The large, ferocious feline, with its glorious stripes, became a common sight during the 2013 electoral cycle. Artificial tiger toys were strapped on to the roofs of cars, mascots made proud appearances at rallies and elsewhere, and, in a trademark move, real tigers were even used by the ruling political party, PML-N – the ‘sher of Punjab’ – during campaigning.
However, sadly, hardly anything is being done to conserve the majestic tiger that borders on the verge of extinction.
Almost all gone
In 1965, thirteen tigers were shot dead close to the Punjab River near Bahawalpur by Nawab Sadiq’s father. Many say it was after this incident that the growl of these cats has been silenced in Pakistan forever.
According to the World Wide Fund (WWF), 97 per cent of the world’s wild tigers have been lost in just over a century. Today, as few as 3,200 remain. Needless to say, urgent action is needed to strengthen their habitat and protect the species from major threats, such as poaching. For this purpose, WWF is working with 13 tiger countries, to make a future for wild tigers possible.
With the staggering statistics of the endangered tiger in view, WWF Pakistan has promised to protect the remaining big cats in the country.
“This day, the Global Tiger Day, is important. It is creating awareness across the globe,” says Uzma Khan, the director of biodiversity at WWF Pakistan. “Even if we don’t really have tigers, we need to protect our other big cats.”
According to Khan, the northern parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan are home to the snow leopard, and Ayubia has common leopards.
“WWF, in collaboration with K-P’s wildlife department, is conducting a research project across Ayubia and its adjoining forested areas to know the number of common leopards.”
Research projects such as these often pose great difficulties. As evidenced by many countries, carrying out tiger counts has been prohibitively expensive and time-consuming.
Despite this, the research is likely to be completed by the end of next year.
Tigers for votes
As Khan notes, the demise of one of the tigers used by the PML-N during campaigning served a purpose – it raised great concern about how these creatures should be treated.
“When they were taken to the roads for campaigning, no one monitored the way it should have been done,” she reveals.
What’s being done?
According to Khan, although there are some good projects currently under-way for conservation and awareness building, they are not nearly enough.
“There is conflict between the big cats and the local community. In retaliation, they often kill the animal,” she says.
Today, tigers present in the country are mostly in private zoos or kept by individuals in homes that are authorised by provincial wildlife departments. Most of the captive tigers in Pakistan have been imported.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2013.