PESHAWAR: Shah Wali Afridi, 75, now retired from his job as a watchman for taking care of the forests and wildlife in the mountains of Tirah valley district Khyber, Kurram and Orakzai districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) sighs deeply. He is examining the rows of cages in Landikotal Bazaar that imprison species of rare birds including his favourite chakkor (partridge). Curiously, he peers inside one cage with a beautiful chakkor to see whether the charming bird still understands his whistle because Afridi knows to how to communicate with variety of birds and animals. 

“There are 10 to 15 shops in Landikotal Bazaar that alone sell a variety of imported and ingenious rare birds including the chakkor,” says Afridi. “This bird can fetch from Rs 1,000 to 6,000 while a pair of domestic canaries, which are rare singing birds imported from Afghanistan is being sold out at Rs 6, 000. The canary can make 20 different sounds, while a store-keeper claims that the chakkor is the most sought after bird as most local residents believe that partridges ward off the evil eye according to a common superstition in KP. 

“Surprisingly enough, during militancy in the tribal areas, wildlife was safe and there was a marked increase of birds and animals in the region,” says Afridi. “This is because there were check-posts of the security forces in the mountains peaks to check the movement of people. Also local tribes had deputed watchmen to take care of the forests and its wildlife and biodiversity.  But now after my retirement, massive deforestation and hunting caused a major threat to birds and animals in the tribal districts and many species of wildlife now have become history,”  he recalls regretfully.

According to Zareen Badshah, a seasoned bird keeper, February, March and April are breeding months for partridges. A chakkor grows up in a month and half and gets ready for flight and fight in four months. He feels sad that different species of birds are no more seen in the mountains of the tribal districts because there is no regional office for conservation of wildlife and forests and hence the destruction of natural habitat.

“I strongly believe that our forests and mountains in former Fata (Federally Administered Tribal Area were homes to different birds and animal species. Following deforestation on massive scale, rare birds, animals and plants soon started to disappear,” says Badshah. 

Hijrat Ali Afridi, a resident of Sultan Khel in Landikotal says that a significant decrease has been witnessed in the mountain peaks of Mazreena, Lakay Sar, and Zarku Obah (  these are names of less frequented spots by common visitors and are less known ) which used to be frequently visited by illegal hunters and most of them would net flocks of partridges alive for fighting competitions until the local administration imposed a complete ban bird-fighting contests in the area. 

Chakkor despite being a national bird runs the high risk of being extinct as most locals catch it to keep as pets. “Tanzanzari, and, Sisai (names of birds in local Pashto dialect) drakes, ducks, grey francolins, cranes and several other birds and animals species are already extinct in district Mohmand,” says Rashid Ali from Kurram district who works a volunteer with Khyber Conservation Network (KCN)   

Rahat Shinwari, president of Khyber Conservation Network (KCN) explains how his organization has been working on conserving biodiversity in the area. “Various  species of singing birds such as yellow sparrows, Chakkor is under serious threat as most hunters either trap them massively or kill them with shot guns.” geckoes( all  birds expect gecko known kirborre in Pashto ), Turanai, Sitani Gulsar, Gujani , Shudani, and Petani (  names of birds in local Pashto dialect ,  ) in the areas of Bago, Haideri Kando, Salu Kando, these are hunting spots around Landikotal subdivision of district Khyber ).

Mubarak Wazir, 65, from North Waziristan (a resident who knows about local birds and animals, an expert one may say)   observes that several species of rare birds and animals that he used to see a few years ago in his area now are no more there because of excessive hunting. “Local residents hunt down partridges, chakkor and hares. “Here in North Waziristan district, local residents catch partridges for fighting purposes and heavy bets are involved. If a partridge loses in the fight, the owner chokes the neck of the bird mercilessly,” he says.

The situation of other tribal districts is no different. Ali Daman Khan, a resident of Khar, district  Bajaur  says that the mountains of Bajaur were a natural habitat  to various kinds of migratory  birds and animals especially wild wolves and ibex but no more because of hunters catching them through nets and wired traps. 

Repercussions on Climate change

Professor Khalid Khan, an expert on biodiversity and wildlife, “The extinction of wildlife and biodiversity has cast a serious impact on climate change. Organized groups of local poachers in the tribal districts and net flocks of rare birds. They also shoot them down on daily basis as there is no check on this ruthless killing and netting of birds and animals that are on the verge of being extinct,” says. He teaches at a government post- graduate college in Peshawar.  He maintains that almost every tribal district has a bird market where large numbers of endangered species of birds are displayed for sale and there is no one to check them. 

Needed steps to save wildlife and biodiversity

“KP government should set up relevant offices in the merged districts and a comprehensive survey of the entire region would be the first steep to save the flora and fauna of the area,” says Professor Dr Mohammad Wazeem Tabani, another expert on biodiversity in Agriculture University, Peshawar.

Abdul Azam Shinwari, senior reporter and patron-chief of Khyber Conservation Network (KCN) says that his organization had informed KP wildlife department of the grave situation of the wildlife and biodiversity in the tribal districts about six months ago but to no avail except a few notices. “The KP wildlife department should include local residents, reporters and elders to check illegal hunting of birds and animals in the region,” he says. “The local administration plays no role in preservation and conversation of biodiversity.”

“The entire tribal region is full of a variety of species of birds and animals and plants but it remains unexplored in absence of a proper protective mechanism in the area,” he adds. “There is an urgent need for expansion of the conservation network across the merged tribal districts through awareness seminars, workshops and wall chalking,” Azam elaborates.

KP government Future Plans

An official of the KP wildlife department informed that the KP Finance department-approved around 653 posts including district forests officers (DOFs) and other relevant staff in all the tribal districts to implement its Act of wildlife 2015-16 in letter and spirit whereby the chief conservator for the newly-merged tribal districts would be answerable to the chief conservator Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

According to the official who wishes to remain anonymous, under the ‘sustainable development   and conservation of wildlife scheme’ they     had set up three wildlife peasantries one each in Mohmand, Bajaur and Kurram tribal districts almost two years ago where large number of birds and animals were being conserved with breeding and vaccination facilities under the supervision of experts. “Wildlife peasantries should also be set up in the rest of tribal districts and additional staff provided will be,” he assures.

The official further says that under the law, hunting of birds and animals is totally prohibited in all its manifestations and that no person is allowed to buy, sell or transport birds and animals of the indigenous specie under profession, business or trade.  The process of setting up district offices and recruitment of the staff will be completed by end of this year.  

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