ISLAMABAD (ET): The spectacular mountain ranges in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) are home to several endangered species of carnivores that are rarely documented. However, a venture in G-B and Chitral is trying to boost conservation efforts in the country by collecting crucial information on the animals.
The Carnivore Guild Ecology Project (CGEP) has been undertaken by the Animal Sciences department at Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU), the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and the Snow Leopard Foundation Pakistan (SLFP), with funding from the Research Council of Norway. Using non-invasive methods such as “camera trapping” and genetic sampling in G-B’s national parks, the project is trying to ascertain the basic ecology of the carnivores, explained Dr Muhammad Ali Nawaz, a QAU professor involved with the project.
“There is little to no information on Pakistan’s wildlife,” said Nawaz. He emphasised that without substantial data, they cannot design conservation methods for the threatened species. CGEP researchers are trying to figure out the population, spatial distributions and genetic diversity of carnivore species. They are also observing how species interact with one another and with human communities.
In 2012, the team set up 116 “automatic wildlife cameras” around the Deosai National Park (DNP) in G-B. Nawaz said the cameras are equipped with an infrared motion sensor that captures photos during the day and nighttime as well. The cameras took 10,000 wildlife photographs of various species in the park.
Similarly, in 2011 the CGEP team used 121 camera traps in the Khunjerab National Park, also in G-B, to take 6,500 photos of wildlife over a period of 52 days with a focus on four species: snow leopard, red fox, Siberian ibex and Cape hare.
This information has provided CGEP researchers the data to evaluate habitat characteristics, and come up with population estimates, said Nawaz. Some of the photographs have also revealed information that challenges conventional understanding of animal life in Pakistan, revealed Nawaz.
The species being monitored through infrared cameras include the (clockwise) snow leopard, red fox, grey wolf and Siberian ibex. He said the Kashmir flying squirrel, earlier believed to be a forest species, was discovered in a forest-less area with bushes and rocks in G-B. The Pallas’s cat, previously undiscovered, was also found in Ghizer and wild cats, not believed to exist in the north, were seen in the Yarkhon valley, north of Chitral.
The project is currently in its third and last year, but Nawaz said there are some follow-up research projects that are in the pipeline. The cameras are in place at the Yarkhon Valley, he added.
SLFP member Jaffarud Din said this project was important because even though Pakistan has ratified conventions and treaties related to biodiversity and endangered animals, there was very little wildlife research and conservation work in the country. “Wildlife protection is not a priority and there is a lack of expertise in the area of animal conservation.”
To overcome a lack of expertise, capacity-building training of park rangers was conducted. Senior students of QAU also participated in the fieldwork of the project to gain experience.