Sunday, February 15, 2009

Vanishing Fauna of Sindh

I wrote this short article ten years ago on an internet forum to express my dismay over the way Sindh's fauna was being destroyed. The situation is not much different today. Many species of wildlife are now near extinction!

Date: Tue, 21 Sep 1999

Sindh's Vanishing Fauna

With the beginning of the month of September, and as winter approaches, the inhospitable temperate climate of the Northern Hemisphere forces its birds to migrate toward the south. Sindh, with traditional hospitality, not only welcomes these migratory birds but also provides temporary abode and refuge for their mating and breeding.

With the arrival of bustards, including houbara bustard, from Siberia, rich sheikhs also start pouring into the region for their hunting. Houbara, one of the 22 species of bustards, is an endangered species. However, wildlife authorities do little to protect them from human predators. These birds use Indus plains as their feeding and breeding grounds during winter. Males of some species of bustards perform remarkable displays to attract females. They swell up their necks, raise feathers, and twist their bodies into odd postures. No longer are these a common sight in the countryside.

The northern temperate climate also pushes numerous ducks, mallards, and numerous other waterfowls to migrate towards tropical and sub-tropical regions. As a result, Sindh also receives many of them. Ducks live throughout the world in wetlands, including marshes and areas near rivers, ponds, lakes, as in Sindh, and near oceans. They live in arctic, temperate, and tropical regions, usually for some part of the year, especially in summers. Many kinds of ducks migrate long distances every year between their breeding grounds, where they rest and raise their young, and their wintering areas, where the water does not freeze. Some ducks migrate thousands of miles. Migrating geese fly in large groups, often in a V-shaped formation. It is believed that geese use this formation to facilitate their flying because air currents created by the birds in front make flying easier for the rest of the birds. Such scenes are not often sighted in Sindh these days.

Peacock, or peafowl, is one of the showiest of all birds because of its large size and the attractiveness of its feathers. Indian peafowl exist in the wild in India as well as Sri Lanka. Their coloration, broken dark-green, may have protective value amid colorful tropical foliage. These birds live by eating snails, frogs, and insects. They also eat grain, juicy grasses, and bulbs and often destroy crops. The green "jungle" peafowl, of Burma, Malaysia, and Java, has a golden-green neck and breast. Peafowl were very common in and around the Thar Desert of Sindh. However, their population has been declining very fast and they are no longer easily seen there, thanks to Homo sapiens.

With the traditional hospitality of Sindh gone, not only the wild goat of Khirthar, the Sindh Ibex, is under threat from human predators, but also the so-called game birds like partridges, etc., which are threatened due to their unwarranted hunting, especially during the breeding season. Government officials, environmentalists, conservationists of nature, wildlife protectors may be doing a good job in keeping their official paperwork up-to-date in their offices in posh areas of Karachi and Islamabad, participating in conferences, presenting so-called 'papers', arranging 'seminars', but they are certainly not found in the countryside.

No one is interested in advocacy or creating awareness about the swiftly vanishing fauna of Sindh. It is common to hear stories from rural dwellers like "Mr. A hunted 30 chinkara deer" and "Mr. B hunted 50 last year"; "That sahib hunted an ibex with 50-inch long horns...", and so on and so forth. Such stories of senseless killings of wildlife are endless and have brought the rich fauna of Sindh to near extinction.

Arab Sheikhs are allotted distinct areas, sometimes full districts, by officials for hunting for the whole of winter. They have to please their financial 'donors'! If this situation persists, coming generations may not be able to see chinkaras, ibexes, peafowl, ducks, swans, storks, partridges, Indus dolphin, Palo fish, etc. etc. etc.

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