Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pakistan: Spotting of leopard shows signs of wildlife on Margalla Hills

Thursday, November 12, 2009
By Noor Aftab

The sudden appearance of a leopard on Trail-III a few days ago might have scared the trekkers present there, but it identified a positive fact that wildlife is still intact on Margalla Hills despite large-scale human activity.

According to data provided by the Margallah Hills Society, a premier security agency acquired land some 20 years ago in the scenic valley, a place where the leopard was seen by the trekkers. Common people were not permitted to enter that area for obvious reasons. So due to nominal human activity, the flora and fauna flourished at a faster pace, resulting in the growth of a thick forest in the area.

The data stated that the valley was home to wildlife, especially leopards that are also called big cats, but after the establishment of the capital city, consistent human activity forced the wild animals to leave the area.

“The valley is their (leopards) home and they were forced out of their habitat due to man-driven destruction of the natural ecological settings. Now when the thick forest and bushes have grown again, the wild animals have started coming back to their natural habitat,” Margallah Hills Society President Roedad Khan told ‘The News’.

The documents provided by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) state that the civic had signed an MoU with the Himalayan Wildlife Foundation (HWF) and BHP Petroleum for a project worth Rs18 million at Darra Jangla. The project was aimed at environmental management and development of visitor facilities to encourage the experience and education of nature at the Margalla Hills National Park.

In order to achieve the project objectives, the activities proposed included development of visitor infrastructure, restoration of natural vegetation and landscape, development of park management system, preparation of information and educational materials and packages, and protection, environmental management and operation of services for the visitors.

Roedad Khan said Darra Jangla is one of the most beautiful valleys in the Margalla Hills and was once a natural habitat of leopards and other wild creatures. “Leopards used to descend in winters to hunt monkeys that are still found in abundance, as they can get themselves accustomed to human activity,” he said while pointing towards the increased wildlife activity in the area some four decades ago.

“I personally saw a half-eaten deer in the bushes in Darra Jangla that clearly showed that the leopards had hunted it and saved the meat for another day. But after the man-driven destruction of the thick forest and the ecological settings, it was believed that the big cats had left the area for some other destination,” he said.

He said permission for stone crushing is a real disaster that has caused irreparable loss to biodiversity and ecozones in Margalla Hills, adding that after a long struggle, the destructive activity has been stopped everywhere else except for the Nicholson Monument where Fecto Cement is still engaged in this activity.

President Asif Ali Zardari’s directives, issued on June 28, to enquire into a media report regarding damages to the natural ecological settings of Margalla Hills was quite an encouraging step after which the top-level management took notice of the grave threats faced by the unmatched natural beauty of the area.

CDA Director General (Environment) Dr Salman Shaikh told ‘The News’ that the hectic efforts by the civic body in coordination with private sector organisations to preserve wildlife have started showing positive results.

“We took up the case of stone crushing very seriously and put in our best efforts to bring an end to this practice. Now it is only being done near the Nicholson Monument, which we cannot forcefully stop due to some legal compulsions,” he said.

He said the wildlife has flourished speedily in the recent past, as the thick cover of trees and bushes provide a natural habitat to the wild creatures, saying, “The deployment of security guards and proper monitoring at various points has helped reduce human activity and tree-cutting in the National Park area that paved the way for the unprecedented growth of the thick forest cover.”


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