If there is one sphere of operations where the aphorism “One step forward, two steps back” is visible, it is in the field of conservation.
The flora or fauna, natural conditions and species of Earth are under massive threat from the increasing number and expansion of mankind’s activities. We flourish, God’s other creations shrink. To give them space, environmentalists and activists do commendable work, often in situations that are not black and white – where neither nature nor man can be granted absolute rights.
One example is a story from Islamabad, published recently in this article, regarding the leopard population of the Margalla Hills. For years, the city’s geographic expansion and human footprint have forced local wildlife to adapt. Some, like the monkey and wild boar populations, have learned to mingle almost with humans in a relationship not unlike that of remora.
The Margalla monkeys are now sadly addicted to the joys of packets of potato chips and other unhealthy treats thrown out for consumption through car windows. This has made them dangerous to the point that they are notorious for trying to attack vehicles. They also descend to forage in residential areas bordering the foothills.
The leopard population is once again vulnerable.
Likewise, the native wild boar population has learned over decades that there is sufficient food where humans live. Throughout the year, traveling through the city’s green belt network which provides relatively safe access to settlements of E-7, F-7, F-6, etc. After chaand raat at F-7’s Jinnah market, for example, the human festivities are followed late into the night by wild boars.
Monkeys and wild boars may have learned to coexist. More solitary animals such as the leopards of Margalla Hills fare very badly and reach a point of being almost wiped out.
However, conservation efforts in recent years, especially by organizations such as the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB), the Himalayan Wildlife Foundation and the management of the Margalla Hills Wildlife Park, have enabled the leopard population to grow. more robust. The numbers are increasing, but that brings its own problems.
According to the news item, the leopard population is again facing increasing vulnerability because it is deliberately poisoned. The growing clan has higher food requirements and is therefore forced to prey on domestic animals. So, to protect their livestock on which the livelihoods / food needs of many humans depend, locals dump poisoned meat into the forest.
The news item contained testimonies from several villagers affected in this way. They claim that in the recent past, more than a dozen animals fell prey to big cats, and call on authorities to create a compensation fund. For its part, the IWMB claims to have stepped up surveillance and launched an awareness campaign, but there is no mechanism to compensate villagers for losses caused by leopard hunting activities. There is also no provision in the law to impose fines on those who kill leopards – although it was possible to identify individuals.
But the situation should not be so sad; in comparable cases, the wheel does not need to be invented again. Before us is the concrete example of the conservation of snow leopards in the northern regions. The Islamabad-based NGO, the Snow Leopard Foundation, has been running the livestock insurance program for years with great success. Recognizing that the loss of livestock is often the straw that (financially) broke the camel’s back for these already impoverished communities, the program mitigates the damage by giving villagers access to compensation for lost animals through the local community managing an insurance pool operated at the village level.
The Snow Leopard Trust provides funding for a strong financial base; participating breeders pay premiums for the animals they want to insure, and so over time the program has become self-sustaining. Pastoralists with a loss submit a claim and receive a refund, with the fund and the refund process being managed by the local community. Fund participants sign a conservation agreement committing to protect snow leopards and other wild prey species, and communities also agree to leave more food for snow leopard prey by setting aside grazing areas; offenders can no longer participate in the insurance program. A small annual bonus is paid to the participant who loses the fewest animals to predation, financially encouraging the breeders to remain vigilant and to put in place measures to protect the livestock.
This model has worked well for some time in the north. Margalla’s wildlife authorities would do well to take a clue.
The writer is a journalist.
Posted in Dawn, December 29, 2021