Pakistan is a blessed country when it comes to natural beauty, resources and wildlife. However, due to lack of attention of our policy makers towards environmental factors, Pakistan is among top 5 countries vulnerable to climate change. The wildlife in Pakistan is full of exotic animals. Unfortunately, due to various factors like deforestation, water pollution, urbanization, and hunting and fishing, a large number of exotic animals found in Pakistan are on verge of extinction.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Climate Change Ministry of Pakistan have created their ‘Red List’ of endangered wildlife which includes more than 50 animals that are near extinction. We have prepared list of 10 animals that are critically endangered in Pakistan.
Markhor is the national animal of Pakistan. It is a large Capra species native to Central Asia, Karakorum and the Himalayas. Markhor was listed on Red List of endangered animals by IUCN since 2015. Markhors live on high mountains and have an average life of 12 to 13 years. According to various reports, Markhors in Pakistan have now reduced down to around 2500 -3000. This is mainly due to illegal hunting of Markhors, deforestation and attack by wild predators like leopards.
Under the Wildlife Protection Act and Snow Leopard Foundation in Pakistan, efforts are being made to preserve exotic animals in Pakistan. Due to these regulatory efforts, Pakistan has now been able to control illegal hunting of Markhors and reduce their killings.
Himalayan Brown Bear
A sub-species to Brown bear, Himalayan brown bear is native to Afghanistan, Pakistan, northern India, west China and Nepal. Himalayan Brown Bear is one of the biggest mammals in Pakistan and is categorized as critically endangered by IUCN specifically in area of Hindukush and Himalayas. Himalayan Brown bears are sister clan to brown bear and polar bears and go into hibernation for months during winters.
They are mainly found in Deosai plains of Pakistan and are hardly left in numbers (70-80). The main reason for their endangerment is poaching and hunting of these bears to use their internals for medicine and fur and claws for ornaments. Moreover, they are often hunted by shepherds to protect their livestock.
Asian White-Backed Vulture
Asian White backed vultures have several names and are locally known as Gidh in Pakistan. These Vultures were present in Pakistan in quantities of thousands during 90s. However, currently they are critically near to extinct as the numbers of vultures now in Pakistan is hardly in hundreds (221 in 2011). Asian White-Backed Vultures are native to India, Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Since the beginning of 20th century, these Asian cultures started to die all around the continent. The major reason for extinction of these vultures in Pakistan and other countries is use of veterinary drug diclofenac which transfers to vultures when they eat carcasses. In 2006, Pakistan and Nepal banned use of diclofenac and with help of WWF-P, Pakistan has been able to preserve some individuals of this species and will start artificial incubation of vultures.
Snow Leopards are an endangered species and are present in quantity of around 4000 worldwide. Snow Leopards are found in Hindukush and Karakorum region as well as Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir. The Snow Leopard Foundation (SLF) Pakistan found that population of these leopards is now hardy 200-250 in Pakistan. Snow Leopards are usually found around 4000 meters above sea level and are losing their habitat due to melting snows and deforestation.
SLF Pakistan and Global Environmental Facility (GEF) US under the Climate Ministry of Pakistan are administrating ‘Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Programme’ which aims at protecting and conserving species of Snow Leopard in Pakistan.
Once quite a common animal in Hindukush Mountains, Yasin Valkey, and Ishkoman valleys of Pakistan, Pallas cat was considered as most attractive cat in the world. It is native to Ghizar, Chitral, and Kurram Agency and is locally known as Runz in Khowar language. Pallas cat is also found in small population in Baluchistan.
Pallas cats have long furs and tails to keep their hunt warm on snows or frozen ground. Their prey includes birds, Gerbils, Voles, Pikas and even Chukar partridge. Pallas cats were declared endangered by IUCN in 2002 as it was often hunted for its dense fur.
Known commonly as ‘Kaala Hiran’ in Urdu, black buck is another endangered species with life span of around 12-18 years. Black Buck is native to India and Pakistan and was commonly found in Thar and Cholistan. However, extensive hunting and urbanization has badly affected the population of Black buck. During 1970s and 80s, several black bucks were brought from USA to Pakistan, to increase their population. The population of Black bucks although increased in Sindh and Punjab, however, due to their hunting by humans and wild animals, the population is still considered endangered by IUCN.
Indus River Dolphin
The Indus River Dolphin is native to rivers of lower Indus basin in Pakistan. The distribution of Indus River Dolphin is extremely narrow and according to IUCN there are hardly 1000 of these giant mammals in the world. Indus River Dolphins are habitats of deep river channels and low velocity water. In Pakistan, they are mostly found in Indus main stem locations between Chashma and Taunsa, Taunsa and Guddu and Guddu and Sukkur Barrages. They feed on different fishes and invertebrates.
The Indus River Dolphins are severely endangered as Pakistan climbs up the list of most affected countries from climate change. The drying up of rivers as well as construction of dams and barrages since decades ago has disturbed the habitats of Indus River Dolphins.
Golden Mahaseer is a popular game-fish which is native to Pakistan. Golden Mahaseer is also found in Malaysia, Iran, Indonesia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan. It is more than 2m long and its habitat includes montane regions in streams and rivers. Golden Mahaseer’s existence has declined by 50% during past few decades. In Pakistan alone, the population of small Golden Mahaseer has become restricted to streams and lakes of Northern side while large fishes are found in perennial pools only. The depletion of this species is mostly due to urbanization, over fishing, changes in chemical and physical features of their habitats.
The Houbara bustard is the largest bustard mostly native to Africa and South Asia. Houbara Bustard are around 60 cm in length and migrate to Pakistan from Central Asia. The Houbara bustard is among the exotic birds of Pakistan and are extensively hunted in the country despite considered illegal. The population decline of Houbara in Pakistan is around 35% now. There were several issues raised when Pakistani government allowed Qatari royal family members to hunt Houbara in Tharparkar in 2014 that led to killing of more than 2000 birds.
The PTI-led government has now banned hunting of most of exotic animals of Pakistan to preserve natural life.
Marco Polo Sheep
The Marco Polo sheep is an exotic subspecies of sheep that are distinguishable from sheep due to their large size and spiral horns. Marco polo sheep are usually found in mountainous areas of Central Asia and are native to Pakistan. Marco polo sheep have steep valleys and open areas as their habitat and are considered very valuable in agricultural aspect when they move in herds with livestock.
In Pakistan Marco Polo sheep is found in Khunjerab Pass, Hunza valley, Karakorum and Hindukush. Since an exotic animal, Marco Polo sheep are often hunted for their skin, meat and exotic horns. However, government of Pakistan now takes their conservation very seriously as they were declared endangered by IUCN in 2015. The Khunjerab National Park has separate conservation segment for Marco Polo Sheep where any kind of human activity or hunting is not allowed.
Pakistan Climate Change Ministry’s Response to Endangered Species
Under the leadership of Imran Khan, Pakistan is already witnessing a great shift in perspective regarding preservation of environment. The billion tree tsunami in 2014 and 10 billion tree tsunami plantation in 2019, all aim at securing the natural landscape of Pakistan, reduce pollution, save wildlife and protect Pakistan from water scarcity. The Climate Change Ministry, in 2019, started a large scale initiative of creating a ‘Red Data List’ which will collect adequate data about endangered species as well as other exotic species, their habitat, conservation and other factors that can help government in their preservation.
The Red List is being prepared with more than 50 wildlife scientists, biodiversity experts, researchers, surveyors, IUCN Pakistan, World Wide Fund for Natural Pakistan (WWF-P), Zoological Survey of Pakistan, and Wildlife Conservation Society of Pakistan. The dedication of government of Pakistan and specifically interest of Prime Minister Imran Khan towards our natural resources is a ray of hope for reducing the extinction of these endangered species.