Pakistan floods, fighting destroy wildlife
by Staff Writers
Kund, Pakistan Dec 31, 2010
Disaster struck out of nowhere. The flash floods were so sudden that wardens at one of Pakistan’s most famed parks could do nothing to save their animals.
Leopards, deer and bears all drowned as the murky waters quickly engulfed them.
Kund park, a tourist spot located where the Kabul and Indus rivers meet 100 kilometres (60 miles) northwest of Islamabad, lost all its wildlife including 100 endangered species in this year’s flood crisis.
It was the worst single natural destruction of wildlife in Pakistan, where experts say the floods, military offensives against the Taliban and spreading militancy threaten natural habitats and species, some of them already endangered.
“Floods destroyed everything. It killed all the animals and species in this park. It was a great loss to wildlife,” said Mumtaz Malik, formerly the top wildlife official in northwest Pakistan.
“None of them were rescued. Nobody expected such a catastrophe.”
Among the dead were two leopards, 70 deer and 24 bears, said Ayan-ud-din, one of the caretakers at Kund.
Peacocks, ducks and pheasants were also lost.
All the animals drowned while locked in cages and enclosures. The bears had been rescued from human cruelty, only to die in Pakistan’s worst natural disaster after monsoon rains swept north to south in July and August.
“When we came back, only two bears were alive. They were shifted to another bear centre in Punjab,” Inayat ur Rehman, manager of the bear centre, told AFP.
The floods had crippled the park’s perimeter and destroyed the bear centre.
The sanctuary started out as a research station in 2000 to provide veterinary care and shelter to 27 bears formerly used for baiting.
Fifty turtles kept for research purposes were also washed away and killed.
The state of wildlife receives little attention in Pakistan, the front line state in America’s war on Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. US drone attacks target militant commanders in the mountains of Pakistan’s northwestern tribal belt.
Pakistan’s army and air force have battled homegrown Taliban foot soldiers for years, but militant groups have carved out sanctuaries in the mountains and valleys — all of which is affecting wildlife, experts say.
“Bombing and shelling in Afghanistan and in the Pakistani tribal areas have disturbed the resident wildlife,” said Malik.
Authorities say they have no access and are unable to enforce wildlife protection law in the semi-autonomous tribal belt, so instead they piece together details from local tribesmen and hunters.
According to conservative estimates, from 500,000 to a million birds migrate through Pakistan each year, flying south from Siberia to pass the winter in central and south Asia.
Birds search for natural habitats along the Indus and the Kabul, the two major flyways of waterfowl and other waterbirds migrating through Pakistan in November and December from breeding grounds in Siberia and Central Asia.
There are no precise statistics, but experts chart a steady decline, blamed in part on fighting, but also on the more typical enemies of wildlife the world over — hunting, deforestation, urbanisation, global warming and pollution.
“These situations have forced birds to change the routes that they have been using for generations,” said Asad Lodhi, deputy wildlife conservationist in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“Unrest is definitely a cause. Arms and ammunition bring destruction and these birds are so sensitive that they change their routes,” Lodhi said.
Fakhar-i-Abbas, head of the Bioresource Research Centre in Islamabad, says that out of 650 bird species in Pakistan, about 275 are winter visitors.
“Complaints about a reduction in the number of these visitors started early in the first decade of this century,” he told AFP, listing drought, flooding, fighting and pollution as possible causes.
But the lack of accurate statistics means that the reasons cannot be confirmed, he warned.
Hundreds of hunters prey on waterfowl during the hunting season from December to March, and kill a large number of birds, experts say.
The most notorious hunters in Pakistan are sheikhs and princes who flock to Pakistan each year to hunt the houbara bustard bird with falcons, arriving by private charter jet from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Their wildly extravagant parties are allotted private hunting grounds in Sindh, Baluchistan and Punjab provinces by the Pakistani government, which is scheduled to receive 222 million dollars in aid this financial year from Saudi Arabia.
These trees in Sindh, Pakistan became cocooned in webs after millions of spiders escaped flood waters: here.
Floods that swamped parts of Pakistan last summer created millions of unusual refugees – spiders. Now the British government has creepy photos showing the trees blanketed by spiderwebs: here.