Asia's Largest Pheasantry
Syed Imad-ud-Din Asad
There are forty-nine species of pheasants found all over the world. Of these, six are also found in Pakistan. These are Blue Peafowl, Kalij, Koklass, Cheer, and Western Tragopan.
At a distance of forty kilometres from Abbottabad, towards Shinkiari, is the small village of Dhodial. Here is situated the Dhodial Pheasantry, the largest of its kind in Asia.
A pheasantry, in simple words, is a facility where pheasants are kept and bred.
It was set up, over an area of four acres, in 1984, by the Department of Wildlife, NWFP. The object was to provide the people an opportunity to observe the different kinds of pheasants found in the country. Later, the area was increased to eight acres. The breeding of pheasants was also started for the purposes of re-introduction and re-stocking in different forests, and supply to other pheasantries in the province. Other birds were also included in the facility.
At the moment, there are 16 different species of birds in the pheasantry. The number of pairs, permanently kept for breeding purpose, is above 400. Different fowls and pheasants are kept in cages (148 in all); whereas, there is a separate pond for ducks and cranes.
Including the in charge and a veterinary doctor, there is a permanent staff of six persons to look after the administration and maintenance of this huge establishment, which is most inadequate. During the breeding season, when the work load increases enormously, three or four labourers are temporarily hired for cleaning and other petty jobs. The reason for this and several other disabilities is the perpetual shortage of funds for the pheasantry.
No amount has ever been specifically reserved for this pheasantry in the annual budget either of the province or of the concerned ministry. Whatever it gets from the government, it is made out of the usual financial allocation for the wildlife in the province. In order to meet the expenditure, the pheasantry generates some income on its own. This is done in two ways: by charging of fee from the visitors and by selling surplus birds to the public.
Due to monetary constrains, the pheasantry has no laboratory for research and diagnostic purposes. The first veterinary doctor was posted here about two years back. Before this, whenever needed, doctors would be called from the nearby Veterinary Research Institute, set up by the Department of Agriculture. Similarly, the staff of the pheasantry is also allowed to use the facilities at the institute for laboratory work.
There have been times when the financial condition got so bad that there was no money even for the purchase of bird-feed. The in charge of the pheasantry had to arrange for it on credit, through his personal contacts. However, despite all these difficulties and hindrances, the pheasantry has made a remarkable progress.
Sometimes a specie gets extinct in an area because of destruction of habitat, disease, hunting, etc. The process by which it is raised again is called "re-introduction". In certain cases the number of a specie in a territory decreases due to the same reasons. The process by which the number is revived either by adding in it from a breeding centre or through re-location of excess from some other place is called "re-stocking". Right now, the Dhodial Pheasantry is the main source of supply for the re-introduction of Cheer; and the future re-stocking of Kalij, Koklass, Monal, and Western Tragopan.
Each year, in August and September, birds are separated into pairs for mating. Mating begins in February, and laying of eggs starts in March. In the pheasantry, the clutch-size (number of eggs laid by a bird in a season) of all the species has been increased to at least 40 per cent. In certain cases it has even been doubled.
It is interesting to note that the surplus eggs are not preferred to be put in incubators, rather they are placed under hens. The hen not only hatches the eggs, but also cares for the chicks - just like its own - till the time they are able to look after themselves.
The greatest achievement of the Dhodial Pheasantry is the breeding of Cheer in captivity. The bird was thought to have been extinct in the country.
In the late 1980s, the Capital Development Authority, in collaboration with the World Pheasants Association, was working on a project for the re-introduction of Cheer in Margallah. Due to certain shortcomings, it gave no results. However, the idea inspired Dr Muhammed Mumtaz Malik, chief conservator, Department of Wildlife, NWFP, who had solid evidence that the same venture, if undertaken in some particular areas of Hazara division, could be made successful.
The Dhodial Pheasantry was selected for the breeding of Cheer. The World Pheasants Association was requested by the Department of Wildlife to send some eggs of the bird. They responded by sending about 90 eggs to the pheasantry. Some of these eggs did not hatch. Among those which did, the mortality was high. The rate of mortality remained high, till 1995, due to various reasons. The most important of these was the ignorance of the staff pertaining the diagnosis and treatment of different diseases of
Cheer. This situation got better in 1996.
In 1997 a parent flock of 40 pairs was raised. Right now the flock comprises 80 pairs. This year, about 1,400 eggs are expected from them. The release of Cheer, for re-introduction, has also been started. This success, although a bit late, has given international
fame to the pheasantry.
The pheasantry at Dhodial not only proves the competence of our own talent in the field of wildlife conservation, but it also shows how, with extremely limited resources, a handful of dedicated and determined persons can make a huge venture
Dawn Newspaper Group (www.dawn.com)
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