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Dangerous landscape

January 22, 2013

THE worsening economic and security circumstances in Pakistan have meant that those wishing to travel abroad often have to face a hostile terrain when it comes to obtaining visas. Pakistan also features on the travel advisories several countries issue to their citizens. Becoming a booming tourist destination is unlikely in the near future; neither do business and industrial activities attract foreign investors at any appreciable level. We have learned to accept these realities. Now, however, we are slowly having to come to terms with even sections of the animal kingdom staying away. Several parts of the country play host at different times to migratory birds; in August and September, for example, the arid terrain and foothills of Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa see an inrush of falcons from Siberia and other regions. But last week, wildlife conservators in the province raised alarm that migratory populations are declining — due to preventable causes.

On the one hand, environmental degradation and militancy is causing the loss of habitat and feeding sites. On the other, falcons are targeted by trappers who can sell them for anywhere between Rs1m and Rs10m to Arab nationals who use them to hunt and consider them as status symbols. It is not just falcons that are under threat; several other animal species, including the houbara bustard (which the falcons are used to hunt) and the snow leopard have been identified as under pressure or even endangered at various times. This is a sad indictment on Pakistan’s commitment to nature. While there have been efforts to remedy the situation, including by local wildlife departments, far more resources are needed. Field workers in the KP region that hosts falcons, for example, have no vehicles but each must police a 200 sq-km area against illegal falcon hunters. What will it take to jolt the state into action?