Washington: Pakistan’s conservation efforts have proved beneficial as the markhor, a majestic wild goat species, is making a remarkable comeback, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has announced. WCS-led community surveys have revealed that markhor populations in northern Pakistan’s Kargah region in Gilgit-Baltistan have increased from a low of approximately 40-50 individuals in 1991 to roughly 300 this year. These community surveys suggest that the total markhor population where WCS works in Gilgit-Baltistan may now be as high as 1,500 animals, a dramatic increase since the last government estimate of less than 1,000 in 1999.
Pakistan’s national mammal, markhor are known for their spectacular, corkscrew horns that can reach nearly five feet in length. They are an important prey species for large carnivores such as wolves and snow leopards. Markhor have been put on the list of endangered species by IUCN since 1994, with a 2008 global population estimate of less than 2,500 animals across five countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and India. They are threatened by illegal hunting, habitat destruction, and competition from domestic goats and sheep.
“We are thrilled that markhor conservation efforts in Pakistan are paying off,” said Peter Zahler, WCS Deputy Director of Asia programs. “Markhor are part of Pakistan’s natural heritage, and we are proud to be assisting the communities of Gilgit-Baltistan and the Government of Pakistan to safeguard this iconic species,” he said. WCS, led by Program Manager Mayoor Khan, has developed a conservation program that helps create community conservation committees and trains wildlife rangers throughout Gilgit-Baltistan. Rangers focus on monitoring wildlife and enforcing both local and national laws and regulations related to hunting and other resource use.
Illegal hunting and logging have stopped in most of the valleys where the community rangers are active. WCS has been the only conservation organization working in Diamer District of GB since the program’s inception in 1997. Altogether, there are now 53 community conservation committees within the WCS Pakistan program covering four districts. WCS has recently developed a new management structure called “markhor conservancies” that use markhor herd home ranges to link different village resource committees together for coordinated monitoring and protection. This ensures that markhor are safeguarded as they travel across steep-sided mountains into different areas.
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