Trophy hunting introduced as part of a conservation programme has shown positive results as the population of endangered national animal markhor has increased from a mere 250 in 1999 to 1,600 in 2010 only in Chitral.
According to official data compiled by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Wildlife Department, trophy hunting was introduced as a conservation tool to protect endangered species of markhor, especially in Chitral.
The data revealed that in 1999 two trophy hunts were carried out in the Thushi Community Game Reserve, Chitral, and each markhor hunt was auctioned for $18,000. By the year 2000, the markhor auction went up to 25,000 dollars and with each passing year it continuously increased and reached 45,000 dollars per markhor in 2005. The figure of 2008 showed that a markhor hunt in Thushi was auctioned for 80,000 dollars. The last time price of the trophy in 2009 went up to 81,200 dollars.
This week, three trophy hunt permits were auctioned for 85,000 dollars each ensuring that handsome money would be available not only to provide financial assistance to the local community but also to take further measures for the protection of markhors.
The data stated that around 80% of the money goes to the local community, while the wildlife department utilises the remaining 20% of the money for management related purposes. The money is used as salary for watchers apart from purchasing binoculars and other related equipment.
From 1999 onwards, regular markhor trophy hunting has been going on in Chitral and the number of hunts each year were two except for 2004 when there were three hunts in the district.
The hunters are bound to select only old male markhors having horn size of 32-36 inches and they cannot hunt lactic and young ones that are mainly responsible for production of this rare species.
Mating season occurs during winter. The female gestation period lasts 135-170 days after which one to two young ones are born. Young markhors are weaned at about 5-6 months. The life span of a markhor is at least 12-13 years.
Though the situation has shown improvement but still globally renowned markhor species is fighting for its survival due to intensive hunting, loss of habitat, human warfare and increasing disturbance and competition from domestic goats and sheep.
Over fifty per cent of total global population of 4,000 markhors is found in different parts of Pakistan and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Natural Resources has classified ‘King of the Goat Family’ markhor as an endangered species.
Despite international and countrywide protection, the population of flare-horned markhor found in the Northern Areas of Pakistan may have been halved within the last 25 years.
Various reports showed that surviving population of markhor is small, highly fragmented, and isolated from one another. As human population growth and disturbance continues in the regions occupied by the markhor, these threats to its survival would only continue to increase.
Shamsuddin, manager of the Chitral Association for Mountain Area Tourism (CAMAT), told this correspondent that markhors are prized among trophy hunters for their flaring and splendid horns. Although intense hunting and expansion of human settlement have affected the markhor population worldwide, the wildlife department has adopted trophy hunting as a tool for protecting the threatened species.
Hameed Ahmad of the Pakhtunkhwa Wildlife Department told this scribe that trophy hunting played a major role in protection of markhors as it not only created awareness but also provided financial benefits to the local people.
“In late 90s there was a time when nearly 250 markhors were left in the area but after introduction of trophy hunting and different conservation programmes their population has increased to 1,600,” he said.
He said in Gol, the local people showed great interest in conservation programmes and now there are some 300 markhors in the area alone where their population was once facing extinction.