A Snow Leopard Encounter! Karakoram Highway

We arrived in Northern Pakistan in search of the snow leopards. While traveling on the Karakoram Highway, we observed the ibex and the vultures.

In Khunjerab National Park, there are many footprints on the roads and in the snowy fields of the river. On the Karakoram Highway, I also found traces of snow leopards after they slept in certain places and on  worn plastic pet bottles that were chewed up by the snow leopard kittens that had played with them as toys. Snow leopards seem to regularly come onto the Karakoram Highway, which makes for easier paths to travel at night and in the early morning hours when there are no cars around.

 

A suspension bridge covered with snow leopard footprints! Snow leopards can cross the rivers in narrow or frozen areas, but of course if there is a bridge, they will not hesitate to use it.

Around noon, as we were traveling along the Karakoram Highway, the guide suddenly shouted “Leopard!” And promptly stopped the car and got out. Staring out at the landscape saying “Bismillah, Bismillah (In the name of God),” and right there, was a snow leopard.

 

It was sitting on a rock just off the road, but as soon as it saw us, started walking away.
The guide is delighted with “Shaubashi, Shaubashi (Wakhi language meaning ‘Very good’ or ‘Well done’.) The pressure on the guide of trying to see a snow leopard, was released.

 

Even though we saw it, the snow leopard was so fast and it was difficult to catch a photo of it as it walked away. At 3,300 meters above sea level, we were so excited and became short of breath. As we took the photos, our hands were shaking, not sure if the photos would come out.

 

A Snow leopard, actually walking, in the snow. So often, Snow leopards are observed amongst rocky backdrops, so it was nice to finally be able to observe this snow leopard with the white snow, which it was named after.

 

It climbed higher and higher, getting smaller and smaller.

 

It continued moving further away. There were times when it overlapped and camouflaged with the tufts of grass, making it hard to find in the viewfinder.

 

He showed me his face for just a few brief moments. This is the last photo. It started walking into the rocky area and soon disappeared.

 

The group as we watched this snow leopard until the very end.

 

We returned to Sost at 2:30 pm for a late lunch. This day was a celebration for the guides (but no alcohol!). A buffet of different kinds of yak meat. All enjoyed a fusion of yak meat recipes, such as yak mantu (Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, which borders Sost, Central Asian cuisine) and yak nihari (a dish of the Indian subcontinent that is stewed with beef parts and the bone marrow).

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Dec 2020, Khunjerab National Park, KVO Area, Gojar, Gilgit-Baltistan
Special Thanks: Tomo AKIYAMA, Hussain ALI and Abul KHAN

Category : - Snow Leopard > - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Gojar > - Khunjerab National Park > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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(Video) Markhor In Love, Chitral Gol National Park

During the breeding season, male Markhor, who usually are spending their time in the highlands, will come down from the mountains in search of females in heat.

Typically, we would see the males chasing the females, but I found a couple of cases where the females attacked the males. And then…another male would come over and…

We could watch the fascinating encounter of “Markhor in Love” with the staff.

恋するマーコール Markhor in love, Chitral Gol National Park|西遊旅行

 

Video & text : Mariko SAWADA

Observation : Dec 2020, Chitral Gol National Park, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Special Thanks : Wildlife Department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, WWF Pakistan, Tomo AKIYAMA

Category : ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > = Video Clip KPK > ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Markhor > - Chitral Gol National Park > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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(Video)An Ibex Appeared on the Karakoram Highway!

After mid-December, Himalayan Ibex sometimes descend to the villages near Khunjerab National Park and the mountains close by. As the mountains become covered with snow in the winter, the herds of females move down to the lower altitudes. This is when ibex will start their breeding season, attracting the males to the herds.

This male ibex with his huge horns just suddenly appeared on the side of Karakoram Highway. Perhaps he was in hot pursuit of a female, and just forgot about his own safety, but he passed immediately next to us.

 

Himalayan Ibex on the Karakoram Highway

 

 

Text :Mariko SAWADA     Video : Yoko KADONAGA

Observation : Dec 2020, on the Karakoram Highway, Khunjerab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Ibex > - Khunjerab National Park > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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The Markhor of the Gahirat (Gehret) Goleen Conservancy

We visited the Gahirat (Gehret) Goleen Conservancy, just southeast of Chitral, to observe some Markhor.
Compared to the protected areas of national park where you can observe Markhor near Chitral, the valley here is narrower and the steep, rocky mountains are very impressive, making it a beautifully scenic valley. Like the Tooshi-Shasha Conservancy, it is under the control of the community of surrounding villages and only one Markhor per year can be taken for trophy hunting.

 

Moving away from the main road along the Chitral River and entering the conservancy, the condition of the road is horrible. Along the way, we passed through mountain of marbled rocks and crossed a small stream.

 

Last night’s snow remains on the rock surface.

 

The Gehret Goleen Conservancy is a 95,000-hectare community reserve founded in 1998. Surrounded by steep, rocky mountains the sparse vegetation on the slopes include the holly oak (Quercus ilex), the Himalayan  cedar (Cidrus deodara), and the Chilgoza pine (Pinus gerardiana).

 

A female Markhor appeared against the backdrop of the rocky mountain. I caught myself thinking “Oh, if only this could be a male with big horns, that would have been nice!” … it is such a picturesque landscape.

 

A male then appeared in search of females. Markhor males seen during this season continue to search for females in estrous.
The size of the Markhor herd in the Conservancy was as small as 10-21 head, compared to 25-57 individuals in the Tooshi Shasha Conservancy, which may be a sign of just how tough the rugged environment is here.

 

The young males also practice battling with their horns. This is an interesting season to see the sight of males chasing herds of females in heat.

Photo & Text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Dec 2020, Gahirat (Gehrait) Goleen Conservancy, Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Special Thanks: KPK Wildlife department, WWF Pakistan, Tomo AKIYAMA

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