By Intikhab Amir
on the verge of extinction, there has been an increase in the
population of flared-horn markhor in the recent years. This has been a
result of conservation through social mobilization which has prevented
it from vanishing because of poaching.
People from the mountainous regions actively participated in
conserving the endangered species by protecting its habitat and
checking poaching by employing watchers. This set a rare example in a
country where conservation and environmental protection are not given
The North West Frontier Province, home to the largest number of
endangered Kashmir and astore markhors, has seen an increase in their
number during the last few years. According to conservative official
estimates, there are between 2000 and 2500 markhors in the Frontier,
which is 25 per cent more than the number some 15 years back.
Presently, more than 60 community-based organizations, called ‘Valley
Conservation Committees’ (VCCs), are involved in the preservation
activities. The scheme has significant economic value for the locals
as the VCCs are drawing monetary benefit out of the proceeds raised
through markhor trophy hunting — conducted in areas declared
conservancies in NWFP, Balochistan and Northern Areas.
Found in the mountainous regions of Balochistan, Frontier and the
Northern Areas, the flared horn Kashmir and astore markhors belong to
the caprinae family of goats. They had been put on Appendix-1 of the
Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITEs) of
flora and fauna in 1990. The animal was under threat of extinction
because of unchecked poaching in various parts of Pakistan — house to
the largest population of straight and flared horn markhors in the
world — and so the international trade of markhor trophy was banned.
That brought markhor trophy hunting — an annual feature being pursued
since early 1980s to attract foreign hunters — to a halt. The move
also deprived the government of NWFP from raising revenue which it
collected as fee by selling license to foreign hunters aspiring to
hunt markhor and export the trophy to their home countries.
Pressed by the ban, the wildlife department’s authorities prepared
rules for conserving the endangered species by involving communities
housing the markhors. They offered incentives for the communities
opting to protect markhor’s habitat and curb poaching. A request was
put before CITE’s conference in Harare, in 1996, to allow markhor
trophy hunting at a limited scale. Permission was granted to Pakistan
for exporting six markhor trophies every year. Two licenses each were
meant for Balochistan, NWFP and the Northern Areas (NAs). In 2002
Pakistan’s quota was doubled in view of the results of the markhor
Markhor’s placement on the Appendix-1 of the CITEs made it more
attractive for foreign hunters. This year, the permit fee in the NWFP
fetched a price of US $45,000, the highest amount since the early
1980s when markhor trophy hunting was introduced in the NWFP on
In accordance with an agreement between the provincial government and
VCCs, 80 per cent of the proceeds raised through the sales of shooting
permits go to the communities in whose area the hunting takes place.
The remaining 20 per cent goes to the provincial kitty as revenue
“Part of the VCC’s share of the proceeds is spent to pay salaries to
the watchmen recruited for protecting markhors in large conservancies.
A substantial part of the funds has been utilized to carry out small
infrastructure schemes in villages of the markhor conservancies,” said
Syed Muzzafar Jan, president of the markhor conservation committee of
Syedabad village, 22kms south of Chitral on the way to Peshawar. This
has led to improvement in the socio-economic conditions of the area.
Mr Jan, however, said that conservation had not only resulted in
monetary benefit for the conservation committees established in some
40 villages falling under the jurisdiction of two conservancies in
Chitral district — Gehrait/Golain conservancy and Tooshi/Shasha
conservancy — but it has also instilled a behavioural change among the
villagers. In many places they had given up cutting trees or taking
herds of sheep for grazing in areas inhabited by Kashmir markhors.
“Now villagers look towards markhors as a natural resource and a means
to earn money instead of considering them mere animals of prey,” said
Mohammed Wali, president of the Beghusht VCC, in the Garam Chashma
area of Chitral district,
The involvement of local communities in conservation of markhors has
created hundreds of jobs of watchmen. Similarly, in some places the
VCCs have also spent funds, over the years, to construct roads, small
water supply schemes, constructed irrigation channels, developed water
points for wildlife and carried out plantation to improve habitat to
ensure that markhors stay for a longer period in their area. In some
places, funds were utilized to get electricity connection from a
nearby powerhouse generating hydel power.
“Fifty per cent of the VCCs share (out of their 80 per cent share)
goes to the village in whose area the trophy hunting takes place and
the rest is distributed among the remaining VCCs of the conservancy,”
said an official of the wildlife department.
However, the wildlife department barely managed to honour its
commitment with foreign hunters this year after some of the VCCs of
the Gehrait-Golain and Tooshi-Shasha conservancies threatened to stop
hunters from the trophy hunting in their areas unless the department
paid them proceeds of the last year’s trophy hunting.
Official conservation experts, requesting anonymity, said that the
monetary dispute between VCCs had exposed vulnerability of the system.
Hence there was a need on the part of the provincial government to
take prudent measures to create harmony among the VCCs, resolve their
internal monetary disputes to ensure smooth continuity of the system
The markhor conservation plan has, however, raised skepticism among
several groups, particularly for some environmental and wildlife
conservationists, who see it as against morality and ethics.
Dr Habib Ahmed, who was technical advisor in WWF-Pakistan till
recently, believed that the communities were on board to conserve the
animal because of the monetary benefits entailed under the scheme.
Though he supports the scheme for being successful in terms of helping
communities to fulfil their needs of small infrastructure schemes in
far flung ares of the country, he is of the view that ethically it is
not fair. “I don’t oppose the scheme, but ethically it does not look
appropriate that on the one hand you are protecting the endangered
species and on the other you bring foreigners to hunt it by making
them to pay a price,” said Dr Ahmed.
Wildlife of Pakistan-All Rights Reserved.
February 25th, 2007