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.”


PM Khan performs Umrah, meets OIC Secretary General

Updated 09 May 2021

PM Khan performs Umrah, meets OIC Secretary General

  • Khan also visited and prayed at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah
  • Khan arrived in the Kingdom on Friday at the invitation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is on a three-day official tour of Saudi Arabia, performed the Umrah pilgrimage in Makkah on Sunday after which he met the Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), according to the PM office.

 

 

He is soon scheduled to address the Pakistani community at a ceremony regarding Roshan Digital Account in Jeddah.
Khan performed Umrah alongside his wife, Bushra Bibi, and was received by a number of officials of the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques and the special force for the security of the Grand Mosque in Makkah.

 

 

Khan arrived in the Kingdom on Friday alongside high ranking Pakistani officials at the invitation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the two leaders held wide ranging bilateral and delegation level talks on Saturday in Jeddah.
Earlier on Sunday, Khan left Madinah headed for Jeddah, after he visited the Prophet’s Mosque and performed prayers there.
He was seen off from Prince Mohammad bin Abdulaziz International Airport in Madinah by a number of senior, civilian and military officials.


Pakistan's Kamyab Jawan invests in youth, regardless of gender

Updated 09 May 2021

Pakistan's Kamyab Jawan invests in youth, regardless of gender

  • PM's aide says Kamyab Jawan aims to support youth, especially from marginalized communities, by creating employment opportunities
  • Pakistan has the world's youngest population, with 68 percent of its residents being below the age of 30

RAWALPINDI: In its most recent project, the government's program focused on empowering youth, has invested in a tailoring shop of a transwoman fashion designer — a move activists welcome as a great step toward social inclusion and equality.

Pakistan has the world's youngest population, with 68 percent of its residents being below the age of 30.

The government’s Kamyab Jawan program aims to invest in Pakistan’s youth by creating employment opportunities. It has so far supported 10,000 young businesses with Rs8.5 billion, according to the prime minister's special assistant on youth affairs, Usman Dar.

As he shared a video narrating Naz's struggle in the face of social ostracism against the trans community, Dar said in a tweet on Sunday that the government is especially "working for the empowerment of marginalised strata of society."

To run her business, Naz Boutique, the Lahore-based designer received Rs1 million from the program.

“I as a transgender person want to transform people’s mindsets,” Naz said in the video, “we can do more than just dance or be involved in negative communities.”

“When I saw that the prime minister has launched this scheme, I felt optimistic ... When programs like this come about, there are always only two columns, one for men, one for women, but this time the third gender was there, and I really appreciate the initiative."

Nayyab Ali, a transgender politician and activist, told Arab News the program is a "great step towards financial inclusion of vulnerable communities in Pakistan," as employment exclusion, which deprives people of opportunities in social and economic activities, is the worst form of inequality.

"Being a community representative, I appreciate this step, it should be extended at a larger scale," Ali said. "Socioeconomic issues are the leading cause that pushes the transgender community towards the extreme level of marginalization within society and creates barriers in their joining mainstream society."

"Pakistan must collectively work towards inclusion through participation, social acceptability, and policy reforms to ensure and enforce the rights of all individuals and Kamyab Jawan in righty working in this direction."


Pakistan’s largest COVID-19 vaccination center opens in Karachi

Updated 09 May 2021

Pakistan’s largest COVID-19 vaccination center opens in Karachi

  • The center has a capacity for between 25,000- 30,000 people
  • CanSino, AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccines will be administered at the center

KARACHI: Pakistan’s largest vaccination space opened on Sunday at the Karachi Expo Center in southern Sindh province, which holds the capacity to tend to between 25,000-30,000 people daily and will be open 24 hours a day.
Pakistan has announced that it will open vaccinations for all age groups after the Eid holidays.
Sindh Health Minister, Dr. Azra Pechuho, inaugurated the mass vaccination center and said that starting May 16th, all individuals above the age of 18 would be able to get vaccinated in the province.
Currently, only people above 40 years are eligible to get registered for the vaccination through a government portal.

Health workers at the inauguration of mega vaccination center at Karachi expo center on Sunday, May 9, 2021. (Photo courtesy: Sindh Health Department)

A hundred cubicles have been established in hall no.4 of the mega center, in line with standard operating procedures (SOP’s), and a workforce of around 500 medical professionals and volunteers will be offering their services at the center. 
The provincial health minister also said the center would be offering CanSino, AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccines.
Pakistan has so far received 10.19 million doses of different vaccines from China-- Sinopharm, Sinovac and CanSino-- while 1.23 million doses of British vaccine Astrazenca procured through the COVAX program were received on Saturday, according to official data.
Currently, Pakistan is battling a third wave of COVID-19, and on Sunday reported 3,785 new infections and 118 deaths.


Pakistan's top leadership condemns Israeli 'apartheid' against Palestinians

Updated 09 May 2021

Pakistan's top leadership condemns Israeli 'apartheid' against Palestinians

  • ‘Violation of norms of humanity and law,’ says PM Khan
  • Israeli police opened fire on Palestinians protesting evictions from their homes in East Jerusalem

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Prime Minister and President on Sunday condemned Israeli attacks on Palestinian worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque-- with President Alvi terming the attacks an 'apartheid'-- in the wake of ongoing protests against forced evictions of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem.
At least 90 Palestinians were injured by Israeli police on Saturday in a crackdown on protesters in the Old City of Jerusalem, as tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers prayed at nearby Al-Aqsa Mosque.  
A day earlier, over 200 protesters were injured when Israeli security forces fired tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades on Palestinians who opposed being forced out of their homes claimed by Jewish settlers.
"It is a shame that Israeli apartheid against Palestinians continues. Atrocious attack on peaceful praying Muslims is given the usual media spin of 'clashes,'" President Arif Alvi said on Twitter.
"My brothers don't lose hope," he added. "Time is near when International Politics will be based on morality & not on vested interests."

 

 

Prime Minister Imran Khan in a separate tweet also strongly condemned the Israeli forces attack and said it was in violation of “all norms of humanity & int [international] law.”
“We reiterate support for Palestinian ppl. Intl community must take immed action to protect Palestinians & their legitimate rights,” PM Khan tweeted.

 

 

Other top Pakistani leaders have also condemned the crackdown by Israeli ‘occupation forces.’
"Condemn in strongest terms the attack on innocent worshippers in Al-Aqsa Mosque, first Qibla of Islam, by Israeli Occupation Forces in the holy month of Ramzan. Such brutality is against very spirit of humanity & human rights law," Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said in a tweet, as he expressed Pakistan's "steadfast support" of the Palestinian cause.
Religious Affairs Minister Noor-ul-Haq Qadri said in a statement that Israeli shelling on unarmed Palestinians at Al-Aqsa Mosque is the "worst act of terrorism and inhumanity."
The Pakistani opposition echoed the government's condemnation.
Top opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif questioned the role of the willingness of the international community in stopping the "worst human rights abuses" that are taking place in Palestine.
"There is no one to put stop to Israel's desire for occupation of more Palestinian lands,” he said on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Pakistani and Saudi leadership reaffirmed full support for the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.
In a joint statement issued on late Saturday, during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Saudi Arabia, the two countries expressed their "full support for all the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, especially, their right to self-determination and establishment of their independent state with pre-1967 borders.”
They also recognized East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine "in accordance with the Arab Peace Initiative and relevant UN resolutions.”


'You will be turned back:' No tourism allowed, warns Pakistani minister 

Updated 09 May 2021

'You will be turned back:' No tourism allowed, warns Pakistani minister 

  • Pakistan is battling a third wave of COVID-19
  • Earlier this month, Pakistan announced a new set of restrictions, including closure of all tourist resorts during Eid holidays

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s planning minister Asad Umar on Sunday warned people not to go to tourist areas within the country during the Eid holidays, and said anyone who tried ‘will be turned back.’
In a tweet, Umar, who also heads a federal body overseeing Pakistan's pandemic response, said:
“In NCOC meeting today, chief secretaries from federating units which have popular tourist destinations, requested to remind everyone that tourist areas are closed from 8th to 16th, so please do not come, or you will be turned back.”

 

 

In the middle of a third wave of COVID-19, Pakistan announced a new set of restrictions earlier this month which includes the closure of all tourist resorts from May 8 to 16.
Every year in the Eid holidays, Pakistanis from southern regions throng to the northern areas and hill stations of the country to enjoy the good weather.Meanwhile, President Arif Alvi urged Pakistanis to follow the standard operating procedures (SOP’s) set up by the government to control the virus spread and to stop the third wave of COVID-19 from getting worse.
“Don't let your guard down. Strictly follow SOP’s, in Ramadan/Eid & all Smart Lockdown Policies,” the President’s tweet read.

 

 

The South Asian country of over 220 million people reported 118 deaths and 3,785 new confirmed cases over the last 24 hours on Sunday. Since the start of the pandemic in February last year, Pakistan has reported 18,915 deaths from COVID-19 among 858,026 confirmed cases.
In neighboring India, a record number of daily cases have been reported in the last month as the healthcare infrastructure in some Indian cities has completely collapsed, according to reports.