Pakistan

Committe Meeting Photo
Members of a community resource committee gather for a meeting.
Peter Zahler
Community Rangers in Pakistan Photo
Community rangers train for surveys of the endangered flare-horned markhor.
Peter Zahler
Tangir Valley Photo
In the Tangir Valley of the Diamer District, WCS-Pakistan helps local communities to manage their forests and wildlife in a sustainable manner.
Peter Zahler

Northern Pakistan has some of the most astonishing geography on the planet. Home to the intersection of three great mountain ranges—the Himalayas, the Karakorams, and the Hindu Kush—many of its peaks soar more than 20,000 feet high. Three of the world’s longest glaciers outside of the polar regions also occur here.

Prowling the region’s steep cliffs and boulder fields are snow leopards, wolves, and brown bears. These agile predators hunt wild sheep and goats—the “mountain monarchs” that include flare-horned markhor, Siberian ibex, Ladakh urial, blue sheep, and Marco Polo sheep.

Partly because of the region’s geological boundaries, the people of Northern Pakistan represent diverse ethnic backgrounds. The Indus River splits the region and its deep gorge has created one of the only mountain passages, used by a trickle of pilgrims, traders, and would-be conquerors for thousands of years. The rushing waters and steep-sided valleys on either side of this gorge have allowed local communities to maintain a surprising isolation. Fiercely independent, the people of the Northern Areas speak at least six languages. There are seven dialects of just one of the languages, Shina, suggesting some of the cultural complexities found in these largely isolated mountain communities.

Fast Facts

  • Northern Pakistan has the second-highest mountain in the world, K-2, which soars more than 28,000 feet tall—nearly the height that transcontinental jets fly.
  • Northern Pakistan boasts the world’s greatest terrestrial gorge. The ninth-highest mountain in the world, Nanga Parbat, plunges from its peak at more than 26,000 feet down to the Indus River at approximately 4,000 feet—a distance of more than 17 Empire State Buildings piled on top of each other!
  • The woolly flying squirrel was thought to be extinct for 70 years until it was rediscovered in northern Pakistan in 1994. Four feet long from nose to tail, it is the largest squirrel in the world. It lives in cliff caves and glides down to pine trees at night to feed.

Challenges

Pakistan has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world. The region known as the Northern Areas is only 4 percent forested, and the pine forests of the Diamer and southern Gilgit districts are one of the country’s last remaining large tracts of conifers. Extensive, often illegal logging is quickly reducing what’s left of the pine, spruce, cedar, and juniper trees. Logging provides little economic return to local communities, and the loss of trees also causes soil erosion and drying that threatens the people’s ability to survive over the long-term.

Deforestation isn’t the only threat to the environmental integrity of Northern Pakistan. Extensive hunting is also a major problem, especially with the recent influx of modern weapons from two decades of conflict in Afghanistan. Populations of markhor, urial, Asiatic black bear, snow leopard, and various pheasants (e.g., monal, koklass, cheer, western tragopan) have declined precipitously in recent years. There is an urgent need to regulate and enforce restrictions on hunting and logging through community-based agreements.

WCS Responds

WCS has a long history in Northern Pakistan, beginning with Dr. George Schaller’s surveys of wild sheep, goats, and snow leopards in the 1970s. He published two books on this work, Mountain Monarchs and Stones of Silence, and contributed to the creation of Khunjerab National Park. In 1997, WCS began a program to assist local communities in the Tribal Areas of Diamer and southern Gilgit districts to manage their forests and wildlife in a sustainable manner—aid the communities had requested during extensive consultations with WCS.

As part of this process, WCS has helped set up 17 community resource committees, complete with bylaws and duly elected officials. The community rangers that are part of the committees enforce local regulations and monitor wildlife. What began with a few rangers in 11 valleys has expanded to 62 rangers in 23 communities. WCS has also been instrumental in arranging government support for ranger positions. Currently, the government is covering 18 ranger salaries, but we expect this number to increase as WCS continues to facilitate agreements. In addition, we have helped to foster the first-ever direct interactions between the communities, the federal government of Pakistan, and the Northern Areas Administration by creating an umbrella resource management institution called the MCDP. The MCDP consists of representatives from each community committee and government officials.

WCS’s conservation action in Northern Pakistan program is paying off. Illegal hunting and logging have stopped in most valleys where the rangers are active. Sixteen valleys have now banned hunting and 18 have banned cutting forests unsustainably. All such decisions are made using the committee bylaws that WCS helped to write. Evidence suggests that the endangered flare-horned markhor and Ladakh urial are beginning to recover throughout the region.

From the Newsroom

Saving More Than Just Snow LeopardsFebruary 1, 2014

After many years of hard work and trial and error, real successes are being seen in snow leopard conservation, in the Pamir Mountains of Afghanistan and in northern Pakistan, among other places, as communities come together to manage their land and wildlife, and neighboring countries find ways to cooperate across borders. WCS Asia Program deputy director Peter Zahler and George Schaller, WCS senior conservationist and Panthera VP, explain.

Markhor Numbers Mounting in PakistanJuly 3, 2012

Pakistan’s national mammal is making a comeback, with populations growing across northern Pakistan. A wild goat, the majestic markhor possesses corkscrew horns that can be 5-feet long.

An Investment in Stripes and RibbitsFebruary 9, 2012

In a big boost for wildlife, 23 new species conservation projects will receive funding from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the World Bank, and the Global Environment Facility.

Endangered Markhor Catch PneumoniaJanuary 6, 2012

A pneumonia outbreak reduces numbers of a wild population of endangered wild goats in Tajikistan by as much as 20 percent. Fewer than 2,500 markhor are left in the wild.

New Findings on a Woolly Wanderer July 22, 2011

In Afghanistan, researchers conducting a genetic study of the Marco Polo sheep discover the species to be an international traveler. WCS recommends trans-boundary monitoring to help ensure its future.

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