Protecting Nature in Karakorum: Cleanup Activities in Khunjerab Pass

This April, our snow leopard tour in Pakistan was excellent with great sightings! However, I was really saddened to see some marmots carrying garbage into their burrows at the Khunjurab Pass. On May 4, with the support of our tour participants, Abul Khan and the village of Moorkhun’s Boy Scout group, we cleaned up the trash around the Khunjurab Pass. Even if you ask the government to do something about the trash, we cannot expect a prompt response. It will still take some time to shift the culture and awareness about properly disposing of waste for the domestic Pakistani tourists. This season, we are planning to do two more cleaning activities again.

 

<<Video>> Marmot with Garbage, at Khunjerab top area

It was heartbreaking to see the hungry marmots, since they just work from their hibernation, eating the trash left behind by people.

Mr. Abul at the community hall in Moorkhun village, giving an orientation about the cleanup activities.

The most trash that is left behind is in the area near the border with China, which is the final destination for many of the tourists. Working at altitudes above 4,600 m, this work requires the cooperation of locals.

Cleaning along the ditch next to the Karakorum Highway. Snack wrappers, PET drink bottles, diapers, masks, etc. were all strewn about. How can people be so careless to just throw garbage out of their vehicle window?

A child that participated in the cleanup efforts.

This year we would like to conduct two more clean ups, one before and after the season. We still have a chance to regain the beautiful nature as it once was. In order to protect nature and amazing wildlife environment of the Karakorum Mountains, also called the “ridge of the world,” and the Pamir Plateau, I would like to do my best to protect it.

 

Image & text : Mariko SAWADA

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - the Karakoram Highway > - Morkhun > ◇ Conservation of Wildlife, Nature > - Khunjerab National Park
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

(Tour Vlog) Snow Leopard Spring Expedition 2021

This is the Vlog for the Snow Leopard Spring Expedition, April, when we had a great sighting of a snow leopard. We were on the recently melted snowy slopes near the Khunjerab Pass there the animals waking up from their long hibernation appeared. There were long-tailed marmots, along with predators like red foxes and the birds of prey from above, as well as herds of yak moving north, making their way to the highlands…and of course, the snow leopards. It is such an irresistible season for wildlife lovers.

 

Tour Vlog SNOW LEOPARD EXPEDITION SPRING2021

 

Considering all the hardships we have faced so far, I was filled with gratitude for this tour.

 

Videography: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: April 2021, Khunjerab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Snow Leopard > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan > - Khunjerab National Park
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Punjab Urial (Salt Range)

This is a report of Punjab Urial, which lives in the hills of the Salt Range, Punjab.

The Urial is a mammal of the genus Ovis of the order Artiodactyla. This is a wild sheep species where the male’s horns are thick and curve back in large arcs over their head, and a long tuft of hair under the neck. In South to Central Asia, they inhabit mountainous areas. In the past, they were considered the same species as the Ladakh Urial, but in the 2016 issue of “Bovids of the World,” the Punjab Urial of Pakistan became an independent species.

This is an endemic species to Pakistan and inhabits only the Salt Range and Kala Chitta Range, between the Jhelum and Indus Rivers in Punjab.

The Punjab Urial habitat includes gentle rocky slopes and thick with shrubs.

This was our visit to the Potohar Community Reserve. Currently, Punjab state has 5 CBO (Community Based Organizations), and this was the smallest one. Established in 2017, the hunting of Urial was banned on the Reserve so since then, the small population has been steadily increased.

CBO’s are private Reserves which offer an auction (mainly focused on foreign hunters), to allow hunting rights to the older male Urial with large horns. The proceeds are said to be divided in the community and used for conservation management. The so-called “Trophy Size” Urial are males that have horns between 28 – 31 inches (71-79 cm). According to the ranger who was with our group, this system has helped improve the situation over all for Urial. These older males are 12 to 13 years old and will die at around 14, even if they are left alone, so the hunting auction is helpful to the community and will support the conservation of the other Urials.

As a side note, in 2020, 3 hunter permits where assigned to each CBO, with a total of 15 annual hunting permits issued throughout Punjab. The price at the auction goes up to $15,000 to $16,000 USD per head. Certainly, this income for the community is a significant amount. At Pothar CBO, 16 rangers were working to crack down on the poaching activities and the Urial are being protected.

A heard of Punjab Urial. It was not that large of a group, it seems only 6-8 Urial are usually in each heard.

These are the female Urial. Their horns are small and straight.

This is a young male Punjab Urial.

This male watching us from behind the shrubs is a “trophy size” male. Unlike the females and young males, these large-horned males are much more fearful of people. Like they know that they are sought after.

For a brief moment, the “trophy sized” horned male allowed us to see him.

He was such a magnificent example of the Punjab Urial, with the large, curved horns and long tufts of hair on his neck.

And in no time, it was gone. This encounter helped us realize the effects of high hunting pressure that had been taking place as a result of the poaching that was taking place until very recently. Things might change, as we have seen with the Markhor and the Ibex in these northern mountainous regions of Pakistan, as the Urial populations grow and the limited, controlled hunting takes place.

The Punjab Urial populations were reduced by livestock that were overgrazing the habitat and by the highway dividing up the wild Urial herds. But now that the auction system was introduced, the protection has improved for the Urial.

The ranger who was with us, told me that I was the first foreigner who was not a hunter, to come to this Reserve.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Dec 2020, Potohar CBO, Punjab
Reference: Bovids of the World (Princeton Field Guides)

Category : Uncategorized
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Horned Lark (Deosai Plateau)

In July, when the Deosai Plateau is carpeted with wildflowers its known as the “Flower garden in the sky” and if the weather is nice, you can see the Himalayan Nanga Parbat from here.

This is my report about the Horned lark that I encountered on the Deosai Plateau.

The Horned lark is a wild bird that typically breeds in the northern part of Eurasia and North America in the summer and winters to the south. However in the northern part of Pakistan, it can be observed all year around. It can be seen in high-altitude open areas near Chitral, the Deosai Plateau and the Khunjerab Pass between 3,300 to 5,000 meters altitude.

The Deosai Plateau (Also known as Deosai National Park) is a high-altitude plateau with an average of 4,200 meters, near the boarder of India and the northwest of Pakistan. There are countless small streams that spread out across the plateau to form a wildflower haven sometimes called the “Flower garden in the sky.”

This open area is where the Horned larks breed in nests sheltered by the rocks and small indentations in the ground.

Wildflowers are in full bloom in early July.

This is the male Horned lark. As the name indicates, there are two horn-like crests on the top of its head. In some areas, there are Horned larks that have a more yellow coloring on their face throat, but in Pakistan they are white to a creamy color.

The male seen from the front.

The male Horned lark from behind. The created feathers that form the horns are incredibly cute.

This is a juvenile Horned lark. It was about the same size as the adult birds.

The Horned lark pecking at the grass seeds.

Is this a little bread crumb left by some tourists? They are feeding them to their chicks. The area around the campsite is the easiest place to observe them because of the food leftovers, and the Pakistani tourists are also enjoying bird watching as well.

These chicks have to grow up quickly and prepare for the winter. In the coldest part of winter, they will come down to the foot of the Plateau’s fields and valleys.

The Deosai Plateau was described as a “Flower garden in the sky,” but unfortunately, that situation is changing. In the summer, a large number of tourists visit and without much thought will leave their garbage behind and will go off-road driving into the grasslands.

I wish more people would realize that there are wild animals and birds that rely on these important breeding grounds, during the short summers of the Deosai Plateau.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: July 2016, Deosai National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

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

Citrine Wagtail (Deosai Plateau)

This is the Citrine wagtail observed in the summer of the Deosai Plateau. The breeding plumage of the male makes his bright yellow head, beautifully contrast with the black wings. Even amongst a carpet of blooming wildflowers, the birds stand out on the plateau.

Pakistan’s Citrine wagtail spends the summer breeding season along rivers and lakes in the northern highlands and overwinters in the open plains along the southern Indus River.

This photo was taken near the Barapani on the Deosai Plateau (elevation around 4,000 m). I was observing the Citrine wagtail that was in the riverbank near the campsite.

This wagtail appeared on the riverbank with its head all wet.

Breeding males have the bright yellow heads, while females have a light yellow-gray color.

This is young Citrine wagtail.

This one has caught a worm.

A Citrine wagtail on the flowering Deosai Plateau.

The Barapani campsite at night. Clear crisp air at an altitude of 4,000 m.

There was some frost in the morning. Even in July, we need to be prepared with sufficient protection against the cold.

Full moon in the morning.

From the clear skies over Deosai Plateau, appeared the 9th highest peak in the world, Nanga Parbat, at 8,125 m. The massive and dynamic Himalayan mountain range is so overwhelming to take in.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: July 2016, Deosai National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

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

Long-Tailed Marmot in the Summer (Deosai National Park)

The Long-tailed Marmot observed on the Deosai National Plateau in the summertime. The Plateau, designated a National Park in 1993, has an average altitude of 4,100 m (about 14,450 ft high) near the boarder of India and northern Pakistan.

In the last few years, the number of Pakistani domestic tourists visiting the Park increased drastically, and despite being a National Park, the tourists having bad manners, became difficult to manage. There is a great concern about the impacts the tourism has on the natural environment.
At the campsite, there are parties and lots of tourists making noise, so for those who came to seek nature, its well known that the camping areas are a tough place to be. Besides that, there are the native wild animals who are trying to make the most of the short season of “Summer on the Deosai Plateau” as well.

When you camp at the Deosai Plateau, you will get to see this marmot around. These are the same marmots that can be found on the Pamir Mountains of Central Asia, called the Long-tailed Marmot or Golden Marmot.

The marmots often check for danger, as they stand up on their back legs near their burrows and carefully monitor the situation; when needed they sound an alarm call “Kii-Kii!” Of course, they will make calls for people who venture too close, but they are mainly on the lookout for the foxes and birds of prey above who often target the marmots.
Ranging from altitudes of 3,200m to up to 5,000m, the marmots live in very large colonies, digging burrows into the alpine plain grasses and among the rocks. Being monogamous, it is said that the marmots are highly social animals with a complex society.

They often stand next to the opening, always ready to duck into their protective cavity. This burrow is used for hibernation.

I stood watching the colony near the road for a very long time. Eventually, the marmot families relaxed a little and the babies began to come out.

A mother and her pup came out of the burrow. The pups will spend the first 6 weeks of their life in the burrow and then start to venture out.

They are so, so cute.

The pup plays with the momma.

One more pup came out. Long-tailed Marmots will give birth to about 4 pups at a time, but only about half of them can survive the first summer, and many are lost during the first hibernation. While observing them, I could see the little heads of many pups in this colony.

The snows begin in October on the Deosai Plateau. In previous visits to Deosai, I saw the marmots were still active in the first week of October. They will probably enter hibernation around November, and I hope these little guys make it through the winter!

 

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA

Observation : Jul 2017, Deosai National Park, Gilgit -Baltistan

Special Thanks  : The late Mr.Zahoor Salmi,  Deosai National Park

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

SNOW LEOPARD EXPEDITION VOL.04 (Khunjerab National Park)

This is a continuation of our morning sighting of the snow leopard mother and cubs, as we followed them for the day.

When we first saw the leopard family, they had been feeding on the ibex that the mom probably killed for breakfast until we disturbed them. Then we could find them again on the nearby mountain slope, not far from their prey. At first, they were laying on the slope, but then as the day got hotter, they moved around into different spots of grass and then, into the shade of the rocks. They did not spend the entire day sleeping, but instead I could sense that they were struggling to find a cool spot to rest.

The video below, of the leopards below was taken during the day, very far away from them.

Snow leopards during the daytime

Then, finally, came the long-awaited for sunset. At first, the family of three were staying in the same place, but by the time evening fell, they went their separate ways. The mother snow leopard began walking towards the leftover ibex that was killed that morning!

Snow leopard at dusk

It looked like the mother snow leopard was telling us “Hurry up and go!” as she was just out of reach from her precious kill. The cubs looked on at the scene, from the rocks above. As darkness fell, their time begins again.

It was an amazing opportunity to be able to spend the whole day watching snow leopards.

 

Videography & text :Mariko SAWADA

Observation : April 2021, Khunejrab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Snow Leopard > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan > - Khunjerab National Park
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

SNOW LEOPARD EXPEDITION VOL.03 (Khunjerab National Park)

This is a report from the Spring Snow Leopard Expedition. The event happened when we only had two more days left in the trip. While driving through Khunjerab National Park, we saw snow leopards at a very close proximity. It was a mother with 2 cubs as they were feeding on an ibex carcass.

Of course, the snow leopard mother and cubs were surprised by our appearance, and scampered to the edges of the cliff. The encounter lasted for about 3 minutes, and we were all silent, with just the sounds of the clicks of our cameras making noise.

 

Snow leopards sighted from the Karakoram highway

After they disappeared over the ridge, we decided to continue to look for them for the rest of the day, adjusting our location to see if we could see them from a different angle.

 

Videography & text :Mariko SAWADA

Observation : April 2021, Khunejrab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Snow Leopard > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan > - Khunjerab National Park
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

SNOW LEOPARD EXPEDITION VOL.02 (Khunjerab National Park)

We had an encounter with a sweet pair of snow leopards at an altitude of 4,500m near the Kunjerab Pass. I am certain for this time of year, it probably isn’t a mating pair but maybe a a two-year old child and its mother.

We were observing and shooting photos from a distance of about 1 km away, so thanks to the long-distance sighting, we were able to see them in their full natural behavior.

 

Snow leopards Khunjerab national park top area 1

 

Snow leopards Khunjerab national park top area 2

 

Photo & text :Mariko SAWADA

Observation : April 2021, Khunejrab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Snow Leopard > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan > - Khunjerab National Park
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

SNOW LEOPARD EXPEDITION VOL.01 (Khunjerab National Park)

Snow Leopard at Khunjerab National Park at 4,300 meters above sea level.

The Karakoram Highway, which runs through Khunjerab National Park, exceeds 4,000 meters from Koksar and then makes a steep rise to about 4,700m around the Khunerab Pass. Just as we were climbing the extreme slope, we encountered this snow leopard as we turned the curve.

While we were driving, Mr. Hussain, who was looking for wildlife from the window suddenly directed the driver to “Back up a little” and he said “There is a snow leopard, very-very close, perhaps hunting its prey.” I couldn’t find it right away at all. Even though he said “Its close. Its right there” but to me I have no idea “how close” he was referring it might be…I was really resenting my bad eyesight.

Finally, I could see it, the snow leopard! It was maybe 50m or more…? It was facing away from us, so it was well camouflaged. As I learned later, there was an injured yak below this rocky outlook, and it was investigating the yak. This was the first photo, before it even noticed us.

Noticing our vehicle, Mr. Hussain suggested quickly “It will be gone soon. Better get your photos now.” It was such a fortunate encounter for us to see this rare snow leopard!

…and in less than 10 seconds, it disappeared from sight.

These prey animals of the snow leopards are so sensitive and alert. As soon as the snow leopard moved, the yaks, all at once, gazed in that direction.

The ibex had already sensed the presence of the snow leopard and looking in that direction where it had moved to. The herd were all gathered together and already on high alert.

This herd of ibex were looking towards the snow leopard for a while, but eventually moved closer to our position and sat down, facing us. It felt as if they were asking “Please, if something happens, help us out?”.

 

Photo & text :Mariko SAWADA

Observation : April 2021, Khunejrab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Snow Leopard > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan > - Khunjerab National Park
Tag : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,