Usman Danish

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Wildlife department’s Markhor count survey in the Chitral Gol National Park (CGNP) has recorded a significant drop in the number of animal.

According to last year survey number of Markhors in the park has dropped to 2000 from 2850 in 2019.

The drop in number of Pakistan’s national animal is significant and has spun number of theories. MNA from Chitral Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali has blamed the poaching for the dramatic drop in number of animal.

On the other hand, chief conservator wildlife KP in a report has also outlined various reasons for the drop in number of animal.

Chitral Gol National Park, a success story

The report said that CGNP was setup due to drastic reduction in the number of animals. “In 1984, when the park was setup there were about 100 to 125 markhors were around,” the report said.

The figure has since then has recorded progressive increase due to ban on hunting and other measures and touched 687 in 2007. The number of animal in CGNP increased to 2286 in 2016 while in rest of the district there were 4267.  In 2017, this figure jumped to 2489 in the CGNP and 4550 for the rest of the district.

In 2018, the figure further jumped to 2664 in the park and 5068 for the rest of the districts. The peak came in 2019 when the number of animal rose to 2847 in the park and 5347 in entire district.

However, figures for 2020 were shocking and have created ripples across the conservation community. Markhor count for 2020 showed a total of 1996 animals in the park and 4345 for the rest of the districts.

This significant drop in number of animals has led to speculation, claims and counter claims regarding the subject.

Annual animal count for 2021 is not yet complete.

Possible reasons for the drop in markhor number

The KP wildlife department’s report cites several possible reasons for the drop in the number of markhor in CGNP.

The theories being put to use to explain the drop in number of the animals include change in snowfall pattern in the area and the fencing of the border.

The report showed that climatic data shows that there was less snowfall in Chitral in December 2021. According to the report, the animal prefers to stay on high altitude in the absence of snowfall. On the other hand, fencing of the Pak-Afghan border along with Nuristan province of Afghanistan could also have led to drop in the number of markhor. The report said that fencing could have restricted the animals’ movement, leading to drop in number. It said that the animal crosses the border into Afghanistan in search of food.

Thirdly, the animal does not like human activity and increasing human activity in its habitat also disturbing its movement patterns.

MNA Abdul Akbar Chitrali on other hand while quoting local figures said come down to only 800.

CGNP’s in-charge view

DFO CGNP Samad told TNN that the low animal count does not necessarily mean the markhors have been lost or killed.

He said that climate change might also have a role to play in this. “Chitral weather in 2020 was drier than past four years,” Mr Samad said.

He said that animal count surveys were also conducted Surveys are conducted in winter and in the absence of snowfall the animals might have stayed high up inaccessible ridges and caves away from preying human eyes.

Mr Samad said that mostly the animals that come down to lower altitude are counted in surveys. “It might have translated into lesser number of animals,” he said.

Regarding the impact of fencing, he said that it was the other reason for the lesser count of the animal.

The wildlife department report also said that animals prefers to steer clear of humans. It said that globally, animals move from one to another country in the absence of physical barriers in what is called trans-boundary movement.

Now since the work on fencing is going on or much of it was complete, migration routes of those who had crossed the border was closed due to fence or due to ongoing work there. Ir said that the migration route of those who crossed the Markhor border was either closed due to the fence or the animals could not return due to work there.

DFO Samad said, “We have all the details for those who have complaints and will inform them of the truth.”

Denial of salaries to community watchers

MNA Abdul Akbar Chitrali said the community watchers have been deployed to protecting animals from preachers. However, he said that these watchers were not being paid for several months.

MNA Chitrali said that he had repeatedly asked the relevant authorities over past two years to control the drop in the number of animal but to no avail.

“I am going to raise this issue on the floor of the National Assembly,” the MNA added.