Kashmir Markhor – Gahirat Castle 1912

A lovely place to stay …  a  hotel introduced by a hunter acquaintance for the observation of Kashmir Markhor, Gahirat Castle Hotel 1912.

There are several hotels in the Chitral area that belong to the former Chitral princely state. Gahirat Castle 1912 is one of that and it has a private game reserve of 95,000 hectares, where about 700 Kashmir Markhors live.

 

In the morning and evening, you can see Hindu Kush’s highest peak Tirich Mir 7,708m from the vicinity of the Gahirat Castle. The perfect view beyond the wide Chitral Valley.

 

Gahirat Community Game Reserve—It is in a mountainous area, upstream of the Gahirat River. It’s vegetation is an ideal environment for Kashmir Markhor and the valley is narrow which is suitable for our observation as well.

 

A female Kashmir Markhor continuously looking at us.

In 2009, when the current owner began protecting Kashmir Markhor, the game reserve had only about 60 Kashmir Markhor.   Consequently through protection in accordance with the rules of trophy hunting and enforcement of laws against illegal hunting, it is said that number has increased to about 700 as of 2019.

Trophy hunting at the Gahirat Community Game Reserve has a quota of one Kashmir Markhor per year.  The amount of shooting permit from the government starts from about USD 100,000 (It is a surprise).  This is a system in which a hunting company drops it at an auction and sells it to customers. Most of this revenue is returned to the community. Nine gamekeepers were cracking down on illegal hunting for one trophy hunting in this game reserve.

 

Official trophy hunting began in 2000 at Gahirat Community Game Reserve, and there are 18 records by 2019.  The trophy hunting is limited to those old males with more than 40 inches horns.

The Kashmir Markhor displayed in the hotel’s living room is the trophy of the current owner’s grandfather, with 58 inches horn, the third-largest Kashmir Markhor trophy in the world.

To be honest, I don’t accept hunting or trophy hunting but I think it’s much better than the time when illegal hunting was rampant, encouraging local residents to understand conservation even the purpose for Trophy hunting.

 

Finally, when you come back from the Game Reserve, Gahirat Castle 1912 is a wonderful place to stay.  When you enter the building, you will be greeted by the historical heritage gems.

 

Pair of Himalayan Bulbul.

 

At 6:30 in the morning, you can hear the birds chirping. A blissful moment to go out in the middle of the garden and observe the birds.
I observed a good number of Himalayan Bulbul, White-eared Bulbul, Blue-whistling Thrush, Great Tit, Eurasian tree sparrow, Bank Myna, Streaked Laughingthrush, etc.
A great stay in nature, the Gahirat Castle 1912.

 

Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA
Visit :Oct 2019, Gahirat Castle 1912 & Gahirat Community Game Reserve, Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Markhor > - Chitral > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Himalayan Brown Bear in Summer – Deosai National Park

The Deosai Plateau – Land of the Giants – on the border with India is known as a habitat for the Himalayan brown bears.

However, it is not something you can see easily if you go to the Deosai Plateau. In addition, It has been a target of hunting for many years. They are very timid and run away quickly.
Furthermore, there are too many tourists in summer, and Himalayan brown bears go deep in the valley. So you have to walk a lot to meet them.

From a camp at altitude of about 4,000m, we went up to a valley where the altitude rises a little and countless creeks flow.

 

Suddenly the accompanying ranger shouted with surprise, “Bear!”

I quickly took out tripod and snapped the picture with the best possible zoom.
Two bears! A Mother bear and its cub. Wait… The mother bear is observing something.

 

It was a male Himalayan brown bear that the mother bear was looking at.
Mother bear and cub walked towards us in the grass along the creek avoiding this male.

Luckily, we were downwind and were able to come to a relatively closer position for observation of the Himalayan brown bear without being noticed by the bear.

 

Oh, bear cub found us, looking at us how cute!

 

Mother bear also found us, standing upright and staring at us.

 

Finally both of them looking at us. A dreamy camera angle. After this, unfortunately the two headed away.

 

Afterwards, Mommy bear and cub appeared a little away. They were moving while searching various things in the grassland.

 

When a cub was doing strange actions on the rock, they were observing another female Himalayan brown bear.
The other female bear completely ignored them and passed across them.

 

After that, the cub bear had a little sleep and played in the pastures.

 

At last, the mommy bear and cub went over the hill. It was really a beautiful, unforgettable sight.

 

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA
Observation : Jul 2017, Deosai National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan
Reference : Mr. Ghulman Raza – Deosai National Park, Mr. Zahoor Salmi (late)

Category : - Himalayan Brown Bear > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Deosai National Park
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kashmir Markhor Mother and Kid just across the river!

In the mountainous and rugged area near Chitral, there are several places where Kashmir Markhor can be observed.

Markhor is the national animal of Pakistan. There are 4 subspecies; Astor Markhor, Kabul Markhor, Kashmir Markhor, and Suleiman Markhor inhabited in Pakistan.
Indeed, Pakistan is surprisingly a country with a plethora of Markhors.

 

In the Tooshi Game Reserve, on the other side of the river along the way to Garam Chashma (hot spring) from Chitral, several groups of Markhor come to drink water from the river in the afternoon.

During this tour we observed a female Markhor and her kid very closely from the river side. But, only female and kid… Where is male?
Males spend most of the year  high on the mountains and they descend to low altitudes for mating in month of  December.

 

Markhor not only comes to drink water, but also to eat the leaves and bushes that grow on the river bank.

Kashmir Markhor climbing a tree!

 

Both mother and kid are standing on hind legs & eating.

 

Yes, you have to eat well before the harsh winters start!

 

During the visit, we did not get information about number of Markhor  in the Tooshi Game Reserve. But at at the Chitral Gol National Park nearby, it is said that the number of Markhor has increased to about 2,500.

In fact, I was able to meet Kashmir Markhor easily both in Tooshi Game Reserve and Chitral Gol National Park. Next time I would like to see “the male Markhor”.

 

Photo & Text: Mariko SAWADA
Visit : Oct 2019, Tooshi Game Reserve, Chitral , Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Markhor > - Chitral
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Balkasar Bear Sanctuary, Protect Bears in Pakistan!

This is the story of Balkasar Bear Sanctuary.
An acquaintance working in the hunting tourism sector invited me to visit the Balkasar Bear Sanctuary. At first, I didn’t know the main idea behind this place until I went there and saw the reality.

 

The bears were safeguarded and brought here from the entertainment show businesses like, “Bear Fighting” and “Dancing Bear”.

Most of the bears were owned by landlords in the southern part of Pakistan (South Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan), and their teeth and claws were taken out and sold.

Some individuals even had no limbs. They were cut out by their avaricious owners as a punishment for not obeying.
Seeing a bear with no limbs in front of me, I could not believe how cruel humans are.

 

Himalayan black bear under the training.

An acquaintance brought me here, who is a hunting tour operator involved in the bear conservation project and is responsible for the operations of returning to the wild. For him, knowing real wild animals, abuse of wild bear was not acceptable.

As I mentioned in the previous blog, Pakistan’s hunting situation is somehow contributing to the conservation of wild animals. The officials decide every year quota for each animal and returning profits to the local area. In this way, illegal hunting has halted and simultaneously protecting wild animals. Though it works only for animals which are labeled as “Trophy Hunting” animals, not for all the animals.

 

Time for the evening meal.

Balkasar Bear Sanctuary has 54 bears. The vast majority of them are black bears.

According to the experts, the current population of wild bears in Pakistan is assessed to be between 600 and 650 Himalayan black bears, 200 to 250 Himalayan brown bears. Though there is no official survey.
This means that approximately 6-7% of Pakistani bears are saved and protected in Balkasar Bear Sanctuary.

 

As my curiosity escalated, I asked how these bears are sold in the city.

In many cases, shepherd and locals search for hibernating mother bear and cub, killing the mother bear and bringing cub for sale.

I could not believe all these stories but it is a hard reality.

These bears were dealt badly in show business. When they were rescued and brought to the sanctuary their condition was utterly horrendous. Even the staff had difficulty confronting the truth of what befell these bears.
Pakistani and foreign veterinarians who cooperate with this Bear Sanctuary have helped save many bear’s life.

Unfortunately, these bears can’t go back to the wild anymore. The teeth and claws were taken out by some remorseless and selfish humans.

The purpose of this facility is to provide these bears to spend their remaining lives in a natural condition with other bears.

 

Moreover, this facility is working hard daily to return the bears to the wild who  are able to survive in the wild.
In the early summer 2016, they released three Himalayan black bears, and that success encouraged them to adopt this practice regular.
In the early summer of 2017, they released two Himalayan brown bears (2 and a half years old) who were trained to return to the wild.

As of October 2019, when we visited this sanctuary, two of them have survived in the wild. A microchip was embedded and its movement was monitored.

Some Himalayan black bear cubs are expected to return to the wild in 2020. The cubs will be trained regarding how to catch a fish at the facility in Nathia Gali.
Lobbying to the government has also been made at the same time.

 

It is also surprising that Balkasar Bear Sanctuary is not operating with aid funds such as the government’s or donations, but is working with income from their vegetable garden.

Negotiating with owners of bears such as powerful landlords, saving the bear from them, and returning the cubs to the wild is not an easy task by any means.

Wild animals such as Ibex and other goats’ families are protected under the trophy hunting resume and no doubt the number is increased, but bears are not protected at all and are in danger condition.

I would like to express my sincere respect and gratitude to the people of Balkasar Bear Sanctuary who fight against the cruel humans for the sake of wildlife, bears of Pakistan.

 

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA
Visit : Oct 2019, Balkasar, Punjab, Pakistan

Category : - Himalayan Brown Bear > ◆ Punjab > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan > ◇ Conservation of Wildlife, Nature
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sindh Ibex – Hingol National Park

Sindh Ibex is a mountain goat family that lives in the rugged dry mountainous areas of southern Pakistan. As the name suggests, Kirthar National Park in Sindh is famous for its natural habitat. However, Sindh Ibex also lives in Hingol National Park, Balochistan.

Surprisingly it was easy to meet Sindh Ibex coming to the water in the dry Hingol National Park. It was at the sacred Hinglaj Mata Hindu Temple (also called Nani Mandir) inside the national park. When I approached the shrine, Sindh Ibex was eating grass in quite a close distance.

 

A male Sindh Ibex. There are two types of Ibex in Pakistan. Himalayan Ibex in the Northern Mountains and Sindh Ibex in the mountains of Sindh and Balochistan. The male horn of Sindh Ibex astoundingly grows 1m long.

 

Gorgeous female Sindh Ibex and its baby.

 

Going forward, suddenly I saw a group of Ibex emerging from just above the cliff. Generally, Sindh Ibex seems to move in relatively large groups.

There were a lot of trophy-sized males (ones with large horns permitted to trophy hunting). In Pakistan, Ibex trophy hunting is taking place. However, it is only prohibited inside the national parks and hunting is operated under the rules and regulations by the community forest. For 2019, 50 Himalayan Ibex and 24 Sindh Ibex in Pakistan are allocated for trophy hunting slots.

Hunting?? In this era?? No doubt, I am against hunting, but Pakistan’s hunting situation is likewise identified with conservation and the endurance of the local villagers. Trophy hunting targets only large horned individuals who have no more ability to reproduce. Subsequently, these profits are given to villagers, so villagers crackdown on illegal hunting. Therefore, it is said that the Ibex population has increased in both the northern and southern regions since this system was established.

 

Energetic young males began battling with their horns.

 

It’s like a fighting practice. A male Ibex show dominance by fighting with a horn over females when they reach maturity.

 

Photo & Text  : Mariko SAWADA
Visit : Feb 2019, Hinglaj Mata/Nani Mandir, Hingol National Park,  Balochistan

Category : ◆ Balochistan > - Ibex > - Hingol National Park
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Stoat of Deosai Plateau

It is a Stoat, also known as a short-tailed weasel, which I observed at Deosai National Park, in October.
The morning and evening temperatures were below freezing point during this season. The Stoat was completely engulfed in white winter fur; protected from the predators and the harsh cold weather.

A Stoat is widely distributed in northern Eurasia continent and North America. In Pakistan, it is found in the northern mountainous areas.

There was no one where we stayed at Bara Pani campsite. A calm and peaceful place and only cold wind were blowing… Ultimately, a Stoat came quite close to us without any fear! Thus, we had the perfect opportunity to photograph it.

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Oct 2015, Deosai Plateau, Deosai National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Deosai National Park > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Snow Leopard observed in Morkhun Village -2

To begin with, when we were informed that the Snow Leopard hunted Ibex in the Morkhun village and sat on the other side of the river, we were near Gilgit. Thus, we changed the direction and headed towards Morkhun Village.

We had to drive slowly because it was dangerous and slippery on snowy roads, due to which, the chances of seeing the snow leopard decreased. It was a risky decision, as the snow leopard may not be there once we reach.
However, against all odds, we headed to the Morkhun village with a complex mind.

This is the Snow Leopard I saw when I just arrived. It was on the other side of the river and the distance was short. At first, I could not find it as it was camouflaged. But then I were able to see it, once it moved its tail.

It was already past 15 o’clock, and I was worried that the snow leopard would move before it became dark.

According to the villagers who have been observing it since morning, the Snow Leopard was hunting Ibex, eating it, hiding the rest of meat in the bush, entering the river, climbing up the rock, then it was sitting there for a while, and at last, went to sleep…till now. Villagers were showing us video clips of Snow Leopard they took through their mobile phone, while we were waiting for the movement of Snow Leopard.

The snow leopard has begun to move!
Villager screams in Wakhi saying, “Shou-bashi!”, meaning “Very good “/”Well Done”.
At this time, about 30 people from the village of Morkhun and the surrounding villages were witnessing the snow leopard.

Snow Leopard has jumped out. The villagers are delighted to say, “Shau-bashi! Shau-Bashi!”

Wild Snow Leopard is in front of us! I was really waiting for this perfect moment for a long time in Pakistan.

The villagers expected that Snow Leopard might go to the Ibex it hunted, but the Snow Leopard sat down again.

It was already dark, consequently limited chance to photograph the snow leopard. I followed the last figure of the snow leopard until I could not see it and left the place finally.

This is the place where we were observing in Morkhun village (drone shot)

Lastly, thanks a lot to the local people of Morkhun village.

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Jan 2019, Morkhun Village, Gojal, Gilgit-Baltistan
Special Thanks to Mr. Sultan Gohar (Khunjerab National Park)

Category : - Snow Leopard > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Morkhun > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Snow Leopard observed in Morkhun Village -1

This is a Snow Leopard I observed at Morkhun village in the beginning of January. I saw a lot of footprints of Snow Leopard in Khunjerab National Park (KNP), yet I could not witness it live.

At last! Now Snow Leopard is in front of me.

At around 10:30 am, a villager found Ibex blazing down the slopes of the mountain. When looked carefully, it was chased by a snow leopard.
Finally, Snow Leopard hunted Ibex, but the place was just across the river of Morkhun village. It was a distance of about 30m across the river.

At 15:00, I arrived at Morkhun village after receiving a message from Mr. Gohar, KNP.
The Snow Leopard was concealed, sitting inside the tree branch. But it started to move in the evening.

Villagers state that as this Snow Leopard entered the river after hunting of Ibex, so the fur was not fluffy.
The sunlight shining on Morkhun village — encompassed by high peaks of The Karakoram range — was short and faded quickly.
Sadly, now the time was over…

Photo & Text : Mariko
Observation: Jan 2019, Morkhun, Gojal, Gilgit-Baltistan
Special Thanks: Mr. Sultan Gohar – KNP (Khunjerab National Park)

Category : - Snow Leopard > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Morkhun > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Himalayan Brown Bear in Autumn – Deosai National Park

A Himalayan Brown Bear which makes the glorious Deosai plateau a well-known and famous place to traverse and explore for wildlife lovers around the world. In fact, the name itself literally translates to, “The land of the Giants”.

The Himalayan Brown Bear is a subspecies of the brown bear that lives in and around the magnificent Himalayas.
Originally, it inhabited widely in Nepal, Tibet, North India, and North Pakistan. However, due to trophy hunting and specifically for the purposes of fur and medicine, it lost its habitat and the population decreased drastically.
It is said that Himalayan brown bear in Bhutan has already been extinct. Moreover. Only a few hundreds population in Northern India and Northern Pakistan remain in the world.

In October, I went to Deosai Plateau for the observation of Himalayan Brown Bear with Deosai National Park staff. During my visit, a staff member explained to me that the bear may come closer to the roadside, as there are comparatively fewer cars and people during this season.
But still it was far and I had to walk quite a distance to approach the bear….

The sun has fallen.
No doubt, it was difficult to walk quickly, considering the fact that we were over 4,000 meters above sea level.

Finally, I came to the perfect distance where I could photograph the gigantic Himalayan Brown Bear.

View of a Himalayan Brown Bear from the backside!
According to the staff of the national park, he was a young male, and he was seamlessly fat enough before the hibernation period.

Himalayan Brown Bears go into hibernation between November and December.

Photo & Text  : Mariko SAWADA
Observation : Oct 2015, Deosai National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : - Himalayan Brown Bear > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Deosai National Park > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Snow Leopard returns to the mountain

In late February 2017, a Snow Leopard which attacked livestock in the village of Misgar in Northern Pakistan was captured. She entered the barn and killed goats and sheep. However, she could not get out of the barn.
The villagers understood that the Snow Leopard must be protected at all cost, but they wanted to ask the administration for compensation of their killed livestock. So, it was the third day after being captured, when she was finally released to the mountain.

This snow leopard was a female snow leopard who was being observed with two cubs near the village of Misgar. They did not release at Misgar but they transported to the Khunjerab National Park where she was released.

The story that snow leopard was captured in Misgar became news immediately, and I was trying to go there. Unfortunately, I was informed that a foreigner needs a permit to go there and I had no time for that. So, I gave up and stayed at Deh check post of Khunjerab National Park, where this snow leopard arrived.

To see the moment when this Snow Leopard is released, TV crew and government officials gathered and moved in a row.
It was decided to release her on the slope of the mountain, just after the Deh check post.

Even the cage was opened, snow leopard did not come out immediately. As it didn’t come out, the locals who were around enchanted, “Lolly, Lolly, come!”.
“Lolly” is the Snow Leopard kept at Sost check post, until autumn of 2016.
Now she has been shifted to Naltar valley. But when National Park staff see a female Snow Leopard, they cannot stop calling it “Lolly.”

As she was thirsty, so she immediately started to eat the snow.

She looked forward towards the people, after eating the snow.

And cautiously observed the environment around her.

She came out slowly from the cage. At this moment, applause arose from the local people standing there.

Finally, now she is freely walking into the wild.

After three days of restraint, her fur was disordered, and the blood of the livestock was still spread on her body.

She stopped to eat the snow.

The Snow Leopard went into the bush but still stared at us.

After a while, it started climbing the mountain again and sat down again.
Although this is a released Snow Leopard, it was first time to see a wild Snow Leopard in Pakistan for me.

We left the place hoping that this snow leopard could safely return to the two cubs in Misgar.
The next day, the staff went to see where the snow leopard was last sighted, but it was not there no more.

Fortunately, three days after the release, there was a message from the National Park staff that this snow leopard was witnessed in Misgar with two cubs.

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Feb 2017, Khunjerab National Park, Gilgit -Baltistan
Special Thanks : Mr. Sultan Gohar -KNP(Khunjerab National Park), Mr. Farman Razah – KVO ( Khunjerab Villager Organization), Wildlife Department of Pakistan

Category : - Snow Leopard > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Khunjerab National Park > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan > ◇ Conservation of Wildlife, Nature
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,