Poaching, migration or climate change: The case of Chitral’s missing markhors 

The nearly threatened Kashmir markhor, a large goat species native to Kashmir and northern Pakistan, is seen at Chitral Gol National Park (CGNP) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, on February 8, 2020. (Photo courtesy: Chitral Gol National Park)
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Updated 18 November 2021

Poaching, migration or climate change: The case of Chitral’s missing markhors 

  • Local community members say there are less than a thousand markhors left in Chitral Gol National Park 
  • Government points to Pak-Afghan border fencing as hurdle in markhor counting; population survey planned for December

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s national animal, a majestic horned mountain goat called the markhor has been going missing in a major national park in the country’s northwestern region in huge numbers over the past two years, according to wildlife activists working at the park.
In 1984, Pakistan established the Chitral Gol National Park (CGNP) spread over 77 sq. km in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to provide shelter to endangered animals, especially markhor. The sanctuary is also home to snow leopards, ibex, Himalayan lynx and other vulnerable species.
By the government’s count, between 2019-2020, the numbers of markhor at the park fell to 2,000. This year, the CGNP Association which is run by the local community in Chitral and comprises community watchers, says less than 1,000 markhors remain, pointing to poaching as the primary problem.
This would signal a more than 1,000 figure drop in markhor numbers in less than two years. Arab News could not independently verify this information.
“The government in its own report admitted the population has decreased from 2,865 in 2019 to 2,000 in 2020, which is a significant reduction. But according to our community report, it has reduced to below 1,000,” CGNP Association Chairman Saleemuddin told Arab News.

This image shows Kashmir markhor, a large goat species native to Kashmir and northern Pakistan, is pictured at Chitral Gol National Park (CGNP) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, on June 24, 2021. (Photo courtesy: @ZahranCR/Twitter)

“The ministry of climate change has stopped releasing the federal government endowment funds that were used to pay salaries to community watchers, resulting in poaching which has caused a massive decline in markhor population at the park,” he said.
In 2000, to protect the reserve from poachers, the park recruited wildlife ‘watchers’ from local communities. In 2019, the markhor population boomed according to the KP wildlife department.
Now, members of local communities point to poaching in the absence of unpaid community watchers as the key factor behind the massive drop in markhor numbers. These community watchers used to work under government-hired wildlife wardens to protect the endangered large goats from poachers.
The government doesn’t think poaching is the problem, and points to border fencing along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border as a hurdle in counting markhors in the reserve.
“The border fencing has caused a restriction in free movement which affects the counting,” Malik Amin Aslam, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s adviser on climate change, told Arab News.
“The markhor used to migrate to Nooristan province in Afghanistan across the Durand Line during summer. Due to fencing along the border, the movement is restricted, which has led to stopping the annual return of markhor to the CGNP.”
The CGNP is one of the prime areas for markhor preservation alongside other national parks in GB, Aslam said, and said he hoped this would remain the case through community-based efforts for protection of the endangered species.
“It is part of the PM’s Protected Area Initiative (PAI) and I have myself visited the sanctuary last year,” Aslam said. “It’s a unique habitat with very dedicated wildlife watchers and thus allows confirmed viewing of markhors for visitors.”
Aslam said predatory kills of the large goat had drastically reduced from 80 hunts in 2016 to only four in 2020.

This image shows Kashmir markhor, a large goat species native to Kashmir and northern Pakistan in Chitral Gol National Park (CGNP) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, shared on Aug 14, 2021 on social image. (Photo courtesy: @ZahranCR/Twitter)

The Pakistani climate change ministry will start a markhor population survey after the first heavy snowfall around mid-December, when the animals are restricted to lower elevations, he added.
“The total numbers are almost the same but will be verified again in December.”
The markhor is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List as “threatened” since 2015.
There is a third theory. A senior KP wildlife department official told Arab News it is climate change causing the decreased markhor population in CGNP, and added that the large goat simply didn’t descend to lower elevations because of rising temperatures.
“If there is no high snowfall then these animals do not move down and just remain in high pastures, which is one of the reasons for the reduction in their count,” Sarmad Hussain Shah, the KP wildlife department’s divisional officer, told Arab News.
CNGP’s Saleemuddin however, doesn’t think migration or climate change is causing the drop in numbers.
 “If it [drop in markhor population] was due to migration, it would have also affected the ibex population, but park authorities have shown an increase in ibex numbers during this period.”
He said authorities had allowed trophy hunting in other parts of Chitral but not in CGNP, which had reduced community involvement in protecting the markhor against illegal hunting.
The KP wildlife department last week auctioned a permit for trophy hunting of a markhor in Chitral’s Toshi-I game reserve for a record fee of $160,250. 
As per the rules, 80 percent of the hunting fee goes to the local community for their welfare and conservation of local animal species, while the remaining 20 percent is deposited in the national exchequer.
The markhor count survey slated for December will be a starting point to answering some questions about the missing markhors of CNGP, and will involve local communities, IUCN, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and other research organizations to get authentic data for this year.

Fast bowler Haris Rauf ruled out of PSL after dislocating shoulder

Updated 25 February 2024

Fast bowler Haris Rauf ruled out of PSL after dislocating shoulder

  • Haris Rauf fell awkwardly on his shoulder during Karachi-Lahore match on Saturday
  • Doctors have advised Rauf to rest for 4-6 weeks to recover from injury, says Lahore Qalandars 

LAHORE: Fast bowler Haris Rauf has been ruled out of the remainder of the Pakistan Super League after dislocating his shoulder during two-time defending champion Lahore Qalandars’ two-wicket loss against Karachi Kings on Saturday.

The franchise said in a statement on Sunday that doctors have advised Rauf to rest for 4-6 weeks to recover from the injury after undergoing scans.

Rauf fell awkwardly on his shoulder in the last over while holding onto a stunning catch of Hasan Ali during Karachi’s thrilling run-chase as Lahore lost its fourth successive game in Pakistan’s premier domestic Twenty20 event.

Rauf struggled in the first three games but bounced back against Karachi with economical figures of 1-22 off his four overs.

“We are deeply saddened by Haris Rauf’s injury,” Lahore captain Shaheen Shah Afridi said. “It was painful to see him missing out … and his absence will be felt.”

Rauf’s injury is the second major bowling setback for Lahore after its premier spinner Rashid Khan of Afghanistan was ruled out before the tournament due to a back injury.

Pakistan approves mergers of leading Saudi company with stakes in its steel sector

Updated 25 February 2024

Pakistan approves mergers of leading Saudi company with stakes in its steel sector

  • M/s Saudi Iron and Steel Company (Hadeed) deals in spot sales in Pakistan’s steel market, exports to South Asian country
  • Three mergers are not anticipated to raise competition concerns in the relevant market, says competition commission

ISLAMABAD: The Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) this week approved three mergers concerning a leading Saudi company that has a significant presence in Pakistan’s steel market, the regulatory body said. 

Based in the kingdom, M/s/ Saudi Iron and Steel Company (Hadeed) produces a range of steel products and deals in spot sales in Pakistan’s steel market. Hadeed also exports to the South Asian country through international traders.

The CCP said in its press release on Saturday that the Public Investment Fund (PIF), Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, sent a pre-merger application to CCP to acquire 100 percent shareholding of Hadeed from M/s. Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (“SABIC”).

“PIF has entered into a share purchase agreement with SABIC, under which SABIC agrees to sell its entire share capital of Hadeed to PIF,” the CCP said. 

The second merger involved Hadeed acquiring 100 percent shareholding of Al Rajhi Steel Industries Company from M/s. Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz Al Rajhi & Sons Investment. 

Al Rajhi Steel, established in 1978, is a subsidiary of Al Rajhi Invest and is known for its steel manufacturing capabilities in Saudi Arabia. This involved a share exchange agreement between Hadeed and Al Rajhi Invest.

In the third stage, the CCP said PIF intends to dispose off its 44.5 percent shareholding in Hadeed to M/s. Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz Al Rajhi & Sons Investment, the CCP. It added that the move was intended to share control over Hadeed and Al Rajhi Steel to improve their respective production capabilities and increase their operational efficiency.

“These transactions, as per the information available, are not anticipated to raise any competition concerns in the relevant market,” the CCP said. 

It said Pakistan’s steel sector is “one of the most important industries in the country” and with investments, can raise the country’s GDP to bring benefits to both the economy and investors.

Pakistan inaugurates ‘pivotal’ polio campaign to immunize over 45.8 million children

Updated 25 February 2024

Pakistan inaugurates ‘pivotal’ polio campaign to immunize over 45.8 million children

  • Polio volunteers to immunize children under five years old from Feb. 26 to March 3, says national health ministry 
  • Many believe in the conspiracy theory that polio vaccines are part of a Western ploy to sterilize Pakistan’s population

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s federal health secretary Iftikhar Shallwani on Sunday inaugurated a nationwide campaign against polio that aims to immunize over 45.8 million children against the disease, the national health ministry said. 

Pakistan is one of only two countries in the world where polio is endemic. The disease affects the nervous system of children and ultimately leads to paralysis.

The South Asian country’s efforts to contain polio have often been met with opposition, especially in the country’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where militants have carried out attacks against vaccinators and the security teams guarding them. 

Many believe in the conspiracy theory that polio vaccines are part of a plot by Western outsiders to sterilize Pakistan’s population. 

Shallwani inaugurated the campaign, which is set to launch nationwide on Monday, by administering polio drops to children. 

“This pivotal campaign, scheduled from Feb 26 to Mar 3, aims to immunize over 45.8 million children under the age of 5 across the country,” the Ministry of National Health Services wrote on X platform. 

Shallwani said polio is a “terrible” disease that can cause paralysis in children.

“Unfortunately, it continues to be a threat to our children because some people refuse to vaccinate children based on misconceptions and false information about the vaccine,” he said. 

He said volunteers will deliver the vaccine to people’s doorsteps from next week, requesting parents to cooperate with them. 

“I implore you to recognize the threat posed by the poliovirus to your children and ensure that you open your doors to facilitate their vaccination,” the health official said. 

Pakistani masses’ doubts regarding polio campaigns were exacerbated in 2011 when the US Central Intelligence Agency set up a fake hepatitis vaccination program to gather intelligence on former Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. 

Undefeated Quetta lock horns with Multan Sultans in PSL 9 clash

Updated 58 min 44 sec ago

Undefeated Quetta lock horns with Multan Sultans in PSL 9 clash

  • Multan Sultans lost their first match of the tournament to Peshawar Zalmi this week 
  • Despite the loss, the Sultans top the Pakistan Super League points table due to strong run rate

ISLAMABAD: The undefeated Quetta Gladiators will be put to the test today, Sunday, when they face table-toppers Multan Sultans in match number 11 of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2024 set to take place in Multan. 

The Sultans sit pretty at the top of the table with six points from four matches. However, they lost to former champions Peshawar Zalmi on Friday by five wickets at their home ground in Multan. 

Under new skipper Rilee Rossouw, however, the Gladiators have won all three matches of theirs. 

“I am aware of the conditions on Multan hence I don’t encounter any difficulties playing there,” Rossouw said. “Every match is a new contest, we will implement our plan to win it.”

The Gladiators have the same number of points as the Gladiators, six, from three matches. However, they are placed at number two on the table due to a net run rate of +0.686. The Sultans have a run rate of +0.812 from their four matches. 

The match between the two sides is expected to begin at 2:00 p.m.

Playing XIs (probable):

Multan Sultans: Mohammad Rizwan (c & wk), Dawid Malan, Reeza Hendricks, Yasir Khan, Iftikhar Ahmed, Khushdil Shah, David Willey, Usama Mir, Abbas Afridi, Mohammad Ali, Shahnawaz Dahani

Quetta Gladiators: Saud Shakeel, Jason Roy, Rilee Rossouw (c), Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), Khawaja Nafay, Shefane Rutherford, Akeal Hosein, Abrar Ahmed, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Wasim, Mohammad Hasnain

Pakistan’s Sindh Assembly elects speaker from majority party 

Updated 25 February 2024

Pakistan’s Sindh Assembly elects speaker from majority party 

  • Pakistan Peoples Party’s Syed Owais Qadir Shah secures 111 votes to win speaker’s election 
  • Election for the post of Sindh chief minister is scheduled to be held on Monday

KARACHI: Elections for the coveted posts of speaker and deputy speaker of Pakistan’s Sindh Assembly will be held today, Sunday, state-run media said, a day after newly elected members of the assembly were sworn in. 

Saturday’s oath-taking ceremony was marred by protests in Karachi staged by supporters of various political parties who allege that the Feb. 8 elections were heavily rigged. 

Supporters of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Grand Democratic Alliance, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) and other nationalist parties gathered near the provincial assembly in Karachi’s southern zone to protest alleged manipulation of Feb. 8 election, which was marred by a mobile network outage and delays in release of constituency results.

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which bagged the highest number of seats in Sindh, has nominated Murad Ali Shah, former Sindh chief minister, for the top provincial office once again. The party has also nominated Syed Owais Shah for the role of speaker, and Anthony Naveed for the post of deputy speaker of the Sindh provincial assembly.

“Elections of speaker and deputy speaker of Sindh Assembly will be held on Sunday,” the state-run Radio Pakistan said in a report. “On the other hand, the election of Sindh Chief Minister will be held tomorrow (Monday).”

The PPP bagged 84 seats in the southern Pakistani province, followed by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) which secured 28 seats, while 14 seats were won by independent candidates. The JI and the GDA won two seats each.

While the inaugural Sindh Assembly session was in progress, several Pakistani parties on Saturday announced they would observe February 27 as a “Black Day” in response to Sindh police firing tear gas at their supporters protesting suspected rigging in the general elections earlier this month.

In view of the protest calls, the Sindh caretaker government on Friday imposed a ban under Section 144 on public assembly, gatherings, protests, processions, and demonstrations in Karachi’s South zone, where the provincial legislature is located, for a period of 30 days, according to the provincial home department.

Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) empowers the administration to issue orders in public interest and place a ban on any activity for a specific period of time.