(video) Can you find the Snow Leopard? Sighted at Morkhun Village

This video shows when we had a sighting of a Snow Leopard in Morkhun Village. The locals were telling us “It’s right there!” but I had such a hard time spotting it for such a long time.

It had eaten an Ibex, and we watched the snow leopard with the local villagers, as it was sleeping on the other side of the river. So many people gathered to watch it, the snow leopard looked a little stressed.

Can you find it? Snow Leopard in Pakistan

In the morning, the snow leopard had killed and fed on the ibex and hid in the bush to rest in the rocks above. This video is of the snow leopard around 3pm, as it woke up. With villagers surrounding it by the time it realized, it looked a bit startled and did not know where to go to escape.

A Startled Snow Leopard in Morkhun Village Pakistan

 

Video & text :Mariko SAWADA

Observation : Jan 2019, Morkhun Village, Gojar, Gilgit-Baltistan

Special Thanks to Mr.Sultan Gohar (Khunjerab National Park)

Category : - Snow Leopard > = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Gojar > - Morkhun > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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Kashmir Markhor (Tooshi-Shasha Conservancy)

The Markhor belongs to the genus Capra, (pronounced mārkhor) and is the world’s tallest goat family in the genus.
The male markhor is known as the “King of the Horned Animals” as well as “King of Goats” which seems to be an irresistible draw to the niche of ‘Fans of Horned Animals.’

Inhabiting western India and central Asia, most markhor are found in the core zone of the mountainous region of Pakistan. At one point, poaching greatly reduced the population, but as of 2020, the population seems to be making a recovery thanks to efforts to control trophy hunting and reduce illegal hunting.

 

Visiting the Tooshi-Shasha Conservancy, we were lucky to get a good view of markhor just on the other side of the river.
The Tooshi-Shasha Conservancy, established in 1979 with 1,045 hectares, was expanded in 1998 to 20,000 hectares, as a community-managed reserve by the surrounding 7 villages. Unlike national parks where hunting is prohibited, it is a managed area where limited hunting is permitted.
In Pakistan, normally wild animals will flee at the sight of humans, due to having been hunted, but it was possible to view them quite closely in the Conservancy.

 

This is a male markhor. The ones seen in this area are a subspecies called “Kashmir Markhor.” In the northern part of Pakistan, there is another subspecies called the “Astor Markhor.”
The male here has a nice set of horns. In this season, they will come to lower elevations in search of mating opportunities with females.

 

A herd of Kashmir markhor. Normally herds only have females and juvenile males but during this season, adult males can be seen with them.

 

Coming down the mountain.

 

He was getting very close. The male’s horns can reach up to 160 cm (63 inches). Females can also have horns, but they only grow to 25 cm (10 inches) in length. The females are also remarkably smaller in body size as well.

 

The male will raise his upper lip, sticking out his tongue…It seems this flehmen response is a reaction to the females in estrus.

The markhor’s breeding season is also sadly the same as hunting season for the rich trophy hunters. The hunting permits are auctioned to the highest bidders to wealthy hunters who aim to get these big-horned trophies for their collections.

In 2020, the year of an unprecedented pandemic, we had heard that the auctions went ahead and permits were already sold. But there was a big question if the hunters would show up or not! The day after we left, we heard that they did arrive from overseas to claim their permits. In the 20,000 hectare Tooshi-Shasha Conservancy there are an estimated 1,400 markhors (2015 population survey data) so every year 2 are allowed to be taken by the trophy hunters.

The Kashmir markhor are auctioned starting from 9,000 to 10,000 US$ and from there the permit is awarded to the highest bidder. Most of these proceeds (about 80%) are returned to the community, such as for schools and health care for the villagers. .

These 2 hunted markhor are therefore quite important sources of income for the locals and directly connects back to the conservation and management of these endangered wildlife. This is a model that modern Pakistan has which promotes the “Coexistence of Humans and Wildlife.”

 

Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA
Observation : Dec 2020, Tooshi-Shasha Conservancy, Chitral, Khyber Paktunkhwa
Special Thanks : KPK Wildlife Department, WWF Pakistan, Tomo AKIYAMA

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Markhor > - Chitral > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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Red-billed Chough ( Upper Hunza)

In the mountainous areas of northern Pakistan, there are “red billed crows” and “yellow billed crows.”

Strictly speaking, they are classified into the crow family Corvidae and the genus Pyrrhocorax, appropriately called red-billed chough and the yellow-billed chough (also known as Alpine Cough).

‘Chough’ is pronounced “chuf /tʃʌf ” and they breed in the highlands above 5,000m during the summer season. In the winter, they form large flocks and decend down into the valley.

Distributed through the Eurasian and African continents, the genus is divided into eight subspecies. The one found in northern Pakistan is Pyrrhocprax pyrrhocorax himalayanus, which also inhabits the Himalayan mountain region to western China. A prominent feature are the large, bluish-purple glossy wings. In Europe and in Africa, Choughs can be observed at an altitude of 2,000 to 3,000 m, but in the Himalayan Karakorum, there is only a chance to see them at higher elevations of 3,000m to 5,000m.

 

I could see red-billed choughs along the riverbanks near Morkhun village. In the winter, the upper Hunza is strikingly beautiful, as a vast landscape of jagged rocks etched by time are layered with snow like a masterful piece of art.

 

While I was watching these red-billed choughs, a herd of goats and sheep passed through to go to their grazing pastures. In the Upper Hunza there are 7 villages that during the summer will keep the yaks, sheep and goats in the Khunjerab national park area. But in the tough winter, only the adult yaks are left in the highlands, while the yearling yaks born in the summer, goats and sheep are brought down to the villages at around 3,000m. Then everyday these herds are taken to the pastures to graze.

 

The paths that the villagers use to move the herds are lined with red & yellow billed chough. Generally since the red-billed will form large flocks, there are usually a smaller number of yellow-billed chough in the groups.

 

These are flocks of red-billed chough that are gathering seeds or fruit from the trees along the side of the Karakoram Highway.

Hippophae rhamnoides are a deciduous shrub found widely in Eurasia. In north Pakistan, it is a very important tree for wild birds, whose fruits are eaten during this harsh winter.

 

The long, curved, red colored beaks. But that isn’t the only thing that red! Their legs are also a red color!

Keep a watchful eye out when you are in the Upper Hunza and Skardu areas in the winter months. At first you may think you are seeing crows…but actually you might be lucky to see black birds adorned with red and yellow beaks! It is no ordinary crow!

 

Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA
Observation : Dec 2020, On the KKH ( Morkhun – Sost),  Gilgit-Baltistan
Special Thanks : TOMO Akiyama

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Gojar > - Morkhun > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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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
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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
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Blue-throated barbet (Margalla Hills)

Blue-throated barbet observed at Margalla Hills, Trail No. 5 in Islamabad.

 

Blue-throated barbet is a barbet which can be seen in the forests spread throughout from the Indian subcontinent to Southeast Asia. It has a very distinct beautiful bright blue colored face and throat.

 

In Pakistan, Blue-throated barbet can only be seen in the forest around Murree hills.

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA
Observation : End of OCT, Margalla Hills National Park – Trail No5, Islamabad
Reference : Helm Field Guide “Birds of Pakistan”

Category : - Margalla Hills > ◆ Islamabad > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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Rufous-bellied niltava (Margalla Hills)

This is Rufous-bellied niltava that I encountered at Margalla Hills, Trail No.5.

 

Rufous-bellied niltava is found in temperate forests from South China to Southeast Asia and South Asia.

In Pakistan, it is found in Murree and Kaghan Valley, which are the southern foot of the Himalayas at an altitude of 1,800m to 2,600m . In winter it descends down to a lower place.

 

I went on Saturday at 7 am, before going to Office, but already many people were walking on the trail.

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA
Observation : End of OCT, Margalla Hills National Park – Trail.No.5, Islamabad
Reference : Helm Field Guides “Birds of Pakistan”

Category : - Margalla Hills > ◆ Islamabad > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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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 theTooshi-Shasha Conservancy, 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-Shasha Conservancy. 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-Shasha Conservancy 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
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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 > - Hingol National Park > - Ibex > - Wildlife of Balochistan
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Black-winged Stilt – Soon Valley

A Black-winged Stilt observed at Uchhali lake in the Soon Valley. It was feeding on the underwater invertebrates in the shallow water.
Black-winged Stilt is a widely spread water bird; mainly found in Europe, Africa, and South Asia, and is characterized by its long red foot.
When it flies, its feet resemble the tail feathers.
In Pakistan, it travels as a summer bird in northern Punjab. Moreover, it is observed all year round in the waters of southern Punjab, Sindh and on the coast of Balochistan.

 

Uchhali Lake with black saltwater reflecting the exquisite scenery around the lake.

 

The lake is surrounded by lush green mountains and tranquil villages.

 

If there is no wind, the lake surface reflects the view as a clear mirror.

 

A beautiful and crystal-clear sight of Black-winged Stilt reflected on the surface of the lake, just like a mirror.

 

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA
Observation: end of March 2019, Uchhali Lake, Soon Valley, Punjab
Reference: Birds of Pakistan, Birds of the Indian Subcontinents (Helm Field Guides)

Category : ◆ Punjab > - Soon Valley > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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