Sindh has considerable potential for wildlife conservation and community-based trophy hunting that can bring prosperity to its underdeveloped areas. But trophy hunting is only seen in four game reserves of the Sindh Wildlife Department (SWD) located in Thana Bula Khan taluka of the mountainous Kohistan region in the Jamshoro district.
These game reserves are Eri, Sumbak, Surjan and Hothiano. Technically, they are four separate game reserves but they are counted as one by the SWD. Trophy hunting — considered a source of income for the rural community of the least developed villages — has been flourishing there for a long time under SWD regulations. And it is not without the community’s and the tribal chief Malik Asad Sikandar’s participation.
All four game reserves are located near but outside Kirthar National Park — a protected area — stretching over around 1,192 square miles in Dadu, Jamshoro and Malir districts. It is said to be Pakistan’s second largest park after Hingol National Park. No hunting is allowed there but SWD officials concede that violations do take place.
Trophy hunting generates income. Revenue generated out of it is disbursed on an 80-20 basis with the community keeping 80 per cent and 20pc going to the provincial kitty. Rural communities utilise these funds for the area’s upliftment through the construction of wells, tracks, schools, etc.
80 per cent of the revenue generated is disbursed to the community while 20pc goes into the provincial kitty
Controlled trophy hunting helps conserve species like urial and ibex in Kohistan. Only international hunters are allowed to hunt urial whereas ibex can be hunted by national hunters as well as their foreign counterparts.
An annual census for wild animals is done by the end of September to identify older males whose hunting is allowed after an auction. Community’s watchers identify animals from the size of their trophies which are measured in inches.
During the 2018-19 season foreigners killed 13 ibexes and one urial. Price of an ibex closed at $5,600 and an urial’s price at $14,100. A Pakistani hunter — the brother of a former information minister — had hunted an ibex for Rs400,000.
In the last hunting season, Rs13,204,483 was generated of which the community’s 80pc share was calculated at Rs10,563,586 and the government’s 20pc share stood at Rs26,408,97. The season begins in November and ends in the January-February period.
The SWD’s records also reported the killing of reptiles, chinkara, wild cats, foxes and that a jackal had killed some goats of the community recently.
“A hunter is allowed to kill only a single animal otherwise he would be fined,” said an SWD official.
“Only older males are allowed to be hunted. If this culling did not take place, the older males would not let the young ones mate with females to have offspring,” remarked a retired SWD wildlife officer.
Besides Thana Bula Khan, there are 12 other game reserves listed by SWD. But Kohistan’s successful trophy hunting model is yet to be replicated in these government-run reserves. This can only be done with the revival of forests which are the natural habitat of wildlife.
Newly appointed chief game warden — nominated by the Sindh chief minister — and Chairman Sindh Wildlife Management Board Usman Almani is a professional hunter with international hunting exposure. He believes forests’ revival, a ban on illegal poaching, hunting and netting of wildlife and birds and strict enforcement of SWD regulations is essential for wildlife conservation in game reserves other than those in the Kohistan region.
“We need to revive whatever forests are left to restore wildlife’s habitat. Only then community hunting can be considered,” he said. Mr Almani is trying to assert himself as the board’s chairman and has put forward proposals for wildlife conservation to the chief minister. However, he is having some issues with the SWD hierarchy that believes his post is ceremonial and only the board can frame a policy. New members of the board are being notified.
“We can start from Khipro forests, Pai forests in Sakrand and the riverine area of Indus for the revival of forests,” he said. Species of hog deer — known as pharah in the local language — could be promoted for trophy hunting in Khairpur’s Nara area and Khipro forests. Blue bulls could be conserved in the Thar Desert and poaching of quails should be checked, he added.
The SWD officials agree trophy hunting helps curb illegal poaching that otherwise goes unnoticed. The SWD remains understaffed and under-resourced to enforce its writ. Political, tribal and government influences discourage the department to check such illegal activities as well.
Destruction of forests and wildlife’s habitat doesn’t happen in a jiffy. Influential people in Sindh, and forest and SWD officials have all contributed towards it over the years. Political families, however, maintain game reserves where one can’t kill a bird sans their permission.
For instance, Khairpur’s Mir Ali Murad Talpur is maintaining his famous game reserves called mahrano where he has increased the population of blackbucks that otherwise faced extinction.
Growth in wildlife remains a distant dream in the absence of planning. Politicians and government functionaries need to understand that human activity includes crops’ cultivation that disturbs wildlife habitat.
Proper planning alone ensures the provision of food, shelter and protection to wild animals in their natural habitats. Their commercial-oriented use could be allowed later with stricter regulations on the pattern of Gilgit-Baltistan. Sindh should take a leaf from the GB government’s book to manage controlled trophy hunting.
The hunting of markhor — Pakistan’s national animal — in GB was started with a community controlled hunting area (CCHA) in the early 1990s. Now there are 48 such CCHAs where hunting of ibex, blue sheep and markhor is allowed every year after its twice-a-year population survey.
“It is due to the communities’ involvement that the number [of animals] is increasing. They protect markhor and blue sheep because of the incentive they get out of annual community hunting,” said a GB’s conservator Mahmood Ghaznavi.
Last year, markhor’smaximum bidding price ranged from $95,000 to $110,000 in different CCHAs for foreign hunters, against a base price of $75,000. Price of blue sheep closed at $8,500 against the base price of $8,000.
GB government has three different categories of hunters for ibex. Estimated population of markhor in GB stands at over 2,000, ibex at 15,000 and blue sheep at 6,900.
“We are now framing rules for communities to encourage them to participate in upliftment schemes for their areas and spend money on animals’ habitat,” said a GB forest department officer, Khadim Abbas.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, July 22nd, 2019