Cranes at risk

The illegal hunting of Siberian cranes is continuing

Cranes at risk


here is no denying that Siberian cranes are some of the most beloved species of birds in the world. Their romantic pose, beautiful long necks and red legs charm everyone. Their sound is quite touching as well and many consider them harbingers of favourable fate.

In Pashto (written and oral folkloric) literature, Siberian cranes have been highly lauded for their amorous fashion. A famous Pashto folk song goes;

[Khudaya Watan Gul aw gulzar kray

Che kochedalay zanray bia ra stanay shenaa]

“O’ my God, make my beloved country blossom with flowers

So that the crying bird will come back”.

In one of his Pashto ghazals, noted poet Sher Ali Bacha praises the cranes.

[Pashtana warha nan katar zee da tanzim pa asman

Os ka da lar di ka da bar Zanrhay bas ok bandwi]

“All Pashtuns today are proceeding in the sky of organisation

No one dare impede the cranes coming from upper and lower parts of the world.”

According to bird experts, “a female crane lays two eggs. However, only one chick usually survives. The chicks are born with beautiful little blue eyes that change to a light yellow colour after six months. Making flute-like musical sounds, they reach maturity in three years. They can fledge within 75 days.

Bird-watching experts associated with the international network claim that a crane travelled about 4,368 kilometres when it was fitted with solar powered GPS-GSM transmitter in Transbaikalia (Russia) and was spotted in Jodhpur, India, in 2019.

In early 2022, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) satellite-tagged four cranes that travelled nearly 5,100 kilometres and took 18 to 26 days to reach their breeding grounds. During the course of their journey, these satellite-tagged birds made their prime stopover at Kutch (western India), Kharan desert in Balochistan, Dasht-i-Margo desert in Afghanistan and Karakum desert in Turkmenistan. Flying for seven to nine hours a day, they covered 350 kilometres a day on average and stopped at the wetlands and oases for night roosting.

In order to enjoy the warm weather of Rajasthan and Gujarat, these cranes started at least a 4,300-kilometre journey from Siberia in mid-September and came back to their breeding grounds by March.

Zhob valley is considered the main way-station for the Siberian cranes as they travel to India or return to their native abode in Siberia. Using the route twice a year, many of these birds fall prey to poachers along the Zhob River and some other parts of the province.

Fifteen species of cranes have been discovered in the world. Like many other species of birds, the Siberian cranes are also facing a severe threat to survival. In one of its recent reports, the US-based International Crane Foundation (ICF) has expressed grave concern over the speedy extinction of these magnificent birds. The reports claim that 11 out of the 15 species of cranes face extinction.

Unfortunately, Pakistan has not only failed to protect its indigenous wildlife but also the migratory birds, especially the Siberian cranes. In Balochistan, Zhob valley is the main way-station for the Siberian cranes as they travel to India or return to their native abode in Siberia in March. Using this route twice a year, many fall prey to poachers along the Zhob River and other parts of the province.

The hunters shoot these birds in broad daylight. It is important to note that many locals have begun hunting migratory birds over the last ten years. Most of the poachers come from Dera Ismail Khan, Karak, Bannu and Lukki Marwat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Being a resident of Zhob valley, I used to visit these hunting camps located along the bank of Zhob River close to Killi Malawar and Apozai in the past. The hunters camped near water and trapped at least 300-500 cranes a night. They would then attract the flying cranes using various tactics to trap them at night. The wildlife protection department has consistently failed to secure these birds.

Many influential people, including some tribal chieftains, local politicians and even high-ranking officers, support the poachers. Ashar, a social movement of Zhob’s youths launched by Salmeen Khpalwak, is the lone social organisation that has done something against illegal bird hunting and deforestation across the Zhob division for the last two years.

Ashar’s workers are spreading awareness among the people. Aimal Sarwan, one of the leading members of Ashar, says their mission has begun bearing fruit. According to him, many hunters have stopped the practice and joined them in protecting the migratory birds. Sarwan is optimistic but acknowledges that many people are continuing the unlawful practice. He urges the district administration to take suitable measures against the hunters.

The writer is a columnist and lecturer at the Government Degree College, Zhob. He can be reached at

Cranes at risk