Gilgit: On 13th February 2012 local community members of the Doyan valley in Astore District of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan spotted a group of four snow leopards near their village. Astonishingly the shy cats remained at the same location till 14th February, and the community members Mr. Naseer ur Rehman and others informed Gilgit-Baltistan Wildlife Department about the sighting and continued show up of the animals. Upon the advice of Mr. Willayat Noor, Conservator Parks and Wildlife Gilgit-Baltistan and Mr. Aftab Mehmood, Divisional Forest Officer Wildlife Gilgit-Baltistan, the community members ventured to photograph the illusive felids. On 14th February, Mr. Naseer of Doyan Community and Mr. Farooq, Game Inspector of the Gilgit-Baltistan Wildlife Department were able to take some pictures and videos of the cats. According to Mr. Naseer, they were about 100 meters away from the cats on the other side of Astore river, while looking at them and taking photographs.
Human encounter with snow leopard in the rugged mountainous area of Gilgit-Baltistan and the neighborhood has been fascinatingly expressed by wildlife enthusiasts, biologists, government officials and local community members. The incidences have been quite often reported for the last couple of years when the local communities in Gilgit-Baltistan had proactively started wildlife watch and ward activities in their respective valleys.
Doyan valley is one of the twenty-four Community Managed Conservation Areas (CMCAs) notified by the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan as part of the community-based conservation efforts in the region. The conservation programme in Doyan valley was started in late 1990s and in 2004 local communities formed a community-based organization namely Doyan Valley Conservation and Development Organization (DVCDO). The valley was notified as CMCA in 2004 and first permit for trophy hunting of Astore Markhor (Capra falconeri falconeri) was granted in 2008-2009. Remembering the venture of the first trophy hunt in his village Mr. Naseer recounts that “a British hunter namely Malkom King came to our village during the winters of 2009 and prior to his hunt the trophy size animal was hunted by a snow leopard, we were deprived of USD 36000 but we never thought of taking revenge from the cat”. Mr. Naseer proudly added that “we kept our efforts continued in conserving wildlife species in the village and the same hunter came again in 2010 and succeeded in hunting a big Markhor (41” horn size), for which the community got Pak Rupees 3.1 million. Now every one of us in the village is a guardian of wildlife, therefore, not only the Markhor, but we are also taking care of snow leopards”.
Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) is bestowed with exceptional natural areas comprising of lofty peaks, enormous glaciers, alpine meadows, gushing rivers and streams, high altitude lakes, stunning landscapes and beautiful patches of old alpine forests. All these features together constitute an astonishing but fragile mountain ecosystem, providing basic livelihoods to its inhabitants such as food, fiber, shelter, medicine, etc. Simultaneously these mountain ecosystems are sheltering a magnitude of rare and endangered species of flora and fauna. To name a few are animals such as Snow leopard, Astore markhor, Himalayan ibex, Musk deer, Brown and Black bear, Woolly flying squirrel, Tibetan grey wolf, Red fox, Himalayan lynx and numerous species of birds including Ram chakor, chakor, snow partridge, golden eagle, Himalayan griffin, etc. Similarly the rivers, streams and high altitude lakes are splendid with aquatic life dominated by the famous trout fish, Eurasian otter and migratory waterfowl frequenting at certain places.
Keeping in view the extraordinary natural wealth of the mountainous areas, the Government of Gilgit Baltistan has brought certain ecologically rich areas under the net of protected areas by notifying five national parks, three wildlife sanctuaries, seven game reserves and twenty-four community-managed conservation areas, covering some 30,000 km2 , almost half of the total land area of GB. These protected areas aim to conserve species of special concern and their habitats while linking the conservation benefits with the livelihoods of local communities side by side generating avenues of income for the provincial and national economies.
Initiated from a pilot project in Bar valley of Hunza-Nagar District, some 20 years back by WWF Pakistan and the GB Wildlife Department, the community based conservation programme has now been a widespread environmental movement in Gilgit-Baltistan.