ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) amid paucity of funds has decided to generate revenue by charging fees from individuals and institutions for holding activities in the Margalla Hills National Park (MHNP) protected area.

IWMB Chairperson Rina Saeed Khan made the announcement at the launching ceremony of the new and updated website of of the board on Saturday.

Ms Khan said many educational institutions, civil society and non-governmental organisations and private and corporate entities used to hold hiking, trekking tours and awareness activities in the national park.

However, previously all such activities were for free but now the organisers have to fill a one-page form prior to seeking permission, whereas the board would allow one-day permission, she added.

We know decision will be resisted by public circles but we can no longer allow free visits, says chairperson

The chairperson said the board was cognizant of the fact that this move would be resisted by public circles but the IWMB could not allow free visits further.

He said the new website was built by a volunteer, Abu Bakar, who had charged a very nominal amount for the task.

Prior to the web launch, the chairperson showcased two short documentaries. One made by Dawood Foundation, “Margalla Urban Wilderness: Margalla Hills National Park” is eight years old and sheds light on the national park’s creation, biodiversity, risks and challenges faced by it and its potential in replenishing nature.

Ms Khan said stone crushers depicted in the documentary were shut down under the Supreme Court orders. However, littering was still a problem in the national park marred by massive plastic pollution.

Due to shortage of funds, the board apart from its limited staff was relying more on its 200 dedicated volunteers who regularly pick up trash on Sundays.

“Mansoor Khan Sherwani is an example for others and we need more such volunteers who visit the national park and educate masses on nature protection and conservation,” she said.

She also presented another documentary on leopard preserve zone at Trail-6 titled “Margalla Hills Leopard Kingdom”.

The board is offering guided tours to people visiting Trail-6 that are paid with the goal of preserving nature.

“Mohibullah, an IWMB volunteer, has gathered data on leopards and another volunteer, Anoushe is photographing leopards at night in a guarded chamber that she could not leave for the whole night,” she said.

The wildlife board has successfully controlled hunting and poaching, whereas those incidents were reported in the Quaid-i-Azam University vicinity, she said.

The board’s wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre established at the old Islamabad zoo has emerged as the only source of trained staff to handle injured and traumatised wild, stray and domestic animals.

“We wanted to convert it into a rehab centre for wildlife as we receive numerous calls to rescue wild animals. We have seven rescued black bears, one rescued Bengal tiger and many monkeys,” she added.

The board, she said, not only rescued bears and pangolins but also a wild leopard that was saved from DHA and later released secretly into the MHNP to avoid creating panic.

She also introduced Nicole, Charles, Lia of Second Chance Wildlife, who stepped up to help IWMB voluntarily for rescue of animals and were assisting in running the wildlife rescue centre.

Charles of Second Chance Wildlife said the nonprofit group was created for assistance, rescue and relief of wildlife.

He said his organisation needed everybody’s help and requested all to donate as it costs Rs100,000 a week to feed all animals at the rehab centre.

Nicole said it was a not-for-profit group assisting IWMB.

However, educating the next generation to respect animals and the environment is important.

“We are raising funds for the rescued Begal tiger to be sent to the sanctuary and will send a volunteer girl for training to handle big cats as it was a holistic effort and not a limited one,” he added.

IWMB Deputy Director Research and Planning Sakhawat Ali said he along with the entire board staff went through a tough journey of conservation starting from awareness.

He said senior wildlife expert, Dr Z.B. Mirza trained the staff on educating children on wildlife conservation.

Anila Umair, an animal lover, briefed the participants about securing domestic and wild animals as necessary for ecosystem.

Mansoor Sherwani said he was raising awareness on monkey feeding and littering which is the board’s biggest campaign.

“People started listening to my exhortations and the IWMB board also respected my opinion as my awareness really bears results. Our goal is to save the national park from builders, hunters and people polluting it. If this national park survives, we will survive. We have to conserve it for our coming generations,” he added.

Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2023

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