ISLAMABAD, May 1: There was a time when the national park rangers did not need visuals to monitor the deer population in the Margalla Hills – a significant number of footprints around water bodies indicated that their population was steady if not growing rapidly. But this was four to five years back.
Today, the deer footprints around small ponds in the park are as rare as spotting the animal itself. “It’s been a while since I last saw hooves set in mud around puddles of water. Even if we do see some it’s probably one or two deer that have wandered into these parts of the hills from far-off wilderness in the north,” said a park ranger from the Himalayan Wildlife Foundation (HWF) who not only attributed the declining number of the barking deer and the grey goral (wild goats) to loss of habitat but also to poaching.
“Since January this year, seven to eight deer have been hunted in the park in Zone 13 behind the Bari Imam shrine up in the hill and the wilderness adjacent to Shahdara,” said the park ranger, who was a witness to one such illegal hunting incident two months back.
According to him, the barking deer (that thrived in thick vegetation) population used to be quite significant in the Margalla Hills.
“But it has been a while since we spotted a big herd. Now it’s two to four and at times five at the most we see together,” he said.
But Capital Development Authority’s (CDA) deputy director general environment wing Malik Olya believed the wildlife in the national park was as rich as ever - barking deer, grey goral, leopards and the numerous species of pheasants all thrived undisturbed.
“Hunting is illegal in Islamabad. And it is a criminal offence in the Margalla Hills National Park. CDA’s wildlife staff is on patrol. However, the park area is too big and it is not humanly possible to cover every corner of the wilderness.
“I don’t know about any such incident but even if some deer have been poached, it must be an isolated incident,” he said. He also hinted at conducting a survey on the population of deer in the park as he said the last survey was conducted nearly two decades ago.
Assistant Professor at the Wildlife Department of Barani University in Rawalpindi Dr Maqsood Anwar, who is helping research students with their surveys on the deer (besides other species) in the Margallas, did not feel their population was facing any threat.
“But I do believe we are disturbing all wildlife in the national park by intruding into their natural habitat. National parks do have recreational and educational facilities but in restricted/limited zones. The rest of the wilderness cannot be disturbed.
And the intrusion by trekkers and loss of habitat has definitely affected the barking deer and particularly their breeding patterns,” he said, urging the authorities concerned to create no-go zones in the park for conservation of all animal and bird species.
The professor claimed to have counted as many as 100 to 120 barking deer during his last study conducted in 2005. He was not sure about their numbers right now.
Mr Anwar, however, expressed concern over the declining population of the grey goral because of pressure they faced from grazing of domestic animals and felling of trees for fuel. “The numbers of this particular wild goat seem to have decreased in past few years,” he said.
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