Dancing in the skies of south Punjab

By Malik Tahseen Raza

MUZAFFARGARH, Sept 17: A variety of migratory birds and their fanciers have a moment to rejoice as the wildlife authorities have banned hunting of the flying creatures.

Even the licensed hunters have been barred from aiming at the birds, thanks to the initiative of Malik Ghulam Mustafa Khar, who has been serving as the honorary chief warden game in the Punjab Wildlife Department. A veteran hunter of wild boars and ostrich, Khar has ordered the department to arrest and fine poachers, hunters and trappers of the wildlife, besides confiscation of their material.

Quails, cranes, Russian/Serbian Batairs and other migratory birds usually start arriving in Muzaffargarh in the first week of September.

A quail is being sold in the market for Rs35 against the last year’s price of Rs15 a piece. The shopkeepers say they have arranged the birds, which is very much in demand in the local population because of its taste and aphrodisiac properties, from Rakni, a tribal area of Balochistan, where the bird lands late in August.

They say as the production of quails has dropped here because of strict ban on netting in the district, now the only market where they can buy the bird from is Balochistan and some parts of Sindh.

Khar, however, disputes the claims of shopkeepers. “Such claims hoodwink the department into believing that the netting and trapping of quails and other birds have stopped in the district. Despite a ban on hunting, some people continue to net migratory birds in different parts of the district.”

An official of the wildlife said in just three weeks, the department had challaned 129 people and confiscated their material. The wildlife department has also cancelled licences issued to hunters of quails on the orders of the former governor. The issuance of new licences too has been banned. Earlier, the department would issue a licence for Rs2,500 per annum, allowing the licence holders to net or trap as many quails as they can. A wildlife official said each year they would issue 1,000 licences to different people, mostly from political and landlord families.

Pakistan receives a large number of migratory birds from Europe and Central Asian States every year. These birds spend the winters in Pakistan and go back to their native habitats in the summers. The route these birds take from Siberia to Pakistan is known as the International Migratory Birds Route Number 4. It is also called the Green Route or Indus Flyway. Out of the seven flyways, the Indus Flyway is one of the busiest routes.

Birds begin their journey in November. February is the peak time and by March they start flying back. These periods may vary depending upon weather conditions in Siberia and in Pakistan.

The Indus Flyway is important due to the diverse species of birds that take this route: Waterfowls, Cranes, Teals, Pintail, Mallard and Gadwall … the list goes on. Some extinguishing species like White Headed Duck, Houbara Bustard and Siberian Crane also fly on this route for the deserts, sanctuaries, reserves and coastal areas of Pakistan.

According to NGOs working for endangered species, the number of guest birds is decreasing every year. The situation can be improved only by dedicated efforts and mutual collaboration of all concerned.

Source: Daily dawn, 18/9/2008

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