Islamabad, March 02, 2018 (PPI-OT): Federal Minister for Climate Change Senator Mushahidullah Khan said in his message on International Wildlife Day “United Nations General Assembly on 20th December, 2013 decided to celebrate 3rd March as World Wildlife Day. It is the same day when, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was adopted (on March 3, 1973). CITES is an intergovernmental treaty to ensure that international trade of wild fauna and flora is sustainable. Each year as “World Wildlife Day” is celebrated to raise awareness about wildlife”. He further added that Theme of World Wildlife Day 2018 is “Big cats: predators under threat”.

Big cats include; Snow leopard, Lion, Tiger, Common leopard, Jaguar, Puma and Cheetah. Big cats being top predators play key role in maintaining healthy ecosystem. However, population of big cats is on decline due to varied threats including; loss of habitat and prey, conflicts with people, poaching and illegal trade. Over the past century we have been losing big cats at an alarming rate. He also said in his message that two big cats; Snow leopard and Common leopard are found in mountainous areas of Pakistan.

Common leopard is found in mountain forests of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. It was also reported from the highlands of Baluchistan and Sindh. Snow leopard is found in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir in the northern mountainous systems; Hindu Kush, Pamirs, Karakorum, and Himalayas across. Like other parts of the world, big cats are facing various threats in Pakistan including; habitat loss / degradation, decline in natural prey base, livestock depredation and retaliatory killing, lack of awareness, climate change and poaching for trade (skins and other parts). For conservation of big cats various actions have been taken by the present government.

Federal Minister for Climate Change Senator Mushahidullah Khan also said that Human-wildlife conflict; Snow leopard and Common leopard depredation on livestock and retaliatory killing is main threat to big cats in Pakistan. There are few reports of Common leopard attacks on human life which make the situation worse and negative perception prevails about wildlife in conflict areas. The species are protected under wildlife laws and a system of protected areas has been established which provide safe habitat to these species besides various conservation activities. Community-based Trophy Hunting Programme of wild ungulates (Markhor, Urial, Ibex and Blue Sheep) is being successfully implemented in Pakistan and is world recognized.

The local communities get 80% shares of the revenue generated, which is used for conservation and socio-economic uplift, in return the communities protect wildlife with a sense of ownership. This programme has great potential in changing public perception/attitude towards wildlife. The improvement in prey base has resulted in increase in Snow leopard population.

Although there are reports of big cat attacks on livestock, but being top predators in food chain, their presence is crucial for maintaining healthy ecosystem. World Wildlife Day 2018 gives us the opportunity to renew our commitment for nature conservation and to raise awareness about importance of these iconic species. There is need to enhance social acceptance for wildlife so that future generations may also be benefited with these important components of ecosystems.

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