First National Report Of Pakistan to the Convention on Biological Diversity Ministry of Environment Government of Pakistan Contents

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Religious and Cultural Beliefs

Ninety-seven percent of the population of Pakistan is Muslim. Like the western religions, Islamic teachings consider all creatures and resources a gift of God to man. Man being the best of God’s creation is his Major domo (chief servant) on earth. The conquest of all God’s creation is also believed to be within the control of man. Quranic verses frequently count the blessings of God; like fresh meat under the sea, fruits and livestock for food etc. Islamic teachings also warn against the wasteful utilisation of resources. There are many references in the Quran to the variety of life on earth, that it is subject to continuous change and that man knows only a fraction of what is created at any given time (Surah Yasin and Anaam). The holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) while leading war campaigns strongly banned cutting of trees in the conquered lands. Islam was spread in the land that now comprises Pakistan through the Sufi saints. These mystic Sufis are equally respected by all religions of the subcontinent. The Sufis’ teachings are in harmony with nature, never taking/ wasting from the environment more than what is needed. The Sufis are known for their love of wildlife and wilderness. In fact, as shown in the case study of Kallar Kahar (Box 14) the Sufis in fact are the only force that has saved some of the wildlife from extinction. Zakat, a tax (2.5%) on the assets, is compulsory to be paid to the needy. Similarly, the sacrificial animals at Eid ul Azha act as incentive to the livestock breeders (see Chapter 10). Hunting is not disallowed in Islam and resultantly wildlife is at risk as guns are easily available. Green trees bow before God according to the Quranic teachings, but in Pakistan the tremendous increase in population makes people cut more and more; the rich for more wealth and the poor for a living. The Forest Departments in their regular tree planting campaigns (twice a year, spring and monsoon) frequently use the Quranic verses and teachings of the Prophet for planting trees. This strategy has given good results, though the increased price of wood is also a big incentive to the tree farmers.

The local people had been using the natural resources for ages. The otter is one example of an animal that was traditionally captured from the wild by the traditional fishermen, trained and used in fishing. But due to intensification of fishing the otter which once was a friend of the fishermen is now considered a pest that eats commercially valuable fish. Box 15 elaborates this

Box 16: The Peacocks of Kallar Kahar and a Sufi Saint - the Unofficial Conservator of Nature42
Kallar Kahar is a beautiful picnic resort in the heart of the Salt Range, some 130 km south of Islamabad. Peacocks and a historical lake surrounded by small hills are its peculiar features. The beauty of this lake was acknowledged in 1540 AD by Emperor Babar, the first Mughal king of India. He stopped here with his troops en route to conquer Delhi, and even mentions its beauty in his biography ‘Tuzk e Babari’. This area is also known for the Sufi shrine of two grandsons of Syed Qadir Jillani of Baghdad (11 AD). This shrine is locally called Hazrat Hoo Bahu. Flocks of peacocks roam freely in this area. They spend time in the hills for feeding and breeding, but occasionally come close to the shrine. This site is unique in Pakistan, as the people do not catch or even disturb the peacocks. Had there been no shrine, it is certain that there would have been no peafowl, as the locals believe. The Sufi saint has stated that whoever attempts to catch the peafowl will go blind. Peafowl are a popular and expensive cage bird in Pakistan and are considered a status symbol. A pair sells for Rupees.5-15,000 in the market. This price is lucrative enough for people to ensnare the birds from Kallar Kahar, but nobody dares to do it. The poorer people of the area turn down even requests for a pair from influential people in high offices and power.

The Sufi saint has conserved the peafowl by his spiritual powers. They have in fact multiplied and have reached Choa Saidan Shah a small town 40-km away where another Sufi saint is buried. Flocks of geese also roam freely near the shrine of Choa town. Even in Choa Saidan Shah nobody dares to touch the peafowl, as it is believed that these belong to the Saint, and whoever snares them shall be cursed.

The Sufi saints are known for love of wildlife and the wilderness. In fact, they have acted as the unofficial conservators of forests. In this case, they have proven more effective than any law of the country.

With the advent of the nation state and legislation, there is an apparent conflict on the usage of the natural resources between the traditional local population and the state. The conflicting perceptions of the traditional users of natural resources and the authorities of the state are elaborated upon in the following sections.

Box 17: From Pet to Pest a Story of Otters43

There are two species of otters in Pakistan. The Common otter Lutra lutra and the smooth coated otter Lutra perspicillata. Both compete with man for food and had been kept as pet in the past to assist the fishing tribes trap fish. The story of the decline of the otter population and change of its status from pet to pest with no conservation projects is very serious.

The common otter formerly occurred throughout all the Himalayan river systems, extending in summer to small mountain torrents as high as 3500m. It had been hunted extensively for its expensive fur. It has also come in conflict with government programmes to develop trout fisheries in the north. Resultantly it has become rare in even more accessible regions such as the Kaghan, Swat and lower Chitral valleys. Roberts 1997 reports that skins of the Himalayan otter reach the fur shops of Peshawar and Rawalpindi from Jhelum and Neelum valleys of Azad Kashmir as well as Hazara districts. However, most furriers admit that they have been receiving much smaller numbers in recent years. Hess believes that killing of otters by guards of the trout hatcheries as well as local hunters is a more serious threat than the fur trade. In Jughur Trout hatchery he saw four stuffed otters on display in 1984 and 1985 and a fifth specimen killed in 1983 near Singur, upstream of Chitral town. The smooth coated otter is a species of the plains found throughout the lower Indus up to the outer foothills of the Punjab. It frequently enters man made canal systems as well inundation storage reservoirs, swamps and lakes, often situated at a distance from the rivers. It has become comparatively rare largely because of increased human settlements on riverbanks and reduction of habitat due to barrages. It has been hunted for its skin and the professional fishing tribes of Sindh still trap the young and train them to assist in catching fish. Nowadays every sizeable lake in the country is leased to fish contractors by various government departments. Due to tremendous increase in fish prices, the fish contractors destroy any otter that they encounter, in order to eliminate competition for fishing stocks. Roberts 1997 quotes J. A. Murray (1884) describes 'clusters of boats which formed the fishing villages on the Indus' while mentioning his Sindh voyages. Here one could see as many as twenty to thirty tamed otters (L. perspicillata) tethered by the waist, some lying basking in the sun and others playing with children in the sand. Today such a sight does not exist.

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