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Many Indus dolphins were killed last year by poison fishermen used to catch fish in the dolphin reserve. – File Photo

KARACHI, March 8: Many Indus dolphins were killed last year by poison fishermen used to catch fish in the dolphin reserve, between the Guddu and Sukkur barrages, said Sindh wildlife minister Dr Dayaram on Thursday.

He was responding to a question by Pakistan Muslim League (Functional) lawmaker Nusrat Seher Abbasi during the Sindh Assembly session's question hour, which was related to the Sindh wildlife department (SWD).

Explaining the reasons behind the poisoning, he said earlier fishing was allowed under a contract system owing to which the one or two contractors allotted the area were easy to monitor. But after the abolition of the contract system thousands of fishermen were given licences and it was difficult to monitor such a large number of fishermen who, in their bid to outdo one another, used poison, killing not only the various species of fish but also dolphins.

He said the fisheries department had been approached to devise a strategy to monitor the fishermen and to dissuade them from using poison in the river. He said earlier many dolphins also strayed into canals, but now equipment installed at 10 places had helped reduce such incidents.

Responding to a question by Ms Abbasi regarding the Indus dolphin population, the minister said the number of dolphins between the Guddu and Kotri barrages was 458 in 1996; 499 in 1999; 620 in 2001; 811 in 2006 and 950 in 2011.

Explaining the method of counting the dolphins, he said SWD staff using boats travelled downstream watching and counting dolphins, which swam upstream and against the current, when they surfaced to breathe.

Houbara permits

Responding to a question by Arif Jatoi of the National People's Party about houbara bustards, Dr Dayaram said Pakistanis were not allowed to hunt the migratory bird species and only foreigners were issued permits for it.

In reply to a question asked by Mr Jatoi regarding the issuance of the hunting permits by the federal government though wildlife was a provincial subject, the minister admitted that wildlife was a provincial subject but under the 18th amendment the allocation of houbara bustard hunting areas/permits for foreign dignitaries was assigned to the ministry of foreign affairs.

Answering another question by the same member, the minister said no Pakistani had applied for a houbara hunting permit, and if anyone did so, the application would be sent to the federal government.

Responding to a question by the PML F's Nusrat Abbasi about the hunting areas allotted to Arab dignitaries, the minister said arid and desert areas in certain regions, including Tharparkar, Ghotki, Khairpur, Jamshoro, Sanghar, Thatta and Dadu, were allocated to them. The Sindh wildlife department only implemented the code of conduct for hunting, also issued by the federal government.

Responding to a question by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement's Khalid Ahmed regarding smuggling of lions, he said four lions were illegally brought into the country in 2010 on an expired permit issued by the National Council for Conservation of Wildlife in 2008. The lions were brought in from Czech Republic to Karachi via Islamabad by the Pakistan International Airline. Customs staff caught the lions at Karachi, handed them over to the SWD, which gave the lions to the Karachi zoo. The customs imposed a fine of Rs500,000 on the wildlife trafficker and Rs100,000 on the PIA. The SWD had also registered a case against the trafficker and it was in court.

The wildlife minister said he did not know the name of the species of the confiscated lions. He said that was the only case of confiscation of animals through the customs department during the past three years.

In reply to a question by Mr Jatoi regarding illegal hunting of chinkara deer, he said poaching and illegal hunting had been controlled by effective monitoring and enhancement of penalties, which were now about Rs250,000 fine and one-year prison term per animal. Answering another of his questions about chinkara population, he said there were 4,600 chinkaras in the year 2000, which increased to 5,100 in 2005 and last year (2011) their number was 7,000.

Replying to Mr Jatoi's question regarding expenses on feed for wildlife at the Haleji lake, the minister said the department spent Rs450,000 annually on the feed, which came to around Rs1,500 daily. He said the amount had remained static for the last six years, which had become meagre because of soaring inflation. He said Rs3 million to Rs4 million annually was required for feed at the lake and it was exclusively used for the captive wildlife there.

Responding to the MQM's Shoaib Ibrahim's question regarding marine turtles, he said the SWD had been protecting the turtles since 1980. It had collected over 2.2 million eggs and released over 700,000 hatchlings into the sea while over 7,000 turtles had been tagged for identification. He said the rest of the around 1.5 million eggs, which did not hatch, were buried near the coast so that the eggs, containing protein and calcium, re-entered the food chain.

In reply to a question about supervision/ monitoring of activities of non-governmental organisations, the minister said the department had no power to monitor or supervise NGO activities.

He said an NGO, funded by a European country, had been doing some conservation and awareness creating work and had also sent a few of SWD staffers for trainings, both within and without the country.