Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Pakistan snow leopard to have new home

By M Ilyas Khan
BBC News, Islamabad

The snow leopard has spent two years in a cage by the side of a road

Snow leopard
The snow leopard has spent two years in a cage by the side of a road
A snow leopard rescued by locals in northern Pakistan two years ago will be moved to a specially designed wildlife care facility next June, officials say.

For the past two years it has been living in a cage by the side of a road.

The local government ordered the animal to be moved after experts concluded it was not fit to be released in the wild.

Snow leopards are native to mountain regions of central and South Asia, but fewer than 6,000 are thought to be left in the wild.

Earlier this year, the government turned down a request by a Swedish zoo to adopt the snow leopard, saying it wanted to keep it to raise awareness about wildlife in Pakistan.

The regional government of Gilgit-Baltistan, a semi-autonomous province in Pakistan's extreme north, approved a site plan for the wildlife facility in November, and construction will begin in January.

The leopard and her keeper
The leopard was a 2kg cub when it was found
The facility is being funded by the United States embassy in Pakistan.

The leopard was a 2kg cub when it was found

'Yak meat'

The snow leopard, a female, was rescued on 31 December 2012 from a partly frozen river stream in the Wadkhun area of Sost, the last town on the Pakistan-China border in the Karakoram mountain range.

Pervez Iqbal, a game watcher from the Department of Parks and Wildlife who rescued the cub, told the BBC it weighed just over 4kg at the time.

It now weighs between 28kg and 30kg - the standard weight of an adolescent female.

"Initially we fed her milk with a feeder, and then switched to chicken, but it now consumes 3kg of yak meat in a day," Mr Iqbal said.

Local charity the Snow Leopard Foundation (SLF) is designing the new enclosure in partnership with international donors.

It is being built over 11,000 square feet in the mountainous Naltar region of Gilgit-Baltistan.

"We want to build a large enclosure which will be designed to keep human intervention at a minimum and allow the snow leopard to live in stress-free conditions," said Dr Ali Nawaz, head of the SLF.

Dr Nawaz said the animal had been in contact with humans for too long for it to be released into the wild.

"It was separated from her mother at an age when it learns to hunt and undergoes muscular build-up that helps it survive in the wild later," he said.

Another snow leopard cub, a male nicknamed Leo, was rescued by a farmer in the same region in 2006.

It was later donated by the Pakistani government to the Bronx Zoo in New York.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hunza: another view

With reportedly the highest GDP per capita and a literacy rate of above 80pc, the Hunza valley, originally famous for its natural beauty and high life expectancy rates, has been dubbed as a successful model of development within Pakistan and abroad.

The models of poverty alleviation pursued by a number of non-profits were soon replicated in all Pakistani provinces and even in neighbouring countries.

Whether Hunza still remains a successful model of development in the developing world is debatable. Much has changed in the economics of poverty and development, and the combination of high income and high literacy rate might not have translated to societal improvement.

Contemporary economics of human development puts more weight on the quality of living standards, access to health and education, freedom of choice, ability to participate in local decision-making etc. Deprivation in these areas may lead to multidimensional poverty. Based on Mahbabul Haq’s human development foundations, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen introduced this path-breaking concept of multidimensional poverty.

This seems applicable to Hunza where conventional economics failed to capture the multidimensional aspects of well-being. Take health. Despite being the richest region in terms of per capita income, almost all Hunza villages are without basic health facilities. Hospitals in Aliabad and Karimabad, the two major towns, are hardly equipped to handle complicated pregnancies, major accidents or serious illnesses.

Likewise, Gojal, the upper part of Hunza, which remains cut off from the rest of the region due to the formation of the Attabad lake, is reported to have not even a single medical practitioner. Picture a situation where you get sick and are stuck in Gojal because of a frozen lake; even though you have enough money to pay the doctor, no medical service is available.

Ironically, life expectancy, a major development indicator in yesteryear Hunza, has plummeted, thanks to increasing diseases like cancer and other illnesses. The alkaline water, once the secret of longevity in Hunza, now seems to be the reason for disease, along with other factors. There have been reports that tap water is contaminated in the few villages lucky enough to have a drinking water supply.

Likewise, many primary school-going children in remote villages within Hunza have no access to quality education; their parents of course can sell their potatoes and cherries to pay for their children’s tuition fee but in some cases there’s no school within five kilometres of their residence. How parents manage to send their offspring to school is another story.

The list of dirty laundry to be aired is too long. It ranges from the lack of proper sanitation facilities and of supply systems for drinking water to mounting income disparity, the absence of electricity and unprecedented corruption that has been inflicted on Hunza by imported development models. The failure of high per capita income and a high literacy rate to manifest themselves in societal development arises for two reasons: firstly, while the Western world was incorporating this aspect in its development models and public policies, the models that were executed here were more skewed corporate models that accentuated individualism rather than collectivism.

While Professor Elinor Ostrom was winning the Nobel Prize for encapsulating friendship, fairness, trust, and reciprocity as reasons for the enduring success of common resource pools in rural societies, the latter were relying on outdated Western development models of competition that neglected overall societal improvement.

Community decision-making is an integral part of politics says renowned political scientist Deborah Stone. Contrary to that, the parochial political culture in Hunza is an outcome of the desire of some to emerge as rapid game-changers rather than to facilitate the change stemming from within the society itself.

Secondly, the government has given short shrift to the entire development episode in Hunza, and shied away from its responsibility of providing basic civic amenities. More astonishing is the apathetic behaviour of the masses towards societal development as no noticeable voice has been raised for civic rights in the last many decades.

The bottom line is that, the flawed notion of development in Hunza undertaken by non-profits eventually gained currency among the masses and was accepted and pushed by governments to save their own funds.

The masses were thus mesmerised by an illusionary development metaphor and many believe they were in fact ‘developed’. For that reason, they might not demand their civic rights that are crucial to any society.

Until the public remains apathetic, neither the government nor the non-profits can have any reason to work for the genuine societal development of Hunza. ‘Development’ in Hunza, however, remains a success story for classical economists — the adherents of capitalism.

The writer is pursuing a doctoral degree on Gilgit-Baltistan.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Local sightseers inject new life into Hunza valley

Tourists visit the Baltit fort in Karimabad, a town of the northern Hunza valley.
After a slump in foreign visitors triggered by a deadly attack last year, a new wave of local sightseers has saved tourism in Pakistan’s idyllic northern Hunza valley — but not everyone is happy.

Though there are no official figures, hotel owners say large numbers of domestic tourists are visiting in unprecedented numbers, heading north to escape the sizzling heat of summer that lasts well into October.

In the valley’s main town of Karimabad, they snap pictures at the ancient Baltit Fort, a resplendent 1st century redoubt from where they can take in breathtaking views of lush forests and snow-capped peaks that have attracted the best climbers from around the world.

International tourism once helped shape the Gilgit-Baltistan region but it has slowed to a trickle after the killing of 10 foreign climbers at the base camp of Nanga Parbat mountain last year ended a post 9/11 revival.

In their place have come visitors from eastern Punjab, and the city of Karachi.

Though their business is both welcome and vital, cultural differences also highlight the growing gap between the religiously conservative south and traditionally secular north,
according to observers.

Some complain the local guests can be disrespectful toward the liberal traditions that have long set the area apart from the rest of the country, and are prone to spoiling the region’s natural beauty by

Others say they don’t spend as much as foreign tourists.

“This year there are no foreigners, only Pakistanis and the Pakistanis don’t buy things from here as they don’t need it,” said Saddar Karim, who owns a forlorn-looking trekking shop, adding Pakistanis usually aren’t interested in climbing.

Bewitched by the region’s splendour, as well as the famed hospitality of its mainly Ismaili Muslim inhabitants, foreign visitors in the late 20th century helped create around a dozen schools and have invested heavily in hundreds of others that dot the villages of the countryside.

One such is Hasegawa Memorial Public School established in 1995 to commemorate renowned Japanese mountaineer Tuseno Hasegawa who is buried in the lap of the mountain, as per his will.

Schools like Hasegawa introduced English as the medium of instruction and played a major role in boosting the region, say locals.

“International tourism has made a tremendous contribution in the socio-economic uplift of Hunza and we should be thankful for that,” said Imtiaz Ali, owner of Hunza Holidays, a leading tour operator.

International tourism took a major hit after Pakistan joined hands with the US in its war against terror after 9/11.

Sherbaz Kaleem, manager of the ancient Baltit Fort, said that during peak season before 2001, “we used to receive almost 200 - 300 international community tourists” daily.

The numbers were reduced to a trickle, but began to pick up once again later that decade.

The slow recovery came to a screeching halt last June, when gunmen shot dead 10 foreign tourists at the base camp of the Nanga Parbat — giving a new meaning to its nickname among climbers “Killer Mountain”.

It was the deadliest assault on foreigners in the country for a decade.

Kaleem said many people cancelled visits to Hunza while those at Baltit fort came numbered two to three every day. “Even then they were afraid and many people told them that they should go back.”

Ali of Hunza Holidays said the industry was now re-orienting itself to focus on the local

“I think it’s time now that we should focus on domestic tourism as unlike international tourism it is more viable and is not very much affected by the
political and security situation.”

It can help to create bridges of understanding between the various cultures of Pakistan,” he added.

Others are less enamoured of their new guests.

“The domestic tourists spread a lot of pollution in the area, they throw the trash everywhere,” grumbled Ahmed Ali Khan, a guesthouse owner.

Residents also complained that their cultural values, including their traditionally open and tolerant Ismaili Islam, were
under siege.

Aziz Ali Dad, a social commentator, said: “The difference between domestic and international tourists is that the international tourists are more conscious about the local values and respect them - which is not the case with the domestic tourists.”