Kaiga Valley the abode of endangered Markhor

Strict rule enforcement has seen the animal’s numbers rise in the past few decades


September 21, 2021
Two men pose for a photo after hunting a markhor in Upper Kohistan. Photo: Express

The national animal of the country, Markhor, through conservation efforts of domestic organisations aided by a hunting ban, has grown in number in recent years.

Since 2015, the Markhor has been on the red list of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) as an endangered animal. In Pakistan’s context, located some 20 kilometres away from Komila, in the Upper Kohistan district, the local community in the Kaiga Valley has been protecting Markhors in the area for three decades.

 Known as the Kaiga Conservation Community, it was formed by Malik Falkoz in 1990, which helped in efforts to save the goat-looking animal from extinction. After the ban on hunting of the Markhor, their population has seen an upsurge and the conservation area houses over 700 of them. 

Besides human efforts, the geography of the Kaiga Valley itself guarantees protection for the Markhor because there are only two entry or exit points while the remaining area is a gorge, which gives no entry route. Kaiga is also unique, in the sense that it houses both the Kashmiri and Astore Markhor, which is not the case in other conservation areas as per Wildlife Department’s Sub-Divisional Officer, Katbaz.

Malik Falkoz, while talking to the Express Tribune, said that people used to make fun of him when he set up the community nearly 30 years ago. He stated that there were no proper courses in the area until 2010 and the hunters had to travel across the gorge using ropes. “After getting the organization registered, I raised funds from different non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the wildlife department to build pathways in the conservation area for hunters,” Falkoz informed.

Read How trophy-hunting saved the Markhor

Presently, in the Kaiga Valley, trophy hunting takes place once a year and only a single Markhor is allowed to be hunted down. Sources informed foreign hunters pay up to Rs 30 million for the hunt out of which some 20 percent goes to the government while the remaining portion goes to the self-sufficient local community - which operates a school and has installed a mini hydel power project which provides electricity to the village. For the rest of the year, over 20 guards remain on duty around the clock for the security of the Markhor in the conservation area, as per Muhammad Iqbal, who is Falkoz’s son.

Rules’ implementation and challenges

As for the rules regarding trophy hunting, Iqbal informed that only one hunter is allowed in the area every year and is only allowed one additional shot if he misses the first one. “However, the hunter cannot fire at another Markhor if he has already injured one. For that to happen, he must first find the one he has shot, and then take his additional shot,” he said.

Katbaz stated that to ensure the rules were implemented, the wildlife officials are present along with locals during the trophy hunting. He said that if the rules are not followed a hunter can face imprisonment of five years or Rs 500,000 fine or both.

On the flip side, Katbaz lamented about the acute shortage of staff and equipment as a major hurdle in keeping the conservation area running smoothly. “We only have a five-member staff, including myself, and the department does not have a government vehicle so sometimes it is hard for us to reach the sites where a violation of wildlife-related crime is reported,” he informed the Express Tribune.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 21st, 2021.

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