Drought endangers rare species in SW Pakistan

4-year long dry spell in several parts of southwestern Balochistan province has forced animals to leave habitat in search for food

Drought endangers rare species in SW Pakistan

A simmering drought in parts of southwest Pakistan has endangered the survival of various rare species, which are leaving their natural habitat in search for food and water.

The eastern parts of mineral-rich Balochistan province -- the country’s largest province in terms of land -- have been facing a drought-like situation due to a long dry spell. The below to normal rainfall in last 4 years in 9 districts of the province, has also forced thousands of people to migrate to other areas, locals said.

Last December, the country’s meteorological department specified the nine districts -- mainly remote Chaghi district, and the coastal belt of Lasbella, Awaran, and Gwadar -- are facing moderate to severe drought due to major rainfall deficit.

The lingering dry spell, according to Raja Asif Latif, a conservator at Hingol National park, the country’s largest wildlife park, has forced several endangered species, especially Sindh Ibex (wild goat), Balochistan Urial (wild sheep), and Chinkara (deer) to come down from mountains to look for food and water.

The total population of Sindh Ibex, also known as Turkman goat or Bezor, Balochistan Urial and Chinkara Gazelle or Chinkara deer is estimated to be around 3,000.

Apart from the wild goats, Latif said, other rare species of mountainous deer, cheetah, fox, hedgehog, porcupine, wolf and rabbit are also leaving their natural habitats due to escalating water and food shortage risking their survival.

“The level of the threat is alarming. These rare animals are the country’s asset. But insufficient rains in last four years have jeopardized their survival,” Latif told a press conference.

“We are trying our best to protect them from different hazards but our resources are meager. We appeal to the government for a financial package to protect this asset,” he maintained.

Established in 1988, Hingol Park sprawls over 640 square miles and covers three districts -- Lasbella, Awaran, and Gwadar. It is considered the largest wildlife park in South Asia.

Key affectees

In November, Balochistan’s provincial assembly unanimously adopted a resolution demanding the federal government to declare the drought-stricken areas of the province calamity affected apart from announcing a special financial package to address the crisis.

The ongoing dry conditions have primarily affected the grass and plant eating animals subsequently affecting the carnivores, said Muhammad Moazzam Khan, a technical advisor to World Wide Fund for Nature’s Karachi chapter.

“The severe dry spell has brought the entire ecological circle under pressure in the three districts (Awaran, Lasbella, and Gwadar) but the Ibex, Urial and Chinkara are the worst affectees because they depend on grass and plants, which have vanished due to no rains in last four years”, Khan told Anadolu Agency.

The reduction in number of Herbivores would subsequently affect the carnivores that eat the former, he added.

The population of Chinkara Gazelle, he said, was already meager in numbers, and the current drought-like conditions has further endangered the survival of this rare species.

Another hazard, he noted, was the possible communication of migrating wild animals, particularly mammals, with the pet ones, which could catch different diseases from the latter.

“These wild animals may also be involved in traffic accidents in inhabited areas risking not only their own lives but humans’ as well”, Khan said.

Illegal hunting, though not reported widely yet, he said, was another risk to migrating animals, especially wild goats for food and other purposes.

Cases of illegal hunting, he thought, were likely in districts like militancy-hit Awaran, where the government’s writ was weak.

Balochistan, which is the size of Italy, and rich in copper, zinc and natural gas has been beset by a separatists’ armed struggle for over six decades, which has resulted in thousands of deaths.

The province is also a key route of $64 billion megaproject, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which aims to connect China's strategically important northwestern Xinxiang province to Balochistan’s Gwadar port through a network of roads, railways and pipelines to transport cargo, oil and gas.

With its 600-kilometer long coastline, Gwadar is a key deep seaport currently operated by China, which aims to attain direct access to Indian Ocean via this seaport.

The economic corridor will not only provide China cheaper access to Africa and the Middle East but will also earn Pakistan billions of dollars for providing transit facilities to the world’s second largest economy.

The separatists, however, oppose the mega project accusing Beijing and Islamabad of “stealing” their resources.

The suspected Baloch separatists last month attacked Chinese Consulate in Karachi to what they said register their protest against the CPEC, killing seven people -- all Pakistanis.