Tag Archive: Poaching

Jul 30

Essence of Pakistan’s Wildlife and Biodiversity: An Overview of the Problems and Conservation Needs

Sunil Nawaz, MSc Zoology, M.phil Microbiology Scholar
Natasha Zarish M.Sc Zoology M.Ed Science Education


Pakistan is blessed with several natural beauties including indigenous wildlife (including several rare endangered species), beautiful mountains of Himalayas, deserts of Cholistan and Thar, Manmade forests like changa manga forest as well as several natural resources from the Baluchistan trails. It also holds second tallest mountain K-2, which is a really challenging tourist attraction in terms of mountain climbing. Four seasons bloom each year to their fullest, and rain fall of 12-14 inch per year average lead to make Pakistan a very fertile agricultural land.


But despite its enormous beauty, Pakistan has many pests which are ruining it by illegal hunting, poaching and unattended wildlife disease impact (i.e. Newcastle disease in wild peacock). Deforestation and lack of biodiversity conservation laws are eradicating Pakistan’s biodiversity at a massive scale.


In 2012, National Assembly Standing Committee on Climate Change was distressed to know that bustards and the Siberian cranes are hunted arbitrarily. Both these species of migratory birds flying into Pakistan all the way from Siberia during the winter months are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cities) with around 14,000 other endangered species in Pakistan including birds, other animals and plants.


The meeting channeled their thoughts to find out the source of such illegal hunting and came to an awkward result that members of Royal families from the Middle East, particularly from Saudi Arabia, have been given licenses to hunt endangered migratory birds, such as Bustards, despite the stringent restrictions. The meeting observed that it was the Foreign Office that issued hunting licenses to such personalities.


Laws are there to stop such hunting campaigns, but often the officials who control such events become lawless in greed of money. Such laws are also present to stop poaching of wildlife specially endangered species. In August 2012, a group of young individuals were arrested in Bahawalpur accused of illegal hunting and poaching of wild animals. The district administration officials said they have recovered four deer, 28 black and 11 brown partridges and 20 quails from them. The officials held that three of those arrested are government servants. These deer and other animals were captured from Laal Sohanra National Park, which hosts as many as 432 deer in the 600-acre area.



MarkhorIn some areas and National Parks of Pakistan Game hunting is being practiced successfully to control and fulfill the hunter’s desire of hunting and to finance the conservation efforts for those animals. For the trophy hunting of Kashmir markhor, as the program began, three hunters from US paid as much as $150,000 per trophy – for every markhor hunted, $105,000 was returned to the community for a total of $315,000. Slowly but surely, the markhor population began to recover. Last year too at least 48 permits have been issued on exorbitant fees to legally hunt wild goats. The impact of such projects over the country has shown its results in years. In 1986, there were less than 200 Suleiman markhors and Afghan urials in their natural habitats in Baluchistan, but a 2010 survey showed their populations had increased to 3,500 and 3,000, respectively.


Leopard2Beside all the pleasures of game hunting there is another side of the picture as well, some shepherds who have lost their cattleLeopard1 that are being hunted by wild carnivores often kill such attackers to reduce the attacks. In 2011, a snow leopard wrecked havoc in a remote valley of Gilgit one night, killing 68 goats in six separate incidents. As a result after few months there was several news of snow leopard being killed by locals as a protection measure. Such boundaries are not being controlled here. Human interrupts the wild lands in terms of recreational activities and the results turn fatal for both.  (Photos courtesy: www.wildlifeofpakistan.com)


The snow leopard is a rarely sighted animal in fact the only detailed and the first ever video documentary on it came out in Snow_leopardrecent years by BBC, which was shot in chitral and gilgit sites. Nisar Malik, a Pakistani journalist, and cameraman Mark Smith (who had worked on the Planet Earth segment) spent a further 18 months filming snow leopards in the Hindu Kush for the BBC film Snow Leopard – Beyond the Myth

Such beauty of Pakistan has to be conserved at any cost. But all efforts go in vane without a proper check and balance on it. Beside hunting and poaching, lack of proper disease control is also a major problem for wildlife and biodiversity in Pakistan. A recent study by sub-continent’s eminent scientists revealed that Newcastle disease which is caused by avian paramyxovirus serotype-1 (APMV-1), that is also branded as Newcastle disease virus (NDV). It is a highly contagious viral disease that affects domesticated and wild bird species throughout the world. The disease is endemic in Pakistan and represents major threat to the economy of the country. From 2009 to mid 2012, many outbreaks of Newcastle disease have been reported to World Organization for Animal Health from Pakistan as well as neighboring countries. Most of the outbreaks have been reported from Iran and India that shares border with Pakistan. Even with some of the reports from selective regions only and surfacing of novel NDV (5i) from Pakistan, it is of the essence to screen and characterize the NDV throughout the country (Muhammad U Sohail et al-2013).


Last year, in 2012, Pakistan lost 300 peacocks to the deadly Newcastle virus. This year, since June, at least 60 more peacocks have died owing to the same disease, five of which died in a span of just two days. The overall population at risk is around 80000 which threatened of extinction from Pakistan if proper control measures are not practiced soon. Around 40 million chickens have died due to this massive attack of ND virus.


Several conservation campaigns are working at national and international level by governmental as well as nongovernmental organizations for controlling of hunting, eradication of poaching, enhancing the breeding of wild animals, tagging and vaccination of wild animals.












Scans from high school biology book


In the educational syllabi, recent syllabus change at high school level biology books has been able to develop greater interest of students for biodiversity conservation. Special chapters are included in the book regarding biodiversity conservation. They give a sound account of what wildlife and biodiversity of Pakistan includes, what are its problems and what simple steps can be taken by students to take care of biodiversity of Pakistan.


With all this I urge the readers to contribute their energies to conserve the essence of natural beauty of Pakistan taking one step at a time.











Apr 22

The Internet Influence on Wildlife Conservation

Status UpdateDissemination of information has never been easier then at this very moment.  The Internet, specifically social media sites, allows us to share concerns regarding wildlife and bring attention to important conservation issues instantly with people around the world.  Case in point, you are reading this blog.  Unfortunately, along with the potential good this kind of technology brings there is also the bad.  With millions of daily tweets, Facebook status updates, Youtube videos, Instagram pictures, Flickr uploads, and blog posts one cannot help but ask if this actually helps or hinders wildlife conservation.


There are not too many wildlife conservation organizations that do not have a presence on the World Wide Web.  Websites linked to Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube give followers daily updates on research and related topics that affect the species they care most about.  Wildlife poaching for ivory, horn, bones, or fur, deforestation within the Palm Oil industry, shark finning, and human-wildlife conflict are only a few topics that can be found every hour in our newsfeed. However, does this inundation of pictures and updates result in people wanting to help or hide?  I have studied elephants for over 13 years.  I am all too aware of the current situation in range countries with the rampant poaching for ivory.  I have seen more then my share of pictures of poached elephants with faces removed for ivory collection.  That said, it is starting to become a bit much for even a seasoned conservationist to constantly see posts containing graphic pictures of dead animals.  I have friends that ask why those working in the realm of wildlife conservation want to continually look at these horrific images.  The truth is, we don’t.  The shock and awe media campaign has always been present in wartime journalism.  Poaching is definitely a war against wildlife.  I suppose it is a given that reporting from the front lines, regardless of subject, uses raw images to show the reality of a given situation.  However, the reality is it turns people away.



Catching wildlife perpetrators who willingly participate in illegal wildlife trade has become a little easier thanks to the web.  Facebook is a popular place for individuals to post pictures engaged in leisure activities.  On more then one occasion wildlife poaching or harassment has been on display for the entire world to see, including law enforcement officials who regulate and prosecute such stupidity.  Unfortunately, those regulating officers are not the only ones patrolling social media sites.  Poachers are also scouring social media sites like Facebook and Flickr that not only post pictures but also locations.  An animal lover on vacation sharing information regarding endangered flora and fauna they encounter may unknowingly give away their whereabouts allowing for poachers to kill or capture rare species.



Marketplace sites like Ebay have been a thorn in the side of conservationists for a long time.  Every imaginable item can be found for sale on Ebay.  Aside from bedding, used textbooks, and used-only-once car tires, wild animals and their parts can be purchased.  Ebay claims that with the volume of daily sales it is impossible to internally monitor the legalities of items posted on their site.  They encourage users to notify them immediately if any questionable items are found.  I shudder to think with every one item that is flagged how many go unnoticed.  Furthermore, what about those items sold as antiques collected before government regulations were set, listed as faux or replicas when in fact they are real shells, bone, fur, ivory, etc., or those items sold containing undisclosed objects hidden from all but those on the inside of such illegal trade?  Most crimes against wildlife are carried out in the open, not behind closed doors.


WWF_HandsOffMyPartsNo one can deny that the Internet has been instrumental in spreading information concerning wildlife conservation.  It has allowed wildlife biologist and conservationists a way to to stay connected as well as share their passion with others about the places and species they love.  But, does awareness result in action?  For all of the good intentions, how much of what we share is used to unknowingly harm instead of help wildlife?  Or is our need to over share turning people away from our cause?  As a society we rely far too much on others for regulation.  We live in an age where an unlimited amount of information is at our fingertips; information that is ever changing and evolving.  Be aware of what you post and how others perceive your words or pictures.  Think before you share!

Mar 13

Can CITES Regulations Help Protect Wildlife?

Illegal IvoryFrom 3-14 March, the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is holding their Conference of Parties 16 (CoP16) in Bangkok, Thailand.  While some species will get the protection they so desperately need to survive in the wild, others seem to fall by the wayside.  What constitutes a species being placed on the coveted Appendix I list?  Is a down listing to Appendix II or III, or a delisting a death sentence for species?  Do CITES regulations really help protect endangered species or simply pay lip service to the angry mob?

A great deal of confusion surrounds what CITES is and their limitations within the realm of wildlife conservation.  First and foremost, CITES sets only trade agreements between countries regarding wildlife and their parts; this act is in no way a conservation or biodiversity agreement.  In addition, there is no regulation within a country, only between countries.  There are currently 190-200 countries that makeup CITES.   Member countries are required to enforce the agreements within their own countries as CITES itself does not have a task force or any agency within to monitor trade or enforcement of trade regulations.

At the CoP16, species are voted to be included on one of three lists: Appendix I, II, or III.  Under Appendix I, all commercial trade is banned for these species as they are deemed at a high risk of extinction due to overexploitation.  A caveat is that taking these animals in noncommercial trade including scientific research is still allowed.  Appendix II species are at risk of becoming extinct if international trade is not regulated and monitored.  Thus, trade in those species listed on Appendix II requires an export permit.  Appendix III species are not considered rare on a global scale, but long-term survival is of extreme concern within a few home countries.    A certificate of origin is required for trade in Appendix III species.  At present, there are 600, 1400, and 270 species listed on Appendices I, II, and III, respectively.

There are more then a few conservationists who think that CITES species listings, and subsequent Rhino-Hornregulations, are not as clear and defined as they should be to protect at risk species.  A great example of this type of muddled regulation is the rhino.  Currently, we are in the midst of a poaching crisis.  Rhino are being killed at an alarming rate for their horns.  Since all species of rhino are endangered, one would think they should be a top priority on Appendix I.  Although rhinos are endangered globally, their wild populations within a few countries are thriving.  In such countries as South Africa and Swaziland, rhino population management has been heavily funded to ensure a successful breeding program to fuel the trophy hunting industry.  Unfortunately, in these countries, rhinos have been down listed to Appendix II with some concern of a further drop to Appendix III.  Can this type of regulation help or ultimately hinder conservation efforts?

WWF_TigerHandsOffWithin the first week of the CoP16, several species have gained support for conservation through trade bans.  The ban in the trade of sharks is a huge step in the eradication of the cruel act of shark finning.  Shark populations have plummeted as the demand for shark fins for soup and use in Ancient Chinese Medicine has soared.  However, where some species gain support others do not.  Despite a great push to stop the global trade of rhino horn, regardless of in country populations, the motion was voted down.  It has been reported that scientific data support a controlled rhino horn market to relieve poaching pressure.  This model was based upon the success of crocodile farming to diminish numbers of animals illegally taken from the wild.  Conversely, tiger farming and bear bile farms, working from this same premise, have done nothing to help alleviate poaching of wild populations and in some instances caused an increase in the cruel act.  Wild animals are thought to be more “pure” then farmed counterparts.  Tigers and bears are still taken from the wild for their parts at numbers that threaten their very existence.

When we take CITES for exactly what it is, a trade agreement, we can see that it does what it has set out to do.  CITES sets global trade agreements according to wild populations.  Yet, how much can trade agreements actually do to help endangered wildlife?  At the end of the day regulation comes down to individual countries to regulate and monitor what happens within and across their boarders.  At present, it does not appear that any regulation exists at all.  The increase in illegal trade of ivory, rhino horn, tiger parts, pangolins, great apes, etc., shows a regulatory system that is failing.   I do believe that CITES is laying a strong foundation for regulation to be enforced by others, but the lack of protection and enforcement will prove to be the ultimate demise of some of our most iconic species. Why do animals need to be placed on a list in order to be protected?  Can we not exercise common sense and compassion to see that global demand for wildlife will inevitably be the death of us all?

Jan 17

Poaching: New Year, New Problems

The last 365 days have proved to be one of the worst years for poaching since the 1980s.  In 2012, it is estimated that over 17,000 elephants and 700 rhino were lost during this ongoing global war against wildlife poaching.  Keep in mind these are but two out of hundreds of species that were affected.  The last year has been filled with both triumphs and failures as conservationists fight to conserve these magnificent creatures.  Unfortunately, as we are only 14 days into a new year, the killing continues.  Already reports out of Kenya reports an entire African elephant family has been slaughtered.  Within this same time, officials in Mombasa and Hong Kong confiscated over 2 tons of ivory worth $3 million US.  With blood being spilt at an alarming rate, one begs to ask if these atrocities can ever be stopped?

Awareness campaigns by wildlife conservation organizations have been around for decades.  Through social media sites, grassroots efforts, seminars, webinars, conferences, mailers, etc., groups like World Wildlife Fund (WWF), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and Nature Conservancy, just to name a few, have been reaching out to the general public to generate support for animal conservation and habitat preservation.  As a result, people join these groups subsequently raising funds through memberships or simple donations.  Generated dollars are then sent to research wildlife in high conflict zones and monitor poaching.  But is this plan working?  Awareness campaigns are expensive.  Is this money well spent or money not spent well?  Furthermore, It is no surprise that the face of the poacher is changing, as well as those charged with purchasing wildlife products.  So, are awareness campaigns really targeting those individuals whose consumption, or lack thereof, makes a difference?  A popular movement in Hong Kong against shark-fin soup has been instrumental in building an understanding and support.  The majority of the public was not aware of the consequences of such a product and when they did made a change.  If China is the number one consumer of ivory and rhino horn, are awareness campaigns effectively targeting the Chinese people?

An increase in poacher numbers in range countries in Africa has resulted in an increase in ranger numbers to patrol wildlife areas.  Both sides are losing men, and wildlife is still dying.  Is fighting fire with fire really working?  Only in areas lucky enough to be guarded 24 hours a day 7 days a week by armed guards is poachers deterred.  Long-term, this plan is not feasible, but currently it is all we have to protect precious species on the brink of extinction.

Poaching is a global problem and therefore requires a global solution.  Simple acknowledgment of the problem and a pledge to help from world superpowers like the United States, United Kingdom, and Russia will inevitably pave the road for success.  By working together, these countries could set the standard by which all others use as a model.  However, in doing so, things will have to change within their own borders as well.  We cannot fail our native wildlife by allowing poaching to occur unchecked or poorly manage native flora and fauna, nor can we allow wildlife protection to fall through the cracks due to poor legislation or a preset agenda by large companies hungry for natural resources.  With the fight on drugs and weapons still unable to be controlled internationally, how can we expect anything different with governing the illegal wildlife trade?

There has been an argument slowly growing concerning the lack of support and the effects of poor decision making on the part of influential governing organizations like the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITIES).  Prior to 2004, African elephants were listed as an endangered species; a status which gave this species top priority for protection and conservation efforts.  However, in 2004, the African elephant was delisted from endangered to vulnerable. Is it merely a coincidence that the following year poaching increased rapidly?  Could this move by the IUCN and CITIES contributed to the level of killing we observe today? In addition, one-off sales of stock piled ivory in a few African countries were approved by these same organizations, despite pleas against such a transaction from elephant conservationist and researchers.

So what is the answer?  Where do we go from here?  Worldwide compliance and participation is needed to conserve wildlife and wild areas; that is the bottom line.  Getting the public aware of poaching and the result of such heinous acts is absolutely a top priority; people only care about what they love.  But how do we take such awareness to the next level, which is ultimately to save lives?  Only when we stop the demand will we stop the killing.  Targeting the consumers is the next logical step.  Educate those individuals who view ivory and rhino horn, pangolin scales and tiger bone, bear bile and leopard fur as either a medicinal remedy or status symbol: change their minds.  As a society we must demand accountability for those individuals or organizations that continue to perpetuate the illegal killing of wildlife for their parts regardless of government or religious affiliations.  Now is not the time to talk in vagueness, but to speak up for what needs to be done to ensure wildlife never suffers another year like the last.  Let us look back on 2012 as a turning point on the war against poaching as the time when wildlife advocates started to win and wildlife started to once again thrive.

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