MULTAN, Sept 10: Koonj, is a migratory bird which belongs to a protected crane specie, is on the verge of extinction because of excessive and illegal hunting. Instead of punishing the hunters, the Wildlife Department is allegedly patronising the hunting of this bird that is protected under the Punjab Wildlife Act of 1974.
Currently, more than 12 influential hunting parties from the NWFP have set up their hunting camps in the foothills of Suleman Range mountains and plain deserted areas of Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur districts, which are considered most natural and favourable habitat of of koonj.
The birds are hunted late night or very early in the morning. Hunters take a couple of birds to an open place and keep them in cages at a distance from each other. As soon as hunters separate them, they start crying. The birds flying above hear their cries and come down. As they come down, the hunters throw a metal coin tied to parachute thread on them. The thread entangles the flying koonj. Hunters shoot down the birds which escape the trap and eat them during camping.
Hunters normally set up camps along the bird’s migratory route in Pakistan, which is commonly known as Indus flyway route.
Koonj, which belongs to western Palaearctic located between Arctic Tundra and steppe zones, normally visits DG Khan, Muzaffargarh, Mianwali, Khushab, Lakki Marwat, Karak, Bannu and Kohat areas of Pakistan in winter. It also visits Cholistan occasionally. It starts coming here by the end of August or early September and stays till March-end or early April.
Wildlife experts believe that the koonj usually feeds on grams, wheat and other crops and relaxes on open banks of rivers and margins of ‘dhands’ and lakes. During its migration, the birds fly in V shape. Their breeding season starts in April and ends in mid June.
As the birds have started arriving in Pakistan, hunters have set up camps in several areas. Some camps can be seen in Choti Bala, Choti Zaireen and Sakhi Sarwar areas, which are hardly 35 to 40 kilometres from the regional office of the DG Khan Wildlife and Parks Department. Each camp has almost 20 expert hunters, who will spend two to three months here.
Locals told Dawn that Kifayatullah, Humayoon Khan and Ghulam Sarwar were running their camps at Chak Mughlo, Anwar Khan at Chak Talpur, Subedar Khan at Choti Bala Hill Torrents, Muhammad Khan and Azad Khan Zargar at Chak Birmani, Samiullah at Sakhi Sarwar and Ali Ahmed and Shah Gul in Jampur tehsil of Rajanpur district.
During a visit to a hunting camp, a hunter from Karak district of NWFP said koonj hunting was his hobby not profession, adding that he had been hunting this bird to raise it and gift it to friends and relatives. He said since koonj had changed its traditional migratory route because of excessive hunting, the hunters had to come to Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur. He said the government was not taking action against foreign dignitaries who hunted thousands of koonj each year, adding that local hunters were being punished “for hunting only a few birds”.
It has also been learnt that hunters transport hundreds of birds to the NWFP to smuggle them later.
DG Khan District Wildlife Officer Naveed Tariq showed ignorance about the presence of koonj hunting camps in his area. He said he had fined a hunting group a few days ago and that he would see if hunting camps had been set up in his area.