The plague that is illegal hunting has threatened the wildlife species of the country’s most populous province for a while now owing to an under-resourced wildlife department.
More than 2,000 cases of poaching were reported last year in Punjab, and the number is expected to grow this year.
The highest number of cases of illegal killing of wildlife were reported in Rawalpindi Division and the Salt Range which are famous as a habitat for numerous deer species.
A Punjab Wildlife employee stationed at the Salt Range, while talking to The Express Tribune on the condition of anonymity, squarely laid the blame on the government, stating that the department could not simply catch so many poachers with just a few employees.
“The hunters who hunt here illegally have modern vehicles and weapons whereas we have old motorbikes, so it is impossible to catch them,” he lamented.
Even if the hunters are caught, he stated, that most hunters are influential people and upon being stopped just register cases against wildlife employees.
The field employee questioning the seriousness of the government in protecting wildlife informed that, given Punjab’s size, only about one thousand field staff were employed.
“Despite the shortage of vehicles and staff, we continue to do our utmost to stop illegal hunting and the illegal purchase and sale of wild animals and birds,” he said.
Badar Munir, a member of the Punjab Wildlife Board, while talking to the Express Tribune about why poaching was a persistent problem in Punjab, stated that since there was no trophy hunting allowed and a lack of community-based organizations (CBOs) illegal hunting was bound to be rampant.
“Along with saving wildlife, CBOs have an important role to play in preventing the rising poaching of deer in the area,” he said.
Munir, advocating for trophy hunting as a solution, opined that when domestic and foreign hunters pay thousands of dollars for trophy hunting, they play a major part in preventing the poaching of valuable animals.
Ghazanfar Ali Lingah, a member of the Climate Change Council and a wildlife conservator, concurring with Munir’s views stated that trophy hunting was a successful model for saving wildlife from extinction and poaching.
“We have seen in Gilgit Baltistan that trophy hunting helped save the Markhor, and in Punjab it helped save the Aerial deer,” he informed.
Munir, who is also a wildlife expert, stated that another reason for the upsurge in poaching was private game reserves not being sanctioned in Punjab.
Read more Markhor population dwindling in Chitral
“There have been only two-game reserves for the past several years, while applications for ten-game reserves have been pending with the Secretary Forests Punjab,” he informed.
Secretary Forest and Wildlife Punjab Shahid Zaman, when asked about the rising illegal hunting, informed that to prevent poaching and increase the number of endangered species, the province would conduct trophy hunting.
Zaman, addressing the consistent complaints of the department being short staffed, stated that the department was working on giving policing force status to Punjab Wildlife which would be known as Wildlife Protection Force and would initially be deployed in national parks.
“We will provide funds of upto Rs 2 billion and recruit 550 new people to address the severe shortage of manpower,” he said.
Commenting further on the department’s plans he said that 1700 employees would be hired for the forestry division and 600 employees for the fisheries division.
Zaman, however, did not provide a fixed timeline on when the grievances of the wildlife department would actually be addressed stating that a summary of the proposals had been sent to the Punjab Chief Minister.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2021.
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