The mountainous areas embracing the Himalayan, Karakorum and Hindukush Ranges are rich in fauna and flora, as compared to other parts of the country. These areas provide an excellent habitat for wildlife in the form of alpine grazing land, sub-alpine scrub and temperate forests. These habitats support a variety of wild animals. The areas are difficult for human beings to access; hence, most wildlife is present in reasonable numbers though some are endangered for other reasons. Some of the main wildlife species are the snow leopard, the black and the brown bears, otter, wolf, lynx, Himalayan ibex, Markhor, Bharal, Marco Polo's sheep, Shapu, musk deer, marmots, tragopan and monal pheasants. The snow partridge and snowcock reside at higher elevations. The Rhesus monkey, common langur, red fox, black bear, common leopard, a variety of cats, musk deer (over a limited area), goral, several species of flying squirrels, chakor, partridge and pheasants (koklass, kaleej and cheer) live in the lower elevations. Amongst these the snow leopard, musk deer, Marco Polo's sheep, and the brown bear are endangered. The Tibetan wild ass and the blue sheep populations have been reduced drastically. The cheer pheasant is reported to be extinct from within Pakistan’s boundaries, and is included in the IUCN Red Data Book. The western horned tarpon was reported to have disappeared from within Pakistani territory, but has now been relocated to Indus Kohistan, although its numbers are low.
The main threats to the population of wild animals in the northern mountainous regions include the competition with domestic livestock for existing natural forage, increasing human interference in the form of cultivation, the construction of roads, and hunting.
The Himalayan foothills and the Potohar region, including the Salt Range and Kala Chitta Range, are covered with scrub forests, which have been reduced to scanty growth in most places. Medium-sized animals like the Punjab urial, barking deer, goral, chinkara, partridges (grey and black), seesee and chakor are supported in these habitats. Varieties of songbird faunas also occur in these areas. The urial is prized for its trophy and has been discussed in detail in Box 6.
Box 6: The Urial8
The urial (Ovis vignei) belongs to the sheep family and has a convoluted taxonomy. In Pakistan, three sub-species Ovis vignei punjabiensis Ovis vignei cycloceros, and Ovis vignei vignei have been identified in the localities of the Salt Range, Bolan Pass, Astore, Baltistan and Gilgit. Since there is no regular systematic census, the exact population of the urial cannot be ascertained. The urial is a very popular game animal. Hunting is the main threat to its population. Development activities such as urbanisation, clearing of forests for agriculture, and the construction of roads and dams are other threats faced by the urial. Illegal lamb capture for selling as pets is one of the major sources of population loss. Competition with domestic livestock that depends on the urial's habitat is another issue that has to be scientifically studied. Predation is no longer a threat since the natural predators like leopards and panthers are almost extinct. While wildlife management and protection is entrusted to separate provincial wildlife departments, there is poor co-ordination between the forest managers and provincial authorities. The urial has been included in schedule III of the Punjab Wildlife Act of 1974. The killing of the animals included in this schedule is prohibited. The Ladakh urial is listed as endangered in the 1996 IUCN Red Data Book and in Appendix I of the CITES list. The Afghan urial is listed in the third schedule of the Balochistan Wildlife Act. The WWF-Pakistan is implementing a project with UNDP funding in the Chakwal district of the Punjab province. It aims involving the local communities in the conservation of the urial.
Vast Indus flood plains have been cleared of natural vegetation to grow crops. Very little wildlife habitat has been left untouched. Only animals like the jackal, mongoose, jungle cat, civet cat, scaly anteater, desert cat and the wild hare occur in these areas. Hog deer is found in riverine tracts. The crop residues and wild growth support reasonable populations of black and grey partridges.
Little vegetative cover, severity of climatic conditions and the great thrust of grazing animals on the deserts have left wild animals in a precarious position. Parts of Thall and Cholistan are now being irrigated, with the situation almost identical to that of the flood plains. Chinkara is the only animal, which can still be found in average numbers in Cholistan, but rarely in Thall. The blackbuck, once plentiful in Cholistan has now been eliminated. However, efforts are being made to reintroduce them back into the country. A small number of blue bulls are found along the Pak-Indian border, and some parts of Cholistan. Grey partridge, species of sand grouse and the Indian courser are the main birds of the area. Peafowl occur in some areas in Cholistan.
The Thar Desert supports a fair population of the Chinkara gazelle. Peacocks are only found in the wild, mainly because of the protection they enjoy in Hindu communities. The wild ass migrates from the Indian part of the Rann of Kutch to the Pakistani part in search of food.
The Houbara bustard is a regular winter visitor to the desert. Visiting diplomats have hunted and reduced their numbers. The great Indian bustard is sporadically sighted. The imperial sandgrouse is another migrant visiting these areas. Grey partridges are frequently sighted. The python is also threatened with extinction.
The Sulaiman and Kirthar Ranges present habitats manifesting unique characteristics. The former supports the straight-horned markhor, chinkara and urial, whereas Sindh ibex, urial, chinkara and common leopard occupy the latter. The straight-horned markhor, which is almost extinct from within settled boundaries of Pakistan, occurs in somewhat fair numbers in the Tribal Areas. The chakor, seesee and grey partridge are birds commonly found in the tracts.
The reed beds and tamarisk bushes along the rivers support hog deer and black partridge populations. However, due to occasional heavy floods their numbers have also been reduced. The Indus dolphin, fishing cat, and Eurasian otter are found in the Indus River waters below the Chashma Barrage. The gavial has become extinct in Pakistan. The crocodile is found in small numbers in lower Sindh. Wild boar numbers have increased because of the immunity they enjoy in a Muslim society that forbids its consumption by humans.
The animals found in the south-western mountains of Balochistan are: Sindh ibex, Chiltan markhor, straight horned markhor, wild sheep, leopard, marbled pole cat, Blandford's fox, chinkara, goitered (Grant's) gazelle and the marsh crocodile. The cheetah is believed to be extinct and the Makran bear critically endangered. The Houbara bustard (migratory), sandgrouse, black and grey partridges, and the chakor and seesee partridges are also found here. The status, threats and conservation of the Balochistan black bear has been described in detail in Box 7. The Chiltan wild goat found in the Balochistan highlands is discussed in Box 8.
Irrigated forest plantations have emerged as the prevailing land use practice for the last 100 years. These ideally provide excellent habitat for chinkara, hog deer and blue bull. Forest management does not cater to the needs of these wild animals. This, coupled with the poor implementation of laws has resulted in the extinction of species in the irrigated plantations. Due to habitat disturbances, the ungulates have failed to establish themselves, whereas the partridges have flourished well.
The striped hyena and the wolf are widely distributed in the sparsely populated parts of the country. However, information about them is scanty. Information about carnivores in general is difficult to obtain because of their nocturnal mode of life and high mobility. The black bear and brown bear populations are also not understood completely.
Box 7:The Balochistan Black Bear
The Balochistan black bear (Ursus thibetanus gedrosianus) locally known as “Mum” was once widely distributed in most of Balochistan. The Balochistan black bear is sub-species of the Asiatic or Himalayan black bear. It is smaller and specimens from the south manifest short, coarse, rufous brown fur, while those from the north are much darker as compared to the Himalayan black bear. The Balochistan black bear's habitat ranges from Iranian Balochistan to Pakistani Balochistan. According to T.J. Roberts, this species has been reported in the Sulaiman Range, Ziarat, Harnai, Khuzdar, Kharan and the Lasbela Hills, but now it is considered extinct in most of the areas. The major stronghold of the species is now in the Pub Range (Khuzdar Hills) where it is mostly confined to arid sub-tropical thorn forest. Two surveys have been conducted one by WWF-Pakistan in 1993-96 and the other by the Himalayan Jungle Project in 1994, both confirming the presence of the species in the Pub area. The population status is not certain, but local hunters report 8-10 animals still survive in the area. A WWF survey team has also reported scats and footprints of the black Bear in the Sulaiman range in 1998. The bear has been described as endangered in the IUCN Red Data Book. Very little is known about the ecology and biology of the species. The fact that few studies have been undertaken to understand its living patterns also threatens this species’ future. It is usually seen in the rainy season from August to November, its food preference is Olea ferruginea, Ber (Zizyphus nummularia) as well as the starchy rhizomes. It also likes fruits of the dwarf palm, insects and lizards. Mating occurs in October and cubs are born in February. The main threat to the species is its persecution by the locals. Bears are usually killed when they are found predating on goats and their kids. Bears are also killed for the sale of their fur and the collection of fat for medicinal use. The ecological niche of the Balochistan black bear and its food preferences are still not clear and need further in-depth study.
Box 8: Chiltan Wild Goat
The Chiltan wild goat has attracted the attention of wildlife conservationists around the world because it is found only in the highlands of central Balochistan. Despite its global importance, it has not been explored in detail nor has it been identified properly so far. Up until the late seventies it was thought that Chiltan wild goats were confined to three localities i.e., the hill ranges of Chiltan, Murdar, and Kohi Maran in Balochistan. Presently, it is only reported in the Hazarganji-Chiltan National Park, situated 20km away from Quetta, the capital city of Balochistan province. Ladekker (1913) first described this animal as distinct sub-species, (Capra falconeri chialtanensis). Other scientists cited in Roberts (1967) and Schaller (1977) suggested that it might be a hybrid between the straight-horned markhor (C. falconeri jerdoni) and the wild goat or a markhor and a domestic goat. Schallar and Khan (1975) and Schaller (1977), however, have studied populations of various species and based on horn morphology concluded that they (C. falconeri chialtanensis) are in fact Capra aegagrus chialtanensis. It was concluded that it does not merit sub-specific status because intermediate forms exist between this species and a typical wild goat.
The IUCN Red Data Book lists both the Chiltan wild goat and the markhor as `Vulnerable’ (V) (Anon 1988). Initial surveys on the population status of the Chiltan wild goat were made in the early seventies. In November 1970 following some fieldwork, Schaller and Mirza (1970) estimated the population of the Chiltan goat as two hundred in Hazarganji-Chiltan National Park. In the course of developing the management plan, four separate surveys were conducted by WWF-Pakistan during 1996 -1998 and on an average, more than seven hundred animals were counted in these surveys. Basic population and ecological data on the Chiltan wild goat is extremely limited. The present status of scientific knowledge on the Chiltan wild goat is too old and does not reflect the current population and habitat details of the animal. The scientific information on the morphology and biochemistry of the ungulates in general and the Chiltan wild goat in particular is lacking. The existing knowledge on the species does not completely elaborate its identification compared to its relatives. In the past, a few efforts have been undertaken to identify its taxonomy but those were mostly based upon personal communication, observing some body traits, and general observations that do not quantify the required information. Though Schaller (1977) has changed the status of the Chiltan goat, some scientists and local experts still do not agree with his arguments and declare the species to be, in fact, a markhor. Although grazing is prohibited in the National Park, the wildlife authorities must work to totally discourage this activity.
Livestock not only compete with the wildlife, but also are as vector for disease. Keeping in view these important problems, efforts should be mobilised to investigate any remnant population of the species or alternate suitable habitats other than the Hazarganji Chiltan National Park. Then the animals should be reintroduced in those areas and managed appropriately as an alternate viable genome. Keeping in view the importance of the National Park in general and the Chiltan wild goat in particular, the WWF has formulated a management plan for the park. This sub-project of BNRMP funded by the World Bank aims to strengthen the Forest Department’s National Park wilderness area management capability. The plan has been approved by the authorities and is to be implemented accordingly so that the area can be managed properly and scientifically.
Birds of prey like the peregrine, cherrug or saker falcons, tawny eagle, imperial and greater spotted eagles, osprey, shikra, and the black-winged kite occur throughout Pakistan but their population statuses are unknown.
Along the shores, there are four species of marine turtles: the ridley, green, leatherback and hawksbill turtle, which are of high economic importance. Due to loss of habitat and human disturbances, their population is also decreasing. About eight species of freshwater turtles are found in Pakistan. Sand lizards, monitors, geckos, agamas, diamond snakes, sand snakes, vipers, cobras, kraits and the famous Indian python constitute the other reptilian fauna (see Box 9, “Snakes of Pakistan”).
Box 9: Snakes of Pakistan9
Pakistan possesses a diversity of snake species belonging to both the Palearctic and Oriental realms. Sixty-five species belonging to seven families have been identified. There is a dearth of scientific studies on Pakistani snakes and amateur herpetologists, mostly expatriates, carried out most of the available reliable studies in the early sixties. Current professional studies of herp fauna of Pakistan in general, and snakes in particular, are lacking. Systematic studies throughout Pakistan would definitely reveal new species and aid conservation efforts (currently there are none). The rat snake is listed in provincial wildlife acts, but no protection is accorded to these or any other snake. Some important snake species of Pakistan include:
Indian python (Python molurus molurus) - This is found in the Indus Delta and around the Indus River in lower Sindh. It is threatened in Pakistan.
Red-spotted diadem snake (Sphalerosophis arenarius) - This is a near endemic colubrid species found in Las Bela, and the Thal desert.
Maynard's awl-headed snake (Lytorhynchus maynardi) - This endemic species is from the Chagi Desert. Illegal capture for export is perhaps the biggest threat to this species.
Sindh River snakes (Enhydris pakistanica) - This endemic species is found in the Indus Delta.
Oxus cobra (Naja naja oxiana) - This species is listed as threatened in the IUCN Red Data Book.
Leaf-nosed viper (Eristicophis macmahoni) - Found in the deserts of northwestern Balochistan, is near endemic.
Himalayan pit viper (Agkistrodon Himalayanus). This species is endemic to the western Himalayas.
Snakes are mythical creatures. Most people consider all snakes as lethal. A mass awareness programme, aiming at providing scientific information will help in the conservation of snake fauna. There is also a strong need to carry out studies on lifestyles and indigenous knowledge of Jogi (snake charmer) tribes that are scattered throughout Pakistan.
Large water bodies in the country support a variety of waterfowl both resident and migratory. The extent of wetlands is constantly being changed. On one hand, swamps and marshes are being drained to reclaim land, whereas on the other hand, new dams (large water bodies) have been created for irrigation purposes. Canal irrigation through seepage has also contributed towards increasing the land area under water in the form of water logging. Such areas support a great number of waterfowl by providing them with an excellent habitat. The wetlands are one of the most important wintering areas and "green routes" of Asia. The important waterfowl in Pakistan are the ducks (mallard, pintail, shoveler, pochard, gargeny, ruddy shellduck, teals, tufted and gadwall), geese (grey lag, bar-headed), coots, flamingoes, pelicans, spoon bills, storks, ibises, plovers, curlews, sand pipers, snipes, and herons. The marbled teal and white-headed duck have decreased in number and now visit the wetlands infrequently. Among the waterfowl are (resident) gallinules, moorhens and rails, gulls, terns, water cock, grebes, cormorants, egrets, bitterns, and jakanas. The spot-billed lesser whistling teal and the cotton teal are resident ducks. A rich wader fauna visits the coastline during the winter.
Efforts have been made to document the status of wildlife and in some cases, the correct status is known, whereas most of the information about their populations is sketchy. With the strengthening of wildlife organisations in the country more reliable information can be obtained.