Wildlife trade has been rampant in Pakistan for decades. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), wildlife crime is the third largest source of illegal trade after drugs and human trafficking that has destroyed socio-economic development on a global scale, creating long term devastation on our eco-system and bio diversity with an estimated impact of over USD 20 million worldwide. Pakistan is putting in a lot of efforts to boost its image as a future tourism hub of Asia. Yet, it is unable to address the growing threat of wildlife crime through illegal trade and poaching of its precious animals.
Globally, tourists pay heavily to go and see the wildlife culture, some settling for safari in Africa while some go and visit India and Thailand to visit and explore tiger sanctuaries. While in Pakistan, high volumes of unchecked trade and poaching of animals is a serious threat to its tourism.
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Poaching has been identified as the ‘primary’ cause of extinction for some of the species like the snow leopard in the Karakoram mountains in the North of Pakistan to the African black rhino in West Africa. Other species like tigers are killed to smuggle tiger skins while elephants are butchered or poisoned to death due to a high demand in the black market for elephant tusks. Around one third species of birds are also traded illegally, along with various species of reptiles and mammals, reducing animal populations across continents.
Illegal wildlife trade
Over 164,000 incident reports were filed on illegal trade of about 7000 species in over 20 countries, according to a UNODC report in 1999. The International Fund for Animal Welfare Report (IFAW) report in 2013 also established a clear and dangerous link between rising illegal wildlife trade to organized crime syndicates and growing security implications where thieves and dacoits are employed to boost trade and smuggling of precious wildlife resources of the country.
Together, as a collective national initiative by the government and the people, we can make sure that our jungles, forests, rivers and oceans stay clean, populated and thriving
Being an illegal activity, organized wildlife crime has spread across the country with ‘under the radar’ poaching on the rise. The scale of this activity was first analyzed by WWF in the province of Sind as one of the first-assessments of wildlife trafficking, involving reptiles and mammals followed by an environmental assessment in 2005, in the freshwater turtle trade. UNDP further assisted by identifying illegal reptile trade in pockets of Baluchistan, in the Chaghai desert, spreading across to Dera Ismail Khan and Nowshera in KPK province.
Illegal wildlife trade through local websites has risen rapidly with Punjab taking the largest share followed by Sind Province, Baluchistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and GB province, with major cities including Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi.
A survey of over 54 pages on Facebook was found to have been created to facilitate illegal trade of wildlife species with mammals accounting for over 40% of the total followed by over 39% birds and 19% reptiles.
Provincial wildlife departments must collaborate with Pakistan customs, researchers, consultants, think-tanks and related organizations to enact regulations that monitor trade
They were being run by wildlife traders disguised as domestic pet traders. Mammal species recorded as endangered (EN) include leopard cat, Indian palm civet, pallas cat, chinkara, hog deer, grey langur, Asiatic jackal , rhesus monkey, common leopard, black bear and Indian pangolin ( known to have been the carrier of COVID-19 virus ).
The skin of these animals is sold at exuberant rates in the wholesale market. For example, common leopard skin was recorded at a sale of approximately over 200,000 PKR (USD 2,000), African lion for over 70,000 PKR (USD 700) and the snow leopard’s for about 50,000 PKR (USD 500), for single fur trimming alone. Some of these species are in demand as their extracts bring health benefits in forms of oil remedies and medicines that cure many ailments. Oils containing fat or bile extracts, (fresh and dried meat) and bones are primarily used in traditional medicine.
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Animals and reptiles including black bear, leopard, black scorpion, pelican, Asiatic lion, tiger and spiny-tailored lizard are skinned, known to possess aphrodisiac properties that can cure fever, muscular and joint pain and other diseases.
What needs to be done
Going forward, we need solutions to eradicate illegal wildlife trade which will help us actively revive our wildlife and tourism options for the local and international visitors to Pakistan wildlife spots across the country.
To begin with, we need immediate measures to salvage Ayubia national park which is being infected by pollution, immediate measures by the wildlife department must be seen by recruiting a robust team, including forest officers, security personnel and educated ‘tour guides’ with expertise in communications and forest management to guide and educated regular visitors on the environmental hazards. Fines must be imposed on people violating SOPs. This will automatically curb down illegal entry of poachers and dacoits into these boundaries.
Secondly, we need to develop a data-base that compiles exact number estimates on illegal wildlife consignments seized, with names, quantity and locations. Support must be taken through employing a “wildlife rangers team” . This team will help identify and map pockets within the country where mafias can be tracked and arrested.
Provincial wildlife departments must collaborate with Pakistan customs, researchers, consultants, think-tanks and related organizations to enact regulations that monitor trade on a local level and identify animal market zones so that only legitimate medicines are made available for the general public in medical stores and pharmacies.
The above action will help law enforcement agencies determine target strategies that prohibit wildlife poaching and smuggling from within their natural habitats.
This must also be marked as a part of the Prime Minister’s initiative on tourism and wildlife preservation. Citizen journalism should be further promoted as plan B through awareness campaigns on television and social media.
This will generally discourage public to purchase wildlife products, and even prohibit buying wildlife, under rules applied by the government while promoting citizens to openly report violations made by repeat offenders. The results can then be submitted to the MOCC-Ministry of Climate Change in collaboration with Ministry of Information and PTA.
Together, as a collective national initiative by the government and the people, we can make sure that our jungles, forests, rivers and oceans stay clean, populated and thriving, apart from helping the nation develop its popular tourist-driven agenda for the next millennium.
The author is an environmentalist & change maker, with over 20 years of expertise in Media, Education and Banking sectors. He is the founder and director of Children Nature Network Asia, a leading advocacy and training initiative operating across Asia. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.