RECENTLY, the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board launched an FIR against a 31-year-old man from Mansehra for attempting to sell a common leopard’s hide on the internet. Under the Islamabad Wildlife Protection Act, 1979, the hunting, selling and trade of the endangered animal, its skin or any body part, is illegal. Yet such trade continues unabated, and live animals, and their parts and derivatives, can easily be found in marketplaces across the country. When the WWF carried out an extensive study to assess the scale of the wildlife trade in Pakistan recently, they found the practice rampant in local markets, while also noting the international demand for such products. The internet and the presence of the dark web has also exacerbated the problem and presented new challenges for authorities to grapple with.

In this most recent incident, during an undercover operation, several common leopard and leopard cat hides were discovered at a house in Ughi, which is worrying given the animals’ diminishing numbers in the wild. In recent years, illegal hunting for their body parts has drastically reduced the leopard population in the northern parts of the country. Cubs are also kidnapped from their mothers to be sold into the illegal wildlife trade. In addition, the high rate of deforestation has led to the destruction of the habitat of many animals, including the leopard’s prey, which leads them to search for other forms of sustenance away from their natural habitats. Besides this, climate change and unprecedented weather patterns have led leopards to stray into human territory, while protected forests and national parks are intruded upon, resulting in increasing tension between the leopard and the local populations, and less sympathy for them being hunted down. To put an end to the illegal trade, the WWF has listed a number of recommendations, which include: developing an effective database for monitoring purposes, banning websites and social media sites that engage in the practice, and altering consumer behaviour and demand through mass awareness campaigns.

Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2019

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