as well as independent wildlife experts to oversee activities at facilities for captive animals.

Royal returns

Easy exit points from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa enable poachers to meet international demand

— Zulfiqar Ali
— Zulfiqar Ali

In July 2007, unidentified gunmen shot dead three Chinese nationals on Charsadda Road in Peshawar, where they ran a workshop for tri-wheeler Qingqi rickshaws. A police party probing their killings visited the workshop, only to discover much more than they were looking for: a stock of dead turtles in a small room inside the workshop.

Though investigators could not apprehend the killers, the recovery of dead turtles gave a twist to the case. Police concluded that the Qingqi workshop was a mere front, and the slain Chinese nationals were actually involved in an illegal trade of turtles. The recovery of turtles from the compound was an eye-opener for officials of the provincial wildlife department.

Follow-up investigations by the police and officials of the wildlife department showed that the Chinese nationals were paying children from nearby localities to catch freshwater turtles from the Shah Alam River, the Budhani Nallah and other tributaries around the provincial capital.

Wildlife conservator Muhammad Khan, who has carried out research on freshwater turtles, explains that hard and soft shell turtles are found in canals and rivers in Peshawar valley and other areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but there is a greater demand for soft shell freshwater turtles in the international market. Hunting has continued with impunity, thereby putting pressure on the population of freshwater turtles in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Pakistan is signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, and has included turtles in the list of endangered species. Although the KP wildlife department has placed a ban on hunting of turtles, it exists only on paper.

“The government has enacted laws and signed international treaties, but illegal trade of wild animals can’t be completely stopped,” admits former chief conservator of the KP wildlife department, Dr Mumtaz Malik, adding that the department lacks resources to block this illegal trade. He said that wild animals are smuggled through road and rail routes.

A few months ago, Chinese officials had seized trucks loaded with turtles at Khunjrab Pass, the border-crossing point between Pakistan and China.

Illegal trade in wildlife is not limited to KP alone. While Peshawar’s Namak Mandi is the main centre for selling and buying of wild animal species and their raw body parts, dead turtles are exported to different countries in the Far East from Lahore as well, where according to official sources, Akbari Market has become a major hub for illegal trade of turtles.

But it is in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the adjacent Federally Administered Tribal Area (Fata) that a wide range of rare flora and fauna exist in their natural habitat. Like freshwater turtles, many wild species including falcon, snow leopard, common leopard (markhor), black bear, houbara bustard, monal pheasants and ibex, are vanishing despite being declared “endangered.”

“Falcons are under threat because of their high price tag in the market. A few years ago, a single falcon was sold for Rs5 million,” recalls Dr Malik, who now teaches at the Department of Forestry and Wildlife Management in University of Haripur.

Falcons are usually trapped in autumn in this part of the world. With the onset of autumn in highlands, falcons migrate towards the plains of Peshawar valley, where hunters are waiting to trap them. These birds are then sold on to Arab sheikhs, who use them for hunting purposes. “The Saker and Peregrine species of falcons are expensive birds which are used for hunting in the Middle East. These birds are trapped illegally and exported to the Gulf States,” explains Dr Malik.

According to Dr Malik, falcons, turtles, snow leopard and lizards are in great demand abroad, including in the Gulf and in the Far East.

An official source confirmed that wild animals such black bear cubs, monal pheasants and skins of different species are smuggled out of KP.

“Two years ago, a cub of the endangered black bear was recovered from an official vehicle en route to Swat from Batagram,” the source says. The same source claims that a party recently struck a Rs100m deal to sell few falcons in Peshawar.

Meanwhile, the provincial wildlife department has taken protective measures to check the illegal trade of wild animals. As per a Customs official at Peshawar’s Bacha Khan International Airport, the establishment of a special counter at the airport has nearly eliminated the illegal trade of wild animals – falcons in particular.

Objectively, however, it looks like strict curbs by the Chinese government have played a greater role than special airport counters in stopping falcon hunting. The Customs official said that hunters from KP used to catch birds inside Chinese territory but more recently, Chinese authorities have begun strict monitoring of the border area due to a surge in terrorist activities in its Muslim-populated areas.

This has stopped falcon trapping in that area, and as a result, the smuggling of falcons through Peshawar’s international airport has completely stopped. “Not a single bird has been seized at the airport during the last two years,” the official says.

A wildlife department official says that while people have tried to continue trading wild animals illegally, they have not had much success. The falcon was declared a protected bird in 2006 and the government has adopted measures to curb illegal trade and trapping of falcons, he says, adding that several seized falcons have been released in the past few months.

The provincial government is also introducing a new law to replace the existing Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Wildlife Act-1975.

Per new regulations, officials of the wildlife department will be given the power to ensure the conservation of wild species.

The proposed draft suggests the creation of a uniformed force of the department and the establishment of a fund to protect endangered wildlife species in the province.


Preservation of the Houbara Bustards falls prey to the hunting desires of the high and mighty

By Nuzhat Siddiqi


Every winter, Houbara Bustards fly into Pakistan for creating life. Hunters from Middle Eastern nations follow them here to rid them of this idea.

For decades now, nobles and royals from Middle Eastern states have used the deserts of Pakistan as their own personal hunting ground. They arrive in Pakistan with their massive entourages and their trained falcons and permission letters, or rather “invitation” letters from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to stage grand hunting parties. Their prey of choice is, of course, the Houbara Bustard, which is hunted through trained falcons, which have also often been transported to them after being poached from the very same country they have been brought back to.

But this is not the falcons’ story. This tale of woe is about the Houbara Bustard, a species which has become terribly scarce because of excessive hunting.

Why do the Arabian gentlemen hunt Houbaras so passionately? The most common and oft repeated answer is that the Arabs consider Houbara meat a magical aphrodisiac. Science states that it is a diuretic, but no one has invited science to this party.

Another reason that the people who have previously supported the hunting parties in their native areas present is more of a historical take. They claim, while vociferously breathing through the phone to this author that they must remain “anon”, that it is the romance of the nomadic life that compels the Arabs to pursue the Houbara across the sand, “guided by moonlight”.

Historical “facts” are presented about the hard life of the Arabic nomads who had naught but the North Star to guide them and their trusted falcon friends to hunt Houbara for them for sustenance. While it may be necessary for us all to feel sorry for the hard-knock life these distinguished persons had to go through, and how they want to keep the tradition alive, the fact that they are excessively hunting a vulnerable species every single year calls for logic to prevail.

Surprisingly, there are quite effective rules that, at first glance, promise conservation of the blighted species. The birds are protected under local provincial laws. Scientifically known as Chlamydotis undulata macqueeni, the Houbara Bustard was previously a sub-species of Chlamydotis undulata, which is listed as “vulnerable” in the IUCN Red List. It is also listed in CITES Appendix I, a list with the names of the most spectacularly unlucky species in terms of poaching and hunting. Balochistan holds the ineffectual honour of having the Houbara Bustard as its provincial bird. According to the Third Schedule of the Balochistan Wildlife Act (1974), “all Bustards” from the family Otididae are listed as “Protected Animals; i.e., Animals which shall not be hunted, killed or captured.”

Earlier this year, however, how one hunter went from his allowed 100 birds limit to 2,100 birds may have remained a mystery if Dawn had not published a news story by veteran environmental journalist Bhagwandas based on a report titled ‘Visit of Prince Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud regarding hunting of houbara bustard’ prepared by Jaffar Baloch, Divisional Forest Officer of the Balochistan Forest and Wildlife Department.

While obviously facing backlash from within his department and from “influentials”, Baloch maintained that while people need to consider the horridly large number of birds killed, they also need to understand that poor and deprived people living in and around the areas where the birds roost seek out the foreign dignitaries to offer them their assistance with the hunts in exchange for money or gifts they can later sell off to buy essentials.

His statement rings true in light of the fact that local wildlife departments also function with limited budgets and are staffed with people who are not trained about the latest amendments in wildlife laws and international animal rights laws. During these hunts, they face pressure from “higher ups” whose will cannot be denied. The fact that it is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and not the provincial wildlife departments that have the authority of issuing Houbara hunting invitations to foreign dignitaries just adds more complication to the mix.

A deluge of posts from concerned citizens, activists and environmentalists flooded social media after the news of the report surfaced. People condemned the ministry, the wildlife departments and locals who aid hunts. A gentleman sardonically went as far as to start a petition addressed to the makers of the drug Viagra to supply a lifetime’s worth of the pill to Arab hunters so that they would not seek out Houbara Bustards as an aphrodisiac.

Recently, two private citizens, Lal Khan Chandio and Rahib Kalhoro, challenged the issuance of Houbara hunting licenses in the Sindh High Court. The Sindh High Court has issued a notice to concerned officials in high offices to share an exaplanation. This may have stalled the hunt this season so far in the province, but the delay possibly won’t deter the hunters from flying in as scheduled. Members of one of the largest and most active hunters’ group in Pakistan seem unimpressed and expect the hunt to take place as soon as the news of the case fades out from local media.

The moderator of the group’s Facebook community, one Nadeem Paracha, is a veteran hunter. In a comment via email, he writes, “If it’s illegal for Pakistanis to kill these birds why should the Arab sheikhs be allowed to do it?”

Paracha goes on to state that the bird has almost been wiped out on the Arabian Peninsula and various countries in the region, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, who have now set up breeding programmes to try to revive numbers yet ironically they still prefer mass hunting the bird in Pakistan.

“Pakistan continues to give special licenses to Arab rulers and senior officials. This year Pakistan issued 33 permits allowing dignitaries to kill up to 100 birds each.”

Paracha is also of the opinion that as far as issuing hunting licenses is concerned stopping the hunt for merely a season or two will not help. Empowering local communities to turn into protectors instead of poachers seems like a good enough idea.

The sentiment is echoed by the World Wide Fund for Nature–Pakistan (WWF-Pakistan) in a position paper. The organisation has successfully helped in the uplift of many communities in KPK and Gilgit-Baltistan, which now protect threatened animal species in their area by promoting lawful trophy hunting in partnership with the local wildlife departments. While this has not eradicated illegal hunting entirely, the effort is still there to erect effective barriers for hunters who may otherwise go on shooting sprees.

So why has a solution of this sort not been sought out for Houbara Bustard hunting as well?

Colonel Earnest Shams, who is associated with The Houbara Foundation International in Lahore, states that since the population of the Houbara Bustards is spread in different countries in the region, the territorial dispersion further makes it difficult to learn more about the flocks. As Houbara Bustards are migratory birds, hunters claim the numbers are stable, whereas the activists state otherwise.

In the region, India slammed a lasting ban on the hunt of the bird in 1979. Since then, the country has often complained about the fact that due to the large number of birds being hunted in Pakistan, the flocks that arrive in India are small in number, which affects their local ecology. On the other hand, before 9/11, Afghanistan also hosted Saudi and Emirati dignitaries for Houbara hunts. Only the fall of the Twin Towers and the start of the War on Terror stopped this. In his article about the bird for the Foreign Policy blog, journalist J. Dana Stuster refers to Steve Coll’s book Ghost Wars, in which the writer states that in 1999, the CIA traced Osama Bin Laden to an Emirati prince’s hunting camp in Southern Afghanistan, where the former “mujahid” was a guest. While CIA considered taking out the man by launching a cruise missile attack, the idea was ultimately abandoned to avoid causing a royal death. The rest, as they allege, is history.

All of these circumstances, intriguing as they are, leave Pakistan largely in charge of the fate of the Houbara Bustard in South Asia. The species hangs in balance; on the other side is the immense, unending wealth of Saudi and Emirati princes and dignitaries. Since Pakistan has never quite taken itself seriously enough to formulate a plan that benefits it while still placating those who have the power to trample the country’s “sovereignty”, it remains to be seen just how much we are willing to be gladly robbed of our natural assets. Over and over again.

‘A $15 billion industry’

Hammad Naqi Khan, the new director general of the World Wide Fund for Nature–Pakistan talks to Rina Saeed Khan about the illegal wildlife trade, its impact at the community level, and the regulations needed to combat it

By Rina Saeed Khan

As the new chief of WWF-Pakistan, how what plans do you have to tackle illegal wildlife trade in the country?

Well, the WWF-Pakistan is not a law enforcement agency; however we support the regulatory authorities concerned in implementing international and national legislations to combat wildlife trafficking. WWF-Pakistan along with other conservation organisations will keep on raising this issue at various forums to put pressure on the government and civil society for taking strict actions for controlling wildlife trade.

WWF-Pakistan will keep on supporting the government’s efforts to cooperate regionally to combat wildlife crimes at international forums such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC); INTERPOL (Wildlife Crime Working Group: contraction of International Police), South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN); and South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP).

I started my new role as the CEO of WWF-Pakistan two months ago. I strongly feel that in a country where nature conservation is not a priority, wildlife trafficking and habitat destruction are the most critical threats to vanishing wildlife. With the support of my Board, I took a decision to file a petition in the High Court for strong legal action. This stance was not taken earlier and is now being seriously pursued.

What species are the most affected by wildlife trade in Pakistan and why?

Most wildlife species that are traded are being used in traditional medicines, as food, or sold as pets in international markets. The species that are affected by this illegal trade in Pakistan are freshwater turtles. Soft shell turtles are collected for their body parts and meat, which are used in traditional medicines and as a delicacy.

Recent trends show that land tortoises and hard shell species of freshwater turtles are illegally traded as pets in international markets. According to a report published by TRAFFIC International on Seizures of Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles in Thailand 2008 – 2013 by Chng, S.C.I in 2014; the most traded species of chelonians that are also found in Pakistan are Indian Star Tortoise (Geochelone elegans); and black spotted turtle (Geoclemys hamiltonii). The other species that are in the trade from Pakistan include Pangolin (hunted for its scales, which are used in traditional medicines), black scorpion; leopard gecko; falcons; parrots, and various species of snakes. Some plants of high economic value, such as gucci and medicinal plants such Saussurea lapa, are also traded from Pakistan.

How lucrative is the trade? How is it impacting biodiversity in the country?

Wildlife trade is a highly lucrative business. It is also considered one of the largest black markets of the world. The market value of species varies greatly depending on its type and demand in the market. A recent survey by TRAFFIC International (a wildlife trade monitoring network) for Black Spotted Turtle (Geoclemys hamiltonii) in Malaysia revealed that one hatchling of this species can cost up to US $243. Global law enforcement agencies have revealed that illegal wildlife trade is around $15-20 billion annually.

Every species plays an important role in maintaining the ecosystem and is an integral part of the food web.

Freshwater turtles, for example, are a keystone species, regulating the population of their prey being top predators. If any of the species is removed from its natural habitat on a large scale, the balance in the ecosystem is disturbed leading to its alteration while affecting all other inhabitants.

It is not only removing species from the wild, but also putting community based conservation programmes at risk.

What are the destination points? Are the body parts used in traditional medicine?

China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand, and other East Asian countries are the main consumers of most of the illegally traded wildlife species. The body parts are used in traditional Chinese medicines.

If it is completely illegal, why isn’t the government doing more to stop it? Are there any success stories?

Federal and provincial governments are taking steps to combat it, but this issue definitely requires much more effort. The federal government, to give effect to CITES legislations (which Pakistan is a signatory to since 1976), passed a legislation called the “Pakistan Trade Control of Wild Fauna and Flora Act, 2012”.

The repatriation of 200 black spotted turtles from China in August 2014 is another laudable action that Pakistan’s government has taken in order to discourage wildlife trade. These turtles were smuggled from Sindh to China via Sost, a town in Gilgit-Baltistan located on the Pak-China border.

Is the problem getting worse?

WWF-Pakistan explored the turtle trade covering all possible habitats of freshwater turtles in Pakistan in 2007 and 2008. These investigative studies provided basis for amendments in provincial wildlife legislation and as a result, freshwater turtles were included in the list of protected species in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh.

Concerned authorities at exit ports, particularly the customs staff, greatly lack in capacity and expertise to fight wildlife trade. WWF-Pakistan is making its efforts to build the capacity of the staff of wildlife and customs departments in identifying species and their products, understanding latest trends in wildlife trade and modern means of animal transportation in order to take effective actions against the culprits. Capacity building workshops have been organised in major cities of Pakistan including Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad for wildlife and customs departments.

WWF-Pakistan facilitates wildlife authorities in conserving threatened species through improved management of protected areas and tackling this issue at the grass root level by involving community stakeholders. The local communities are provided with alternative options of livelihoods, thus reducing the harvesting pressure on native wild flora and fauna through its projects and programmes.

Wildlife traders and smugglers are more organised now and it is adding to the severity of the issue. Web-based wildlife trade has started firming its roots in the country as these dealers are now using modern technology and the internet for business purposes.

Are private zoos allowed under the law? Are they being monitored and what role is WWF-Pakistan playing to protect species like lions and tigers kept in these zoos?

Under the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Wildlife (Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management) Act, 1975, there is no provision for private zoos; however, the revised act (currently in provincial assembly for approval) has a provision for it. The existing law however allows private pheasantries.

In the Sindh Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1972, the law gives permission for private zoo by the name of ‘mini zoo’ and ‘private game farm’. The license remains valid for one year and before renewal of the license, monitoring of the private facility is due.

The Punjab Wildlife and Parks Department registers ‘private wildlife breeding farms’ under Private Wildlife Breeding Farm Rules, 2008 which have been developed under the Punjab Wildlife (Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management) Act, 1974. These facilities are inspected on three-monthly The revised legislation in Balochistan now allows the establishment of private zoo; the rules of which are under process.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, December 7th, 2014