Sharing the planet

15 Jul 2019


The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

SOME might be inclined to present the view that the misery of the animal kingdom is too idealistic a cause to highlight. Yet it was the sustained campaigning of animal rights groups that raised awareness globally about the cruelty, senselessness, and wanton opulence of wearing animal fur, eventually inducing the fashion industry to switch to synthetic fibres. Major cosmetic brands now restrain themselves from testing products on animals — a major advertising angle — while even leather is slowly losing its appeal.

Protecting animals from cruel practices due to humanity’s insatiable appetite is one component of the saga of abuse, in which must be counted the activities of poachers, for example, for whom animal parts (such as elephant and rhino tusks, or turtle shells) mean money. Another dimension is gratuitous hunting, killing for the ‘sport’ — though an activity can hardly be a sport when there is negligible parity in competition and the pursued stands hardly a chance. Be it the houbara bustard or ibex or markhor, a power imbalance is no competition.

Fortunately, there have been notable successes, such as in Africa — particularly Tanzania and Kenya — that have to a large extent brought poaching, hunting and the trade and/ trafficking of animal and animal parts under control through the implementation of laws. For instance, foxes may no longer be actively hunted in the UK or kangaroos in Australia. As a result of conservation efforts, the numbers of some animal populations — some even listed as ‘endangered’ under CITES, the international convention regulating this area — have been brought to sustainable levels.

Imported animals are barely offered protection.

For its part, Pakistan, too, has seen some significant pieces of legislation. An important first step was the Wildlife Inquiry Committee in 1968, and some years later, a National Council for Wildlife. In more recent times, protectionist laws have been formulated in all the provinces. There are regulations in Gilgit-Baltistan. The wildlife and fisheries department is involved too, as are, where relevant, the forestry authorities. Stringent implementation of laws and rules remains an issue, but through the years, there have been some quiet triumphs, including efforts involving international organisations.

Very recently, for example, the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board rescued three wolf pups from Lehtrar Road in the capital. The capturing and trade of endangered species, including wolves (which have all but disappeared due to loss of habitat and illegal trade), is prohibited under the third schedule of the Islamabad Wildlife Protection Ordinance, 1979, according to IWMB official Zaheer Mirza. This raid was carried out on a tip, and two persons have been apprehended on suspicion of carrying out illegal trade in endangered species. Dog breeders and persons who train army/ guard dogs are in general to blame, in Mr Mirza’s view.

Similarly, the Islamabad-based Himalayan Wildlife Foundation has for years been campaigning for and working towards the rehabilitation of the Deosai plateau’s brown bears, whose numbers had at one time fallen to alarming levels. Sustained work has produced encouraging results, with the organisation now having branched out into other areas of conservation, too, such as protection of the environment and fauna of the Margalla Hills National Park.

Then, there is the case of the Himalayan snow leopard, with a population of about 10,000 or a little more worldwide. In this country, only a few hundred are known to live on the slopes of the Karakoram, Himalayas, and the Hindukush. Their numbers fell to the extent that the big cat was listed on the IUCN Pakistan Red List as critically endangered. Hectic efforts meant that the numbers became robust enough to raise its status to ‘merely’ endangered. While the loss of habitat issue is being worked on, the Snow Leopard Foundation has taken upon itself the mandate of sensitising villagers about targeting this species (which at times threatens lives and livestock as natural prey numbers deplete) and setting up compensation schemes against the loss of livestock.

Of course, serious problems remain entrenched. Imported animals are barely offered protection, and a recent newspaper account tells of a private zoo in Karachi — one of many — that boasts a collection of 800 different species of rare and endangered animals — totalling more than 4,000 animals. In the estimate of this private zoo owner, there are some 300 lions within Karachi city limits alone. The countrywide tally of private zoos can only be guessed at, but the actual numbers will only be more shocking.

It is the mindset of those who consider unregulated ‘zoos’ as a source of pride or animals as fair game that must be made to change, as much as the laws and regulations must be stringently implemented if any lasting change is to be achieved.

The writer is a member of staff.

Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2019