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Hawk on the verge of extinction in Laghman

Hawk on the verge of extinction in Laghman

Oct 24, 2011 - 18:16

MEHTARLAM (PANinfo-icon):  The population of hawks runs the risk of becoming extinct in eastern Laghman province -- thanks to continued, indiscriminate hunting practices.  

"I'm an old man, but my interest in hawking remains young," Mohammad Anwar, 75, told Pajhwok Afghan News, removing a small cap from the bird's head.

Not only Anwar, but dozens of other birders in Laghman have a passion for hawking. As a result, its population is fast becoming extinct.

Although President Hamid Karzai has banned hunting, the practice continues unabated.

A resident of the Bisram village on the outskirts of Mehtarlam, Anwar says they stitch up the hawk's eyes when they release it for hunting wild birds.

When the bird of prey opens its eyes, it instantly becomes familiar with the keeper. If its eyes are not sewn shut, the hawk would not return home from hunting.

Once its eyes are unstitched, the hawk becomes capable of hunting. A small bird is placed before it and the hawk prodded to catch. The practice is repeated until the bird learns hunting.

Found in different colours such as black, white, red, yellow and spotted, the hawk has a lifespan of 10 years. It starts hunting at one year of age and can do so for seven years.

"Hunters catch hawks in autumns and springs with mist nets and sell it for 200-7,000 afghanis," Anwar adds.

Another birder in the city, Mohammad Hanif, has been hawking for 25 years. The hunters throw nets on disserts of Mehtarlam, Panj Pai and other plains. They put sparrows in cages, covered by nets. The hawk instantly attacks the prey, getting caught in the nets.

"I have caught some hawks, having metal rings on their feet. The rings are inscribed with the word Moscow. Hawks have different hues, but black ones are the best; they don't return without prey," he says.

In addition to hawks, huntsmen also use greyhounds -- called Gordi in the local parlance -- to catch birds like partridges, wild pigeons and pipits. "We let our dogs loose to run through fields of wheat and rice. As pipits begin to fly, the hawk is unleashed to catch them," Hanif says.

Stitching up the eyes of hawks is gross cruelty and injustice to the birds, according to religious scholars. "Birds too are God's creature deserving compassion. Their eyes should not be sewn," remarks prayer leader at the Sultan Ghazni Mosqueinfo-icon, Zia-ul-Haq Forqani.

Sold at by Mehtarlam shopkeepers, the hawks are taken to other provinces. One shop owner, Gul Mohammad, says customers from Laghman, Nangarhar, Kunar and Maidan Wardak provinces visit them. However, the sale of the rare birds has declined in recent years.

Previously, he would buy an average of 15 birds a day, but now the number has fallen to almost two. The price varies, but there are hawks which sell for 10,000afs apiece.

National Environmental Protection Agency Director Painda Mohammad Sahak confirms this species and some other birds are in danger of extinction. They have reminded the police headquarters and other departments of the ban on hunting several times, but no action has been taken so far.

Provincial police chief, Gen. Ghulam Aziz Gharanai, acknowledged receiving a letter from the agency.

They were ready to prevent the smuggling and hunting of birds, but no one had been detained as yet, he said.


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