The wild side of Islamabad

isbwildsideMyra Imran
For people, Margalla Hills is not only an excellent place for hiking but also provides an opportunity to watch rich and diverse flora and fauna of two important bio-ecological regions.

Those who prefer to hike before rush hours or early in the morning come across a wide range of animals and birds that are no doubt a treat to watch out in the wild. Hikers often report having spotted snakes on the winding track, monkeys, colourful lizards and a variety of birds.

Ask any regular hiker and she would tell you that it is not the physical activity that makes them come here but it’s the serene environment, fresh air and the chirping of birds that attracts them. “Being close to nature is a great feeling which makes me come here every day,” said Sabiha Arshad, who is a Trail III regular.

Located north of Islamabad, these hills represent a contract zone between two important bio-ecological regions, the great Indo Himalayan ecosystem and the arid Irano-Saharan ecosystem and thus present a unique overlap of two natural habitats.

The Margallah Hills range offers excellent opportunities for short and long hikes with magnificent vistas opening up on all sides. The authorities have developed and marked a network of trails with more than 120km length. Among these trails, Trail III remains the most popular one among both the serious hikers and the occasional enthusiasts.

Not many people are aware of the fact that Margalla Hills is home to around 30 mammals, 238 bird species and 13 different reptiles and many species of invertebrates and butterflies. Animals and reptiles are occasionally seen while birds are a common sight for hikers.

Raja Muhammad Javed, director of the Zoo and Wildlife Management at Capital Development Authority, told ‘The News’ that the birds were a real attraction for visitors to the hills. He said that some exotic forms of birds people come across on the Margallas include White Crested Kalij Pheasant, Spotted Dove, Red-vented Bulbul, Grey Wagtail, Goshawk, Hoopoe, Black Drango, Magpie Robin, Little Brown Dove, Small Skylark, Little Green Bee-eater, Golden-backed Woodpecker, Tree-pie, Rufous-backed Shrike, Pied Bush-chat, White-cheeked Bulbul and Paradise Fly Catcher.

On the other hand, among the commonly found animals are the Rhesus monkeys, jackals, wild boars, porcupines, mongoose, pangolin or scaly anteater, barking deer and jungle cat.

The boars in particular can be seen at some of the least expected places in the city. While they generally stay close to the hills, occasionally, particularly in winter when the hills are cold, they can be seen quite far from the Margallas.

The increasing practice of throwing litter near the hills also attracts both monkeys and wild boars to come and forage through the rubbish. The boars can be quite large, very solidly built and usually travel in large groups.

There is another group of animals that deserves mention. These are a number of known species of poisonous snakes in the area including Cobra, Russell’s Viper and the Krait — known in local parlance as the half-minute killer.

The snakes hibernate in the winter months but tread carefully in the summer and particularly the monsoon months. While they are to be found mainly in and around the hills, occasionally an overgrown garden is an ideal home.

Another creature that is worth mentioning here and is occasionally witnessed by the hikers is Monitor Lizard. These are generally large reptiles, although some can be as small as 12 centimetres in length. They have long necks, powerful tails and claws, and well-developed limbs.

Environmentalists believe that increased human activities and expanding urban areas are depriving these animals and birds of their natural habitat in the Margallas forcing them to migrate elsewhere. Despite these changes, the treks around Margalla Hills still offer so much to learn and watch about the flora and fauna of the area. The News, 2/5/2009


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