Surviving the Odds

PESHAWAR: Once found in abundance across Buner and the mountains of adjacent Swabi and Mardan, the goral has been hunted to near extinction. It is now found only in small, isolated forests and mountains.

Sultanwas – a small village situated on the road between Pir Baba and Daggar –famous for taking up arms against Taliban under the leadership of head of the Aman Lashkar, Syed Ahmad (alias Fatah Khan), killed in a suicide attack on November 3, 2012. But is also known for its lone mountain, Charimar, which is the last refuges for the goral in Buner.

In 2007, villagers – under the leadership of Fatah Khan – banned the hunting of all kinds of animals in Charimar, as the number of gorals had been reduced to around a few dozen. It was decided that no local nor outsider would be allowed to hunt them anymore so as to save these wild animals from complete extinction.

“Fatah was a very successful, well-travelled businessman. One day, a local farmer brought him a dead goral as a gift, but it shocked him, as he thought these wild animals were the beauty of the area,” said Muhammad Alam, a nephew of Fatah Khan. “He summoned a jirga of village elders and common people, and put a ban on hunting.”

Muhammad Alam recalled how he once shot a goral with his friend, thinking that his uncle would not object. “I was surprised when Fatah called the wildlife department and asked the officials to book me for illegal hunting, presenting the dead animal as proof. After this incident, I gave up hunting forever.”

His assassination in 2012 was a blow for the wildlife and the mountain he loved so much, as he was also keen on protecting the trees and shrubs found in the mountain. “We continue to keep hunters away from the Charimar, but we lack the determination and commitment of the late Fatah Khan,” Alam adds.

“The problem is that you need four hours to check the mountain from all sides in a jeep. Sultanwas village is determined to stop hunting, but there are many villages on the other side of the mountain whose inhibitants see no use of banning the hunting, so we have to use force,” says Alam. Whenever they hear a gun shot fired in the dead of the night, they send armed men towards the mountain to arrest the intruders.

“Unfortunately, we are not representatives of the government and cannot punish those caught hunting illegally in the area, so we have to hand them over to wildlife officials, who fine them nominally.” Alam believes that the government and wildlife department should hire watchmen and equip them to stop the illegal hunting.

Another local, Samad Khan, mentions that the mountain streams were drying up due to the lack of rainfall in the past two years, forcing the wild animals to move down to the villages, where they are even more vulnerable.

“These farmers have dogs who chase these wild goats and sometimes they are killed too. These animals are on the mercy on villagers these days,” he informed, adding that government should play its role in this regard and plant trees in these mountains as well as protect wild animals from poachers and common villagers.

Each winter local farmers push their goats and cattle to the mountain for grazing which means further competition for these wild animals, he said, adding due to this activity gorals are pushed to the peaks of mountains in order to avoid humans.

Nowshera-born Asad Khan said that he has several friends in Buner and frequently visits the area and it was unfortunate that the illegal poaching of goral was prevalent not only in Rustam and Katlang areas of Mardan, but across the entire Buner district.

“Until 2005, leopards were also found in these mountains, but with the decrease in their natural habitat, these animals started killing cattle. This is why local formers were on the forefront of hunting them to extinction,” he said, adding that gorals were hunted too illegally because the Wildlife Department was virtually not existent in these far flung areas.

“One of my friends hunted a deer in Jhelum, but was caught by the wildlife watchers. He was handed down a fine of Rs65,000; and as a result, he has given up hunting forever,” says Asad. “In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there is no check on hunting. When you are caught by chance, you will be fined only a few thousands rupees,” he added.


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