An ibex spotted in the Kohistan area. Photo courtesy wildlife department
An ibex spotted in the Kohistan area. Photo courtesy wildlife department

KARACHI: Despite dwindling population of ibex and urial in the Kohistan area, district Jamshoro, the Sindh wildlife department is set to hold its annual open auction for the trophy hunting season (2021-22) next week, sources told Dawn.

Population of these ungulates, they said, had become scattered in a decade and large herds were now rarely seen in the game reserves (non-protected areas) of Kohistan, which were opened for trophy hunting every year.

“This has mainly happened due to the development of a large housing colony in an area which was once a key habitat of these ungulates along with other species,” shared a wildlife expert requesting anonymity.

Infrastructural development, he pointed out, had forced these animals to run away from the non-protected Kathore, a large area of which was now part of the housing society, and find refuge in the protected Kirthar National Park.

Elaborating, he explained that it had become hard to find old, mature animals with large horns, a key attraction for hunters, as the numbers of healthy herds had gradually reduced. Over the past years, the areas designated for trophy hunting in Kohistan could only offer animals with horn-size of up to 36 to 37 inches.

However, he says, this is not the case in Balochistan. It’s far easier there to locate ungulates offered for trophy hunting with horn-size of 45-50 inches. He explained why all permits 25 each for Afghan urial and Balochistan ibex were utilised in Balochistan last year whereas Sindh’s quota remained significantly under-utilised.

The reduction in earnings — from Rs13.204 million in 2018 to Rs9.15 million in 2020-2021 — also points to issues on the ground.

Sources negated the idea of rules’ violation that might involve hunting of more than the allotted quota or killing a younger animal because, they said, community watchmen along with officials were present at the hunting site to ensure compliance with rules and regulations.

‘Sindh to have good hunting season’

According to a recently published advertisement in newspapers, the wildlife department plans to give a total of 25 permits; 15 for Sindh ibex and five for urial to foreigners and five permits for Sindh ibex to Pakistanis.

The minimum price for a Sindh ibex and urial trophy being offered to foreigners is $5,600 and $14,000, respectively. The minimum price for a Sindh ibex trophy for Pakistanis is Rs300,000.

The hunting for foreigners is planned in Surjan and Sumbak game reserves and for Pakistanis in Eri and Hothiano game reserves. The season will start in November and continue till March.

Sources said that Sindh might benefit from this year’s season as the federal government had imposed a ban on trophy hunting in Balochistan over alleged irregularities in the bidding process.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed and hoping that this year’s hunting season will attract several foreigners to Sindh. If this happens, it would be a great post-Covid achievement for the province,” said outfitter Syed Ali Shah who has been facilitating trophy hunting participants since 2006 across the country.

He was of the opinion that the Sindh government, like other provinces, should open more potential areas for trophy hunting due to growing pressure on animals in one area.

According to wildlife experts, there is an immediate need to integrate the concept of ecological corridors in development projects, including construction of highways.

Right now, they say, not a single development project carried out over a decade in Sindh has corridors for wildlife, greatly affecting their habitats and populations.

Benefiting the community

Officially, according to a survey conducted by Kohistan Conservancy representing the area’s community, the population of Sindh Ibex has grown from 829 in 2018 to 1,040 in this year and that of urial from 389 in 2018 to 502 this year. Older records are not available.

Wildlife experts believe that these figures compiled by the community with a major stake in trophy hunting are not reliable.

“It’s neither a matter of excess population, nor a case of generating income. Rather, trophy hunting involves only available old age trophies with the aim of directly benefiting the community through the quota allotted to the province. The community is free to spend money according to its decision and play a role in wildlife protection,” contended Sindh Wildlife Chief Conservator Javed Ahmed Mahar.

Eighty per cent of the proceeds from the income was given to community whereas government received only 20 per cent of the bidding amount on account of regulation charges, he added.

According to Mr Mahar, the wildlife population has been affected by development projects across Sindh.

“But, this phenomenon is a sad reality in many countries. Increasing human settlements are threatening wildlife habitats. We need to realise that ill-conceived projects, lacking a comprehensive view of development, would ultimately harm human interests and wellbeing. And, for that all stakeholders need to work together.”

Published in Dawn, October 8th, 2021

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