QUETTA: A recent surge in ibex hunting in Balochistan has caused an outrage amongst environmentalists and activists involved in conservation efforts. Heartrending pictures of hunters posing with their ‘trophies’ during the Eid season have been shared on social media much to the chagrin of those working towards saving the animals.
Along with the mountainous swathes of the Himalayas, Balochistan is a major breeding ground for the Asian ibex. In recent years, illegal hunting of the famed goat has picked up momentum. Both local and foreign hunters travel to remote areas in Balochistan to pursue their passion.
In response to a social media campaign which protested the hunting of ibexes, Balochistan’s forest and wildlife department spurred into action. “We have ordered an inquiry regarding the hunting of ibexes in Balochistan,” the department's secretary, Khudai Rahim Hijbani, tells this reporter.
“We will submit a final report in a week’s time,” he adds.
The elite hunting club
In Balochistan’s fertile ibex hunting grounds, the elite hunt the mountain goat with impunity. And with the profiles of these influential individuals ranging from legislators to tribal chieftains, forest officers deployed to curtail such activities remain powerless to do anything.
Besides the local elite, Arab blue bloods also descend on the province to try their hand at hunting ibexes. Chaghai, Naushki, Kharan and other parts of Balochistan are regarded as preferred for royal hunting trips.
Apart from ibex, other 'game animals' such as the endangered houbara bustards are also hunted with much fanfare. Last year alone, a member of an Arab royal family proceeded to hunt 2,100 houbara bustards in a killing spree that last three weeks.
Despite a ban on illegal hunting by the Balochistan High Court (BHC), the slaughter continues unabated.
During Eidul Fitr, Balochistan's forest and wildlife department carried out an initial investigation regarding reports of illegal hunting of ibexes. Sharifuddin, a conservationist with the said department, tells this reporter that the hunting sprees took place near Hingol National Park and in the province's Lasbela, Awaran and Gwadar districts.
“The individuals who hunted ibexes were already proclaimed offenders in previous incidents of illegal hunting,” the official says.
Action against illegal hunting 'not enough'
With such high casualties of the endangered animal and little real action against the hunters, the government's efforts in ensuring the ibexes' conservation can hardly be deemed satisfactory, let alone efficient.
“It is ironic that ibexes are better protected in community conserves as compared to officially administered areas,” Head of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Balochistan chapter, Faiz Kakar, points out, almost sardonically.
Wild animals are protected by communities in the areas of Torghar and Duraiji in Killa Saifullah and Lasbela districts, Kakar says. He also entreats the provincial governor and chief minister to take notice of illegal ibex hunting and bring those responsible to account.
Hijbani, though, claims that action is taken against those involved in illegal hunting. He says that action was taken against an officer of the department this year for failing to curb illegal hunting in Chaghai's Kachao area.
“As soon as I received reports of illegal hunting, I took immediate action, suspended the concerned officer and ordered an inquiry to probe deeper into the incident,” he says.
Sardar Naseer Tareen, a well-known environmentalist and campaigner for conservation, says: “The number of ibexes in Hingol National Park is close to 2,500. Sustainable hunting can be allowed if we keep the age factor in mind for ibexes and other game animals and do not indulge in over-hunting of the species.”
“Four or five mature male ibexes can be hunted per season, but not females and young ibexes,” he adds.
In order to ensure protection of endangered and game animals, the Balochistan Assembly last year adopted the Balochistan Wildlife (Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management) Act of 2014. With the passing of this legislation, the Wild Life Act of 1974 was repealed.
The new legislation aimed to curb illegal hunting. It fixed a minimum fine of Rs10,000 and a maximum fine of Rs20,000 with three to six weeks of imprisonment for illegally hunting a single ibex. The hunting value of ibexes was also fixed by the forest and wildlife department.
Experts are of the opinion that a regular census should be conducted for ibexes and other animals, and also believe that a sustainable programme needs to be launched for their protection and conservation.
Local tribal communities have so far played a commendable role in the protection of these rare and endangered species. But in a province plagued by unrest and insurgency, such issues tend to take a back seat. In the meantime, these species are left to fend for themselves, with only activists to beseech to the world on their behalf.