KARACHI: Threats to Nara sanctuary

February 11, 2006

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KARACHI, Feb 10: Tree felling on a large scale is under way for clearing grounds in the Nara Desert Wildlife Sanctuary (NDWS), it is learnt. This, if not stopped immediately, could lead to an environmental disaster ultimately ruining the already fragile desert ecosystem and severely affecting the fauna and flora in the process.

According to sources, influential loggers are selling the wood, which is then converted into coal, whereas the land thus cleared is brought under cultivation. The practice, banned under the Sindh Wildlife Protection Act, is posing a serious threat to the entire ecosystem, they added.

They pointed out that thousands of acres of the sanctuary land, spread over one million acres, has been cleared of trees and converted into agricultural fields. They estimated that the coal produced from the timber through this practice amounts to a few thousand tonnes.

According to the sources, the ecologically rich Nara Desert was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1980 under the Sindh Wildlife Protection Ordinance, and is home to over 110 bird species, 15 mammal species, 11 reptile species and over 150 floral species.

The sanctuary, which is also listed in the protected category of the IUCN – an international conservation organization, has very thick forest patches of Kandi (Prosopis Cinraria), Khabbar (Salvadora) and Babul (Accassia), spread over its large area of north-western portion.

These forests were grown in the sanctuary, which is a part of the Great Thar Desert, before 1950s when this portion of the sanctuary used to get flooded regularly with the overflowing Indus waters. Now these old and huge trees serve as shelter, breeding and roosting grounds for many wild animal and bird species, including chinkara gazelle, caracal cat, desert cat, wolf, desert fox, great Indian bustard, houbara bustard, falcons, vultures etc.

These trees, herbs and shrubs are also the only source of shelter and food for the livestock of the local communities, living in the area since centuries, whose livelihood depends primarily on livestock only.

The communities have also developed ‘Tarr’ (deep dug well for storing rain water) and ‘Takka’ (cemented underground water tanks) in the valleys that have thick vegetative cover. Owing to the rampant tree felling, the vegetative cover is shrinking fast, reducing the land’s capacity to retain water. As a result, the subsoil aquifer could not be recharged fully and water table in the area is going down.

These trees and herbaceous plant species also function as windbreakers that help keep the desert sand settled. In the absence of the vegetation, loose sand (moving sand), commonly known as ‘Drinh’, swirl with winds creating a condition in which no human being or animal may move.

The sources said that some greedy people, backed by certain local politicians and other influential figures, had started cutting these thick patches of Kandi, Salvadora and Babul forests along the Nara Canal.

The sources said that many water channels had been created, legally or illegally, to draw water from the canal to cultivate the agricultural fields developed after clearing the land of trees. The whole practice benefits a few political figures of the area and inflicts a heavy damage to the habitat of local communities, wildlife and livestock.

The Nara Desert, according to the sources, had been receiving between 200mm and 280mm rains during the monsoon, but for the past few years, it has been receiving just around 60-80mm.

The sources said that the situation of deforestation was worsening fast and if the government, particularly the Sindh Wildlife Department and the Sindh Forests Department, did not stop the tree felling immediately, the NDWS would suffer irreparable loss.