By Iqtidar Gilani
LAHORE - Inadequate resources, shortage of staff, lack of security and broken fences are posing serious threats to existence of critically endangered and rare species of wild animals at Lal Suhanra National Park.
Hundreds of deer including critically endangered Blackbucks have been stolen or died after falling ill during the last six months, causing serious concerns among conservation organisations including World Wide Fund for Nature Pakistan. Blackbuck became virtually extinct in the Cholistan Desert but the species was re-introduced at Lal Suhanra National Park within large enclosures, together with Chinkara gazelle.
Houbara Foundation donated 504 Blackbucks to Lal Suhanra National Park in December 2011 to overcome declining population of the rare species in two enclosures. Theft and death of Blackbucks after illness caused gradual decrease in the number of Blackbucks.
At present, 365 Blackbucks (179 Male, 149 Females and remaining minors) are housed in bigger enclosure. As many as 59 Blackbucks are housed n smaller enclosure along with 13 Chinkara deer.
One of the largest National Parks in South Asia, Lal Sohanra is situated in Bahawalpur district of Punjab province. Lal Sohanra is spread over 162568 acre and is notable for the diversity of its landscape, which includes areas of desert, forest and water. In lieu of 11366 acre land transferred for establishment of Solar Park, Lal Sohanra National Park was compensated by giving the same size of land owned by Cholistan Development Authority. The park is situated some 35 kilometres east of Bahawalpur and presents a synthesis of forest and desert life. It occupies land on both sides of Desert Branch Canal, and is spread over an area of 65000 hectare green land, 54600 hectares dry land (desert), and 2000 hectare wet land (ponds and lakes). The park's terrain is generally flat, interspersed with sand dunes measuring between 1 and 6 meters in height and occupying as many as thousands of acres apiece.
Management of Lal Suhanra National Park, however, bailed itself by saying that internal inquiry has been initiated and FIRs lodged against unidentified thieves. The management said that it was almost impossible to cover such a huge area with only few unarmed security.
“One each assistant director and inspector and only two unarmed watchmen are responsible for the security of such a huge area. Brocken fences of enclosures have made it easier for thieves to steal precious animals. Seven FIRs have so far been lodged against unknown thieves. A committee is also probing involvement of staff in these incidents. Illegal hunting and wood theft is also a routine due to lack of resources and security”, told Sub Divisional Forest Officer Farhan Rehman to a group of Lahore based journalists who recently visited Lal Suhanra National Park along with a team of WWF Pakistan.
“There is need of allocation of sufficient funds for replacement/rehabilitation of fences of enclosures housing Blackbucks and Chinkara deer in particular and fencing of the entire park in general. Deployment of more forest guards with ammunition was also necessary to check illegal pouching and hunting of wild animals. Adequate supply of canal water is also necessary for protection of flora and fauna at the National Park. There is need of making proper arrangements for transporting visitors from nearby cities to the National Park”, he said, adding proper attention could cause more people to take benefits from educational, research and recreational facilities at the National Park.
Lal Suhanra National Park was declared a national park on October 26, 1972, following recommendations made by the Wildlife Enquiry Committee in 1971. It is crossed by the dried-up bed of the Hakra River and features an important wetland, Patisar Lake. Patisar Lake regularly holds between 10,000 and 30,000 ducks and common coot in mid-winter.
Mammals in the park include--Long-eared Hedgehog, Nilgai antelope, Hog Deer, Red Fox, Bengal Fox, Golden Jackal, Porcupine, Caracal Cat, Moongoose, Jungle Cat, Indian Wolf, Wild Boar, Honey Badger or Ratel, Little Civet, Indian (Black-naped) Hare, Smooth-coated Otter and Indian Rhino.
Birds in the park are--Houbara Bustard, Griffon Vulture, Honey Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Laggar Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, Kestrel, Indian Sparrow Hawk, Egyptian Vulture, Larks, Shrikes, Wheatears and Barn Owl.
Reptiles in the park are-- Monitor Lizard, Russell's Viper, Indian Cobra, Saw scaled Viper, Wolf Snake, John's Sand Boa and Spiny Tailed Lizard.