Into the wild

May 10, 2020

In Islamabad as birds and animals come down from hills, the lockdown serves as a wake-up call to rethink development paradigms

Photo courtesy: Muhammad Shahzaib

Hamza Butt and his family, living alongside Margalla Road in Islamabad were surprised to see two monkeys in their mango and loquat trees in the lawn around two weeks ago. This was a fairly odd thing for them.

“We heard some noise and felt some activity in the bushes and then noticed the presence of two monkeys in the trees, perhaps, in search for some food,” says Butt. “We were excited but also concerned about our safety and quickly closed all windows of the house to prevent them from coming in,” he says.

He believes that this was because of the lockdown and restricted movement of human beings for the past few weeks that monkeys had been forced to come down in search of food. “We were also a little concerned because you never know – they could attack us. Soon after we saw them, we called Wildlife Management Board of the city to seek advice,” he says.

Butt’s family is not the only one that witnessed such a scene. The Wildlife Board has received similar phone calls in the recent past complaining that monkeys have shown up in residential areas.

“We have received a few complaints/ calls from different areas of the city about presence of monkeys,” says Sakhawat Ali, a senior official of the Wildlife Management Board.

Restrictions on movement of people due to coronavirus are apparently compelling animals and birds to come down from the mountains in search of food. A group of Chinkara deer was spotted in Karachi last month after some 25 years. Many videos showing presence of wildlife and more species of birds in the green areas of the city have been circulating on social media.

“With the passage of time the habitat of wildlife had shrunk because of increasing human population and its movement and there was a continuous disturbance for them,” says Dr Anis Ur Rahman, a member of the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board.

In the mountain trails the IWMB has captured rare dances of some birds which were never seen earlier. Also, the board has observed extraordinary movement of leopards, foxes and other species in some trails during this period.

“Monkeys have come down from Margalla Hills because of the changing environs due to lockdown. Also, there are more birds and even some rare species of pheasants seen these days,” says Dr Ejaz Ahmed, an environmentalist who works with the WWF.

He says that there would be some positive effects on wildlife and at this time – period of eggling of birds – hopefully people would see more birds in next seasons due to this flourishing. He says people can normally observe these days more cackling of birds in the trees and green areas as compared to the past. Perhaps, this is also because people are paying more attention to the new sounds.

“Earlier, over a period of time the number of scavenger species like crows increased but now we might see a shift in the form of different species of birds,” he says.

Photo courtesy: WWF from Islamabad.

The environment and air quality of the city has improved in the last few weeks. The restricted environment has also moved World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to study the impact of this lockdown situation on wildlife. The WWF has observed that it has proved a unique opportunity for migratory birds as every year millions of birds migrate to this warm region. According to some reports, every year over one million birds migrate from Siberia to moderate waters and many fall prey to hunters.

“The lockdown has given us the opportunity to think positively about post-corona life. It reminds us that things are reversible and that the point of no return has not been reached. We need to revisit our planning and development process to protect this wildlife and their habitats,” says Hammad Naqi, the WWF-Pakistan head.

“In Islamabad, we have taken camera shots of leopards in Margalla Hills and found some very rare pheasants”, he says, urging governments the world over to re-think developments plans to protect environment after the virus is over. “We can say this is a wake-up call,” he says.

The writer is a staff member. He can be reached at [email protected]

Coronavirus lockdown forces birds and animals in Islamabad to come down hills