Deforestation threatens endangered vultures in Nagarparkar
NAGARPARKAR: Deforestation of the Karoonjhar hills, which surround Nagarparkar town of Tharparkar district, threatened the very existence of critically endangered vultures whose population has further reduced over the past couple of years, it emerged on Saturday.
While the government has placed a ban on deforestation, the activity goes on mainly to collect the precious rasin of a shrub, gugraal, (also called gugal) that is transported to Karachi where it’s processed before being exported due to its medicinal properties.
The activity has not only deprived a large area of the precious flora but has also damaged the habitat of vultures.
During a visit to the Malji Wando village in the Nagarparkar area, which is the only habitat of the critically endangered long-billed vultures in Pakistan, it was found that nests of vultures had been damaged and their eggs broken due to the unregulated human activity in the area.
Villagers said the vultures once lived in thousands were rarely seen at present.
“Once covered with dense vegetation of mainly gugraal, the Karoonjhar hills have lost their beauty over the years. Influential people are using the less privileged to destroy these plants to get its resin that helps them earn a lot of money,” Moti Meghwar, the head of community-based non-governmental volunteer organisation Parkar Foundation (PF), told a group of journalists during their visit to his village in Nagarparkar.
Mr Meghwar has planted saplings of the plant (Commiphora wightii) in his one-room NGO office, its yard shared by a pair of peafowl. “I have grown them here because I fear that the plant will no longer exist in the wild after two years,” he said, adding that the plant was good for livestock health and was also used as an adhesive and in some religious rituals.
According to locals, a chemical is used to speed up the process of resin secretion from the plant. As the plant loses its resin, it dries up and dies. Each labourer is paid Rs200 a day by some influential people, who, they claim, are supported by forest officials in this destruction.
“We can see that the loss of habitat of vultures has degraded the environment that they used to keep clean by eating away the remains of livestock,” said Ramesh Kumar, the vice president of the eight-member NGO established with the assistance of World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-P).
To save the endangered birds in Nagarparkar, the organization in 2011 had launched a project that still continues with the PF support. A safe zone having a 100km radius was developed for vultures in 2012 to create awareness in the community about the important role the vultures play in environment and discourage veterinary use of a painkiller, Diclofenac, also used in human treatment.
“A study conducted between 2000 and 2003 showed an annual 50pc reduction in the population of white-backed vultures in Pakistan. It proved for the first time in the region that Diclofenac is the single major cause of kidney failure in these birds when they feed on animal remains. The drug was banned by the government in 2006,” says Shahid Iqbal, who is associated with the WWF-P and conducts monitoring of vulture population in the country.
The vulture safe zone project, he said, was part of the Gyps Vulture Restoration Project under which a vulture conservation centre had been developed in the Changa Manga forest located some 80km southwest of Lahore.
Explaining how vulture population is being affected by human activities, Shahid Iqbal, who is associated with the WWF-P and conducts monitoring of vulture population every year in the area, six vulture species were found in Pakistan. Nagarparkar is the only place in Pakistan where critically endangered long-billed vultures are found. The place is also home to white-backed vultures, which has been declared endangered last year by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
Mr Iqbal said the number of white-backed vultures recorded in the area reduced from 140 in the year 2014 to 90 in the next year. The population of long-billed vultures was 380 in 2014 and 369 in 2015, he added.
“According to the 2015 survey conducted in the area, the number of active nests of long-billed vultures has reduced from 172 to 156, while those of white-backed vultures increased from 12 to 31. These numbers, however, vary depending upon human interference,” said Mr Iqbal.
He said that people engaged in plant destruction activities also damaged nests of vultures and broke their eggs. “While the white-backed vultures nested on trees, long-billed vultures, which are critically endangered and endemic to Sindh, nested on cliffs. As people destroy plants, they also damage nests and break eggs,” he said, claiming that his team found many nests disturbed during the survey being carried out these days.
On community role, Mr Kumar said that though the process of education and training people on how to protect vultures continued, the organisation was constrained by resources and authority.
“We mark the trees with vulture nests and tell people not to harm the species wherever they see them. They are also requested to report vulture mortality and avoid use of Diclofenac,” said Mr Kumar.
“But, this new threat to shrinking vulture population seems to be bigger than the fatal drug as people forced by poverty are bent on destroying the environment they live in. The government must step in and play its role.”