Habitat destruction at Sindh sanctuary threatens Pakistan’s vulnerable marsh crocodiles

A pair of marsh crocodiles rest in captivity at the Information Center at the Deh Akro-II Desert Wildlife Sanctuary in Sindh, Pakistan, on January 29, 2021. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
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Updated 06 February 2021

Habitat destruction at Sindh sanctuary threatens Pakistan’s vulnerable marsh crocodiles

  • International conservationists say 90 percent reduction in marsh crocodile population at Deh Akro wildlife sanctuary in last three decades
  • The sanctuary had 45 wetlands in 1988, now 32 wetlands are left of which only eight are active

SHAHEED BENAZIRABAD, Sindh: Habitat destruction at a sanctuary in the southern province of Sindh is threatening Pakistan’s vulnerable population of mugger, or marsh, crocodiles, officials and environmental experts say, calling on authorities to launch and implement conservation programs and ensure a steady supply of water to wetlands that are key to the survival of the animals. 

Marsh crocodiles are already extinct in Bhutan and Myanmar and have been listed as vulnerable on the Intentional Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List since 1982.

According to the Ramsar Sites Information Service that provides online information on wetlands designated as internationally important under the Ramsar Convention, over the last three decades, there has been a 90 percent reduction in the population of marsh crocodiles at the Deh Akro-II Desert Wetland Complex in Sindh’s Nara Valley, the country’s largest sanctuary for the animal. 




A view of the gateway of the Deh Akro-II Desert Wildlife Sanctuary in Sindh, Pakistan, on January 29, 2021. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

The whole complex, declared a wildlife sanctuary by the Pakistan government in 1988, spreads over 205 square kilometers, according to the Global Nature Fund, and is a unique example of a desert wetland ecosystem that hosts a variety of rare and endangered wildlife species including waterfowl, fish, otters and crocodiles.

The sanctuary wetlands have been traditionally recharged through the seepage of water from the River Indus-fed Nara Canal and rainwater - sources that authorities say are fast vanishing, thereby threatening mugger crocodiles that thrive in lakes, rivers, marshes and artificial ponds. 




A signboard for the Deh Akro-II Desert Wildlife Sanctuary installed near the New Jamrao Canal in Sindh, Pakistan, on January 29, 2021. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

Destruction and degradation of the wetland habitat due to the unsustainable use and over-exploitation of natural resources by local communities and water scarcity are the major threats to the ecological character of the area, according to the Global Nature Fund. 

“When it was declared a wildlife sanctuary, there were around 45 wetlands at Deh Akro-II Desert Wetland Complex,” Riaz Khan Rind, a senior official at the Sindh Wildlife Department, told Arab News. “Today there are 32 wetlands left, out of which only eight are active.” 




Local staff chat at the Information Center of the Sindh Wildlife Department at the Deh Akro-II Desert Wildlife Sanctuary in Sindh, Pakistan, on January 29, 2021. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

“If this trend of the shrinkage of habitat continues, marsh crocodiles at their biggest sanctuary in the country will vanish in the next eight to ten years,” he added. 

Another crocodile species, the gharial, locally known as saiser, had already vanished from Nara Valley, Rind said. 

No official survey of Pakistan's crocodile population has ever been conducted but as per 2013 data from the Intentional Union for Conservation of Nature, there were 600 marsh crocodiles at different locations in Pakistan. The IUCN says though marsh crocodile populations in India and Sri Lanka were stable or recovering, a decline continues in Pakistan, Iran and Nepal. 

A research report published by the department of zoology at the University of Sindh in 2012 said there were 189 marsh crocodiles left at the Deh Akro sanctuary, down from 2,000 two decades ago.  he study said marsh crocodiles became extinct in Pakistan’s Punjab province in 2009 and only a small number were left in the southwestern Balochistan province. In Sindh, they could still be found in Nara Valley, Nosheroferoz, Thatta and Karachi.




A marsh crocodile in captivity at the Information Center at the Deh Akro-II Desert Wildlife Sanctuary in Sindh, Pakistan, on January 29, 2021. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

Rind said water discharge to the Deh Akro wetlands had been reduced due to the construction of a new branch canal at Nara Canal and seepage diverting the Sim Nullah. Illegal agriculture inside the wildlife sanctuary through tube wells had also led to the drying up of the wetlands. 

“Another main reason [for drying] includes agriculture encroachment by private influential parties inside the wildlife sanctuary who use groundwater through tube wells for cultivation,” Rind explained. “This situation leads to reduction in seepage to the wetlands, ultimately shrinking the habitat of crocodiles.”




A marsh crocodile takes a sunbath at the Bolahi Wetland at the Deh Akro-II Desert Wildlife Sanctuary, in Sindh, Pakistan, on January 29, 2021. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

Another problem is that the government had allotted lands in the area to people before it was declared a wildlife sanctuary, which they now irrigate using tube wells. 

Muhammad Baksh Khaskheli, 50, lives on government-allotted land in the Nihal Khan Khaskheli village in the sanctuary. 

“For our agriculture fields we use tube wells as there is no other source of water,” he said. “Almost all wetlands in the area have become dry.”




Muhammad Baksh Khaskheli, a resident of the Nihal Khan Khaskheli village inside the Deh Akro-II Wildlife Sanctuary, poses at the Bolahi Wetland in Sindh, Pakistan, on January 29, 2021. There are many human settlements inside the protected area. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

“There is a need to provide water artificially,” Dr. Zaib-un-Nisa Memon, assistant professor of zoology at the Shah Abdul Latif University in Khairpur, said, adding that nesting sites of the crocodiles needed to be caged. “There is a lack of awareness that leads to destruction of eggs and baby crocodiles by the local population.”


No ‘disagreement,’ IMF ready to work with Pakistan’s restructuring roadmap – finance minister 

Updated 15 June 2021

No ‘disagreement,’ IMF ready to work with Pakistan’s restructuring roadmap – finance minister 

  • Says Pakistan hopes to convince IMF of government plan to reform power sector and broaden tax net 
  • IMF to monitors “steps, innovations” introduced by Pakistan for 2-3 months and reassess, Tarin says 

ISLAMABAD: Just days after Pakistan presented its federal budget for the next fiscal year, Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin denied there was any “disagreement” with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on restructuring targets and austerity measures, adding that a $6 billion loan program from the fund would continue. 

Train on Friday presented what has been called a “pro-growth” and “people-friendly” fiscal budget for 2021-22, with a total outlay of Rs8.4 trillion.

Pakistan is currently in talks with the IMF as part of the sixth review of a 39-month bailout program, which began in 2019. The revenue target has been a key topic and Tarin has said the IMF and the government debated ways to achieve the target, which is 23 percent higher than the current year’s expected collection.

The budget document said one of the main objectives was to pursue the IMF program, even as Pakistan has said it is looking for the easing of some restructuring targets.

“We don’t have a disagreement with the IMF, we want to remain in the IMF program and our destiny is the same,” Tarin said in an interview with a private Pakistani news channel on Monday night. 

The finance minister said the IMF wanted Pakistan to reform its power sector, increase revenue base, eliminate all exemption and increase taxes on personal incomes by Rs150 billion.

“We disagree on this and told them we will broaden [tax base], will use technology and include more taxpayers [in the tax net],” Train said, adding that Pakistan had informed the IMF that it wanted “systematic and sustainable growth” by introducing innovation and technology. 

“[IMF] said they will continue to talk on this with [Pakistan], and the steps, innovations that you [Pakistan] are introducing will be monitored for next two, three months and [IMF will] take it from there,” the finance minister said, adding: “I assure you that it is our aim and the IMF also desires that we will not come out from [the IMF] program. We will come up with some understanding.”

Train said he hoped Pakistan would be able to convince the IMF of the government’s roadmap to reform the power sector and broaden the tax net.
 


Twin orphaned bear cubs given shelter near India-Pakistan border   

Updated 15 June 2021

Twin orphaned bear cubs given shelter near India-Pakistan border   

  • Sharda and Narda were discovered last year by villagers, alone and unable to open their eyes 
  •   Wildlife has also been badly afflicted in one of the world’s most militarized regions

DAWARIAN, Pakistan: Years of hostilities and an electric fence along a de facto border between nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan have taken a toll not just on humans. Wildlife has also been badly afflicted in one of the world’s most militarized regions.
The latest victims of the decades-old conflict are two orphaned Asiatic bear cubs found on the Pakistan side of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

Students and residents play with a pair of Asian black bears, rescued a year ago near the Line of Control (LoC), at the Wildlife and Fisheries department in a Dawarian village in Neelum Valley, Pakistan-administrated Kashmir, June 12, 2021. (REUTERS)

Sharda and Narda were discovered last year by villagers at an altitude of 14,000 feet (4,270 m), alone, and unable to open their eyes, said Muhammad Ashraf, an official with the wildlife and fisheries department in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
“Our guards and volunteers reconnoitred the area for about two months but did not find any trace of the she-bear on our side of the divide,” Ashraf said.
The mother bear may have been killed on the Indian side of the border by a land mine or a shell, he said, with her cubs crawling across to be spotted by the villagers.

A wildlife watcher takes care of one of two Asian black bears, rescued a year ago near the Line of Control (LoC), at the Wildlife and Fisheries department in a Dawarian village in Neelum Valley, Pakistan-administrated Kashmir, June 12, 2021. (REUTERS)

The duo was nursed with bottled milk for two months, then raised on fruit and veggies and gradually introduced to other foods including wheat and maize.
Now they keep busy climbing mulberry and walnut trees on the compound where they are kept, or sometimes onto a tin-roof shelter that houses a hatchery for rainbow trout, drawing a daily audience of both children and adults.
A PICTURESQUE WAR ZONE
This compound is just outside the village of Dawarian, some 66 miles (106 km) northeast of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir. The area’s fast-flowing rivers and streams, waterfalls, glacial lakes and forests make it popular with tourists.

Mohammad Ashraf, assistant game warden, feeds a pair of Asian black bears, rescued a year ago near the Line of Control (LoC), at the Wildlife and Fisheries department in a Dawarian village in Neelum Valley, Pakistan-administrated Kashmir, June 12, 2021. (REUTERS)

Kashmir has been a flashpoint since India and Pakistan gained independence from British rule in 1947, and they have fought two wars over the region. Both countries control parts of Kashmir and claim it in full.
Since 2004 there has been a 12-foot high fence cutting through the area to mark the border. India built the fence and says it is meant to keep militants from crossing.
But it has also made it nearly impossible for wildlife to move freely in their natural habitat.

Wildlife watchers, feed one of two Asian black bears, rescued a year ago near the Line of Control (LoC), at the Wildlife and Fisheries department in a Dawarian village in Neelum Valley, Pakistan-administrated Kashmir, June 12, 2021. (REUTERS)

“The bear cubs are just one example,” said Sardar Javaid Ayub, head of the wildlife and fisheries department on the Pakistan side.
“They were born across the divide and when their mom got killed close to the fence they crossed over through some burrow or eroded portion of land (beneath the fence).”
Ashraf recalls that a few years back department staff spotted a dead black bear in a ravine far from the fence.
One leg had apparently been blown off by a land mine and it had fallen into the ravine and died.
“This is what ... would be happening with many wild animals but we rarely come to know about it,” Asraf said. 


Jranda Kali in Pakistan’s northwest is last village where ancient watermills survive 

Updated 15 June 2021

Jranda Kali in Pakistan’s northwest is last village where ancient watermills survive 

  • By early 20th century, availability of cheap electrical energy made watermills obsolete in developed countries
  • Jranda Kali still has more than a dozen watermills that grind corn, wheat and other grains into flour

PESHAWAR: Traditional watermills, or low-cost grain grinding mills that use hydropower, have disappeared across Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where they were once widely used, researchers and officials have said, with Jranda Kali being the last hamlet in the region where the technology is still operational. 

By the early 20th century, the availability of cheap electrical energy made the watermill obsolete in developed countries but their use has persisted in rural communities around the world, including in Pakistan. In Jranda Kali, a dusty village on the outskirts of the city of Peshawar, more than a dozen traditional watermills, locally known as jrandas, are still used to grind corn, wheat and other grains into flour. 

Wheat grains are being ground at a traditional watermill in Jranda Kali, on the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan, on June 11, 2021. (AN Photo)

Irfan Uddin, a senior research fellow at the FATA Research Center, told Arab News though some watermills survived and were in use in the country’s northern mountainous areas such as Gilgit and Chitral, they were “dying at an accelerated phase” in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where they could only be found now in Jranda Kali.

“This trend is vanishing because of water shortages and the advent of new technology,” the scholar said. “The government needs to facilitate operators and owners of Jranda Kali’s watermills, which are environment-friendly and depict our old traditions.”

Faisal Amin Gandapur, a provincial minister whose portfolio is yet to be notified, called for the need to “save and promote” the watermills at a time when the entire world was turning toward nature-based, clean agricultural solutions. 

“Such technology should be promoted with emphasis on improving their productivity,” Gandapur said. “I think with modern technology, the windmills’ performance can be enhanced and they can become job creators too.”

Jranda operator Sayed Zaffar Ali Shah said he had inherited the technology from his forefathers, adding that people of the region still preferred watermill ground grains over those produced by more advanced machinery. The watermills could also be run 24 hours a day without the requirement of electricity or other fuels, and were less costly for operators. 

A boy collects grounded flour at a traditional watermill in Jranda Kali, on the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan, on June 11, 2021. (AN Photo)

“This is the basic reason that keeps jranda surviving, otherwise they would have vanished long before due to the advent of electricity-powered mills,” Shah, whose family owns 15 watermills, said. Three of his mills had ceased to function, he said, “due to decreasing flow of water.”

Shaukat Afridi, a geologist in Peshawar, said falling groundwater levels due to the large-scale pumping of groundwater by tube-wells, meant less and less water for the mills. 

“One reason for water scarcity is that the water table level is influenced by human extraction of groundwater, using tube wells, and then pumping out water for drinking purpose and irrigation of farmland,” the geologist said. “The water table continues to fall, leaving a negative impact on flow of water. This is one of the reasons for the closure of our traditional watermills.”


Ten killed, 21 injured as rain, thunderstorms lash northwest Pakistan

Updated 15 June 2021

Ten killed, 21 injured as rain, thunderstorms lash northwest Pakistan

  • Pakistan Met Department says Karachi and other parts of Sindh province likely to get more than usual rainfall this monsoon season
  • Every year, many cities in Pakistan struggle to cope with annual monsoon deluge, drawing criticism about poor planning

ISLAMABAD: The Provincial Disaster Management Authority in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa said on Tuesday 10 people had been killed and at least 21 were injured in rains and strong winds that lashed the region since June 11. 
The Pakistan Meteorological Department has also said the port city of Karachi and other parts of the southern Sindh province are likely to receive more than usual rainfall this monsoon season, with the onset of the rainy season expected between June 27 and 30.
“PDMA releases damage reports from rains, strong winds and thunderstorms in last 24 hours,” the authority said on its Twitter page. “Rains, strong winds kill four, injure 12, partially damage 3 houses.” 

The rest of the deaths had occurred in different incidents in the province since June 11, the authority’s latest report showed. 
The director general of the authority has directed the district administration “to expedite the relief operations.”
Every year, many cities in Pakistan struggle to cope with the annual monsoon deluge, drawing criticism about poor planning. The monsoon season runs from July through September.
Last year, record-breaking heavy rain in Karachi in August killed over 100 people and disrupted the lives of many of the city’s more than 15 million residents as water flooded main roads and homes.
The city received its largest-ever-recorded rainfall total in a single day on August 24, when 230 mm (9 inches) of rain fall in just 12 hours, according to the Pakistan Meteorology Department.
Over the month, Karachi received 484 mm (19 inches) of rain, the highest total in at least 90 years.
After the havoc last year — with main roads submerged, sewage spewing from manholes and into homes, and power cuts lasting for hours — Prime Minister Imran Khan tasked the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) with sorting out the city’s drains.
The winds that drive Pakistan’s annual monsoon, which arrives from the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, appear to be altering as a result of climate change, which could push more rainfall to Karachi — and less to key agricultural regions, climate scientists have said.


Canadian man accused of murdering Pakistan-origin Muslim family members to face terror charges

Updated 15 June 2021

Canadian man accused of murdering Pakistan-origin Muslim family members to face terror charges

  • Provincial and federal prosecutors provided their consent to commence terrorism proceedings against Nathaniel Veltman
  • Canadian Deputy PM says “important for us identify terrible threat white supremacism poses to Canada and Canadians“

London, Ontario: A Canadian man who is accused of deliberately running over five members of a Pakistan-origin Muslim family with his truck, killing four of them, now faces terrorism charges in addition to counts of first-degree murderand attempted murder, prosecutors said on Monday.

Nathaniel Veltman, 20, was arrested shortly after the June 6 attack in a parking lot in London, Ontario, a short distance from the city’s oldest mosque. He was wearing what appeared to be body armor and a helmet at the time, police said.

Due to a publication ban, details from a hearing in which Veltman appeared by Zoom on Monday from jail cannot be revealed. Veltman has not yet retained a lawyer.

However, provincial and federal prosecutors provided their consent to commence terrorism proceedings against him, alleging that the killings of Salman Afzaal, his wife, their daughter and Afzaal’s mother, and attempted killing of the couple’s son constituted terrorist activity, according to a statement from police in London, a city west of Toronto.

The 9-year-old boy — the sole survivor of the attack — was released from the hospital on Monday, the London Free Press reported, citing a family friend.

Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland reacted to the new charges afterward, saying: “It is really important for us to name it as an act of terror ... and it is important for us identify the terrible threat that white supremacism poses to Canada and to Canadians.”

The five members of the Afzaal family were out for an evening walk near their home when they were run over on the sidewalk.

It was the worst attack against Canadian Muslims since a man gunned down six members of a Quebec City mosque in 2017.

So far, few details have emerged that would shed light on why police say the attack was a pre-meditated, hate-motivated crime. Veltman is due in court again on June 21.