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Rare sheep in danger of being hunted to extinction

Rare sheep in danger of being hunted to extinction

Mar 30, 2011 - 15:40

FAIZABAD (PANinfo-icon): The population of wild animals, such as the Marco Polo and Urial sheep, is at risk in northeastern Badakhshan province due to hunting and smuggling, the environmentinfo-icon protection department says.  

They say these animals, which mostly live in the Pamir Mountains of Wakhan district, are being hunted by locals for their meat, horns and wool, and smuggled to neighbouring countries, such as Pakistaninfo-icon and Tajikistan.

According to the department, there are 26 animals and birds in Badakhshan, including the Marco Polo and Urial sheep and the snow leopard, which are not found in any other region of the country.

The environment protection department has warned that the animals could be hunted to extinction if steps are not taken to protect them.

Urials are known locally as Mishk, while the Marco Polo is called Qachqar. The Marco Polo is the worldinfo-icon’s biggest sheep and can weigh up to 70 kilograms.

Both mainly live in Sargaz of Pamir, which shares a border with China, Pakistan and Tajikistan, and in Kishim and Kuranwa Munjan districts.

Ghulam Nabi, head of the environment protection department, says each Marco Polo sheep can fetch $50,000 and each Urial $40,000. They are hunted and trafficked to Pakistan and Tajikistan by smugglers, where they charge foreigners to hunt them, and domestically for their long horns and fine wool.  

There used to be thousands of the sheep in the mountains of Pamir, known as the roof of the world. But fighting during the civil war and over-hunting caused the animals to seek calmer areas in neighbouring countries.

According to Nabi, the past four years have seen hundreds of the sheep return to the region. He says there are  now about 400 Marco Polo and 300 Urial sheep in the area.

 “These types of sheep are very smart and swift, and live in safe and calm areas,” he says.

Nabi says that before the civil war, during the reign of King Zahir Shah, foreign tourists used to travel to Pamir to hunt the sheep.

Each tourist had the right of one shot only. If he missed, there would not be another opportunity unless they paid for another.  

The Marco Polo is also hunted domestically, for its meat, horns and wool.

According to the people of Wakhan, the curved horns of the Marco Polo can stretch 60-70 inches and its legs are thin but powerful. It can run long distances and jump 10 to 15 metres.

Marco Polo live for 16 to 18 years. When its horns become too long, it can no longer eat grass and dies.

The sheep is named after the Italian traveler, Marco Polo, who visited Badakhshan in 1890, on his way to China, and wrote about what he saw.

Mohammad Ibrahim, 48, a resident of Wakhan district, has been sheep hunting since his childhood, killing more than 50 of the beasts. The horns and glossy fur of the sheep are used to decorate the house, he says.

Mohammad Naim, 55, also a resident of Wakhan, says the meat of the sheep is good to eat.

Smuggling is also a big problem. Nabi, of the environment protection department, says police recovered a Urial sheep which someone intended to take over the border a month ago, but it is not clear where the animal is now. 

He says they asked the police to hand the sheep over to the department so it could be sent to the zoo, but police freed the beast into the wild instead.

Major Abdul Ali, chief of police in Kishim district, says they are cooperating with the environment protection department.

Police take smuggling seriously, he says.

The jail sentence for hunting endangered species is from 10 to 15 years.

Last year, a snow leopard was trapped and the smuggler planned to sell its fur for $100,000. Police intercepted the smuggler and the animal was transferred to a centre in Badakhshan. But because they did not have the facilities to free it on the mountains, it died in the environment department three days later.

Local officials in Badakhshan province say they have banned hunting of all animals and birds that are endangered, including partridges.

 Mohammad Alim, secretary at the Badakhshan governor’s office, says shopkeepers who sell partridges are fined.

He says that last year they confiscated 60 partridges from shopkeepers who were fined 50 afghanis for each bird. Those caught selling the bird again would be fined 50,000 afghanis and their shops shut down, he says.

Mohammad Alim Alimi, head of the agricultureinfo-icon department in Badakhshan, says endangered animals and birds should be protected.

Such animals are very important to the country for tourism, and the agriculture department is trying to raise awareness that they should not be hunted.

Kamalludin, a hunter who lives in Sum Dara village of Arghanj Khwadistrict, says he used to hunt doves and partridges to eat.

At the time he did not know it was illegal to hunt the birds, but now that he does, he says he will pass on the information to other hunters.  

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