‘Near threatened’ Pallas’s cat spotted in Kurram tribal region

Jamil Nagri
GILGIT: About the size of a domestic cat with grey long dense fur, Pallas’s cat — which has been classified as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 2002 — has recently been spotted in Chitral and Kurram Agency areas as well after trapping cameras had first captured it in the Qurumber National Park of Gilgit-Baltistan.

In a baseline survey conducted by a team of local and international wildlife experts, strong evidences of Pallas’s cat habitat were found in GB. The cat was first photographed in Qurumber National Park in the Ishkoman valley of Ghizer district.

Dr Mohmmad Kabir, a wildlife expert, claimed that he was touring the Qurumber National Park to conduct a survey of snow leopard, wolf and brown bear population when his trapping cameras captured the Pallas’s cat which had been undiscovered until then. Until then, he said, the habitat of the species was not known to the local wildlife officials or IUCN representatives. Subse­quently, he said, he along with his team carried out a baseline survey of the near threatened cat. In the survey, he said that a dead Pallas’s cat was found in the Golain area of Chitral district of KP by a wildlife watcher.

In a recently completed baseline survey, which Dr Kabir conducted with the collaboration of an international group, a unique cat habitat was discovered in Kurram Agency.

He claimed that his cameras photographed Pallas’s cat in the Kurram Agency area during the survey. “While the baseline survey has been completed, we have strong evidences of Pallas’s cat habitat in GB and KP in Pakistan,” he said.

Following the successful findings of the survey, Dr Kabir told Dawn that a detailed survey with an international group had been organized to identify the Pallas’s cat habitat in other parts of Pakistan as well.

Hunted long for its dense fur in some other countries of the region, Pallas’s cat — first described by German explorer Peter Pallas in 1776 — is considered one of the most attractive among the family of cats. It has short legs and small rounded head and ears. It feeds largely on gerbils, pikas, rodents, voles and partridges and sometimes marmots. Snowfall in winters makes its habitat more complex for its survival, compelling it to move down from mountains in search of food and prey. It’s during this time of the year that hunters take advantage of its compulsion.

Karim Shah Nizari, an environmentalist and a resident of Ghizer district, said GB was rich with flora and fauna because of its varied climatic conditions and ecosystem. Rare species were facing the threat of extinction due to illegal hunting, negligence of the wildlife department and the climate change-related issues, he said.

While GB is home to many rare species such as Marco Polo sheep, ibex, markhor, urial, blue sheep, lynx, snow leopard, leopard cat, brown and black bears, wolf, fox, marmot, chakor and ram chakor and golden eagle, otter, and the recently discovered Pallas’s cat, Mr Nizari said the population of some protected species was shrinking speedily.

Illegal hunting

The rare otter that used to be found along the river in Ghizer district had almost become extinct, Mr Nizari said, adding that the major cause of the animals’ shrinking population was the large-scale illegal hunting in the region.

In the absence of effective checks on illegal hunting, residents, foreign tourists and influential people from across the country visited the area for hunting during winter when the species moved down from mountains, he said.

Local people hunt markhor, ibex, blue sheep, trout, migratory birds for meat, and snow leopard, wolf, Pallas’s cat, blood pheasant for their skin.

The Gilgit-Baltistan wildlife department in September last year had auctioned permits for the hunting of 113 rare species under the trophy hunting programme 2017-18, with the hunting of endangered Astor markhor fetching the highest licence fee of $100,000 in the history of trophy hunting.

In the bidding, licences for hunting four Astor markhors, 14 blue sheep and 95 ibex were awarded. The hunting season in the region begins in November and ends in April.
Courtesy: Dawn News