Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Back From the Brink

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Bears drew Zakaria and Rahman to Deosai. But Deosai is about a lot more than just bears. The wilderness is home to Himalayan Ibex (Capra ibex sibirica), red fox (Vulpes vulpes) and wolf (Canis lupus) – the most elusive of Deosai denizens – as well. There is indirect evidence of snow leopard (Panthera uncia) while the presence of golden marmots (Marmota caudata) is abundant. The streams are well-stocked with snow carp. Of all these, the bears and the fish are the most under threat.

In the first year of their presence on Deosai (1993) HWF counted a total of nineteen bears on Deosai that has the capacity to carry no fewer than four hundred of them. The checks put in place to pre-empt hunters and trappers showed dividends immediately when the following year the population was up with the birth of two cubs. Over the years the population grew, but very, very slowly indeed until the census of 2003 showed thirty-two bears. In late 2011, their number stood at sixty-five.

In the interim, technical and financial support from Kruger National Park, US Fish and Wildlife Service, John Bevins Foundation and International Bear Association made it possible to carry out a bear immobilisation and telemetry project. In all eight animals were fitted with radio-collars and monitored over a period of six years from 1996 to 2001. This initiative added greatly to knowledge concerning the daily activities and range of movement of bears.

Arguably the biggest successes of HWF include the rise in bear population and the marked, though unquantifiable, increase in snow carp in the streams. Though they may not have been one hundred percent successful in preventing illegal hunting and trapping, just the raising of deterrence level is another great success. In this latter, the Pakistan Army stands an equal partner with the NGO. Declaration for DNP may not have been possible but for the untiring efforts of HWF and that there is a Park Management Plan also goes entirely to their credit.

But sadly, the bigger picture is askew. There is this natural area crying for recognition, ownership and protection at the local and national level, and there are communities that have some use of it together with opportunists out to exploit it. For the communities ‘ownership’ means abuse of available resources with no regard to responsibility that goes with the ownership. Among the communities there is visible disregard of the universal importance of DNP and the imperative to pass it on to posterity as it was, say, in the early 1800s. In order for that to be possible, ownership must rest at a higher level. But that DNP is scarcely known outside the Northern Areas is a sad commentary on the state of things. To imagine that the highest office in the land would be aware of this struggling entity is asking for far too much.

As things stand the Wildlife Department has nothing to show for the seven million rupees it received under the head of DNP after its declaration. This money went everywhere but to the national park. Confronted by HWF, the department was quick to take umbrage and wrote back that the NGO had no business to question the government. It went on to accuse them of working in the park illegally! This flew in the face of the efforts made by the NGO (and not the Wildlife Department) for the establishment of DNP.

Matters took a turn for the worse when in 1999 the military regime ordered an inquiry into DNP affairs. The Divisional Forest Officer in-charge took the brunt of the attack and the department went on to accuse the NGO for testifying against them. That the testimony of the NGO was based on true facts was of no consequence so far as the department was concerned. An uneasy peace ensued between the NGO and the Wildlife Department and prevailed until the former eventually withdrew from the area.

Excerpted from DEOSAI: THE LAND OF THE GIANT by Salman Rashid, with photographs by Nadeem Khawar, (Sang-e-Meel Publications, Lahore, 2013), pp. 176. Price Rs 2,000

Related: Deosai Truths - Book Review by F. S. Aijazuddin, Deosai - Book Review by S A J Shirazi, Special talk on BBC Radio

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 8 April 2014 at 18:51, Blogger Arthur Anab Shams said...

I have had a passion to visit Deosai. Will surely try one day. Very informative writing.

At 9 April 2014 at 09:34, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

You will never be able to forget the experience, Arthur. It is unique.


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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days