Daily Times
March 19, 2004

Hunting sustaining communities in Northern Areas

By Shoaib Ahmed

LAHORE: Community based trophy hunting programmes that allow limited hunting of rare animals have become an important source of sustainable economic development for communities in the Northern Areas, a group of journalists learnt on a visit to the Bar valley organised by the Forum of Environment Journalists, Punjab chapter (FEJP), in collaboration with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

The touring team were first taken to the Gilgit Information Conservation Centre and witnessed the development done by non-governmental organisations and environment units.

From there it was on the Bar valley, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and glaciers, 49 kilometres from Gilgit. The WWF has been involved in a sustainable wildlife-use project to manage the ibex population in the valley in collaboration with the local community since 1990.

The ibex and markhore hunting in the area, also home to brown bears and snow leopards, is a vital source of earning. Trophy hunting was devised to control the hunting of these two animals as they were becoming endangered, as was their natural predator, the snow leopard.

Ibex are known locally as kil. Females are about one third the size of males with an average weight of 50-55 kg. Males weigh an average 88 to 90 kg. Older males have a rich chocolate brown colour in summers that turns dark in winter. It can be seen in the Northern Areas at up to 4,700 metres up.

Markhore are known locally as bum mayaro. They weigh 100 to 109 kg and their natural habitat is at 600-3,000 metre elevations

In the Northern Areas, the concept of organised trophy hunting was first developed by the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme, WWF and Forest Department, Northern Areas.

The Bar valley was selected for the implementation of this programme because of its abundant ibex population. The prototype-hunting programme has evolved into a sustainable trophy hunting initiative. Hunting has thus become an effective tool for the conservation of wildlife in the Northern Areas and also attracts good foreign exchange.

Trophy hunting began regularly in the Bar valley in July 1990. Surveys were conducted by forest officers and community person and at a meeting of the WWF IUCN and Forest Department, the formal trophy hunting procedure was formulated.

Hunting rules in the valley are strict. In 1995, two licenses were issued to two hunters. Fees were also fixed. Foreigners must pay $2,000 to hunt an ibex, $25,000 to hunt a Markhore and $5,000 to hunt a blue sheep.

One hunter is allowed to fire one shot at an ibex per license. If he misses, the hunting fee is not refundable, but if he badly injures the animal, he can fire again and kill it. The ibex that is hunted must have horns of 36 inches or above, and female ibex are off limits.

One of the community persons in the Bar valley told Daily Times the concept of trophy hunting in this sub-region appeared to have developed only after the British entered the area in 1891. According to the records, it was a Briton who first shot a markhore in Astore and named it the Astore Markhore.

Following the British occupancy, foreign hunters started pouring in to shoot wild animals in this mountains region as specimens for museums in the shape of heads, horns skulls or skins.

The money earned is shared by the community and the government - 20 percent goes to the government and 80 percent to the community. However, some people in the Bar valley complain that the Forest Department was slow in giving them the money made through hunting charges.

Until 1995, the WWF and Aga Khan Rural Support Programme were the only development organisations working in the Bar valley. A need arose for a collaborative programme on ibex hunting involving local people and hence in 1996, the WWF developed a long-term programme of assistance.

Many target driven programmes have been launched in the valley that included integrated conservation and development programmes, value enhancement of natural resources and awareness of the environment. There are free health camps in the area. The valley, though it is situated in a remote area, has a good education system and its literacy rate is at least 16 percent.

The journalists also visited Gulkin, a village in Gojal, upper Hunza, 140 km north of Gilgit. Gulkin has a strong religious leaning: the Jammatkhana, the central religious institution for all Ismaili Muslims, holds a strong position in the community.

Navrozea, a religious and cultural festival, is celebrated on March 21 in Gulkin. People dance and hold gatherings to welcome spring. Sharma and Pattu are traditional local handicrafts – Sharma is used to make carpets from local spun wool. Pattu is a hand made product made from sheep’s wool. Heavy snowfall brings ibex down to Gulkin in search of grass in March and June.

Gulkin’s Education Social Welfare and Natural Conservation Association (ESWNCA) plays an active role in producing craftsmen and women. Here, the cutting of natural forests and use of pesticides is banned.

Karimullah Baig, honorary wildlife officer, told the journalists that in Gulkin, there were 145 homes and two schools: Diamond Jubilee Middle School and Nasir Khusro School.

The journalists were also taken towards Kunjarab National Park, but heavy land slides had blocked the route. The best time to visit the park, made a national park in 1975, is between March and September. The primary purpose of setting up the park was to protect the endangered Marco Polo sheep, only found in this area of Pakistan.

The journalists visited the Baltit Fort in Hunza, a 700-year old fort donated to the Baltit Heritage Trust in 1989 by its last owner Mir Ghunzafar Ali Khan. The fort, a beautiful historical monument, was restored from 1990-96 by the Aga Khan Trust for Cultural Heritage. The fort displays objects from ancient Hunza and a prison. It also has a reference library.